Infusoria by Robert Stone

Lochhead invited me to have a look through his microscope, so I had to, because to say No, or ask, What for, was too rude when it was right there on the table. It had a binocular viewer and rubber cushions on the lenses like the suckers at the ends of toy arrows. Very comfortable. Hammocks for the eyes. Like putting on goggles. He was looking at a drop of water, he said, lit from beneath. He told me I had to keep looking, because the spaces I could see were magnified so massively. It was like looking everywhere in the sky at once. Mostly, there was nothing. Already bored, dutifully, I looked. I started to see the infusoria. They were lovely. A whole animal organisation diverse beyond imagining. These things were weird. Creatures not with fins and flippers, arms and legs, but wheels, propellers and sails. Teeth in revolving cogs, faces like scissors. Bodies not of skin and bone, but of elastic and glass. Noiseless and translucent. I was entranced. I supposed they ate one another, but calmly and rarely. Then on the horizon, so to speak, I saw something approaching that was really strange. I pulled away to show Lochhead. Too late. He said I would not find it again and he was right. The spaces between creatures like the spaces between stars. I had to be patient. In time, not the same thing, but a thing not dissimilar once more appeared. I could hardly believe it, as it got nearer and grew larger, but it proved to be a portly man, balding and moustachioed, in what I took to be a Victorian bathing costume. Black and white stripes, like a buoyant humbug, out for a stroll, smoking a cigar. Amazing. I feared for his safety among the voracious animalcules, but the demeanour of this homunculus was blithe. He might have been singing. A truly imperial self-assurance. Silver bubbles issued from his mouth and nostrils in chains. I waited, unspeaking. I saw a mother and daughter, hand-in-hand, charming, also dressed for a nineteenth century bathing beach, more demurely therefore than most women now dress in the high street. I could sense that Lochhead was growing restless, but I ignored him. A frogman in the orange wetsuit of the James Bond film, Thunderball, harpoon gun at the ready. A team of synchronised swimmers mimicking the shape of an unlikely hellebore, Busby Berkeley-style. Lochhead tugged at an elbow, but I was taking him at his word. It had occurred to me that I had only to wait, like any blazered and boatered visitor to a fashionable resort, leaning on a rail on the promenade, taking my ease, sucking in the ozone and I was bound to see someone I knew, or something really wonderful. The simple promise made to those who stare out to sea.

Robert Stone was born in 1961 in Wolverhampton in the UK. He was educated at the University of East Anglia, Norwich and at Jesus College, Cambridge. He has worked as a press analyst in London for more than twenty-five years. Before that he was a teacher and the foreman of a London Underground station. He has two children and lives with his partner in Ipswich. He has had stories published in Stand, Panurge and Wraparound South.

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