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Chapter Thirty-one

If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on the top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn't exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.

He was tall and he gangled.

When he sat in his deckchair gazing at the Pacific, not so much with any kind of wild surmise any longer as with a peaceful deep dejection, it was a little difficult to tell exactly where the deckchair ended and he began, and you would hesitate to put your hand on, say, his forearm in case the whole structure suddenly collapsed with a snap and took your thumb off.

But his smile when he turned it on you was quite remarkable. It seemed to be composed of all the worst things that life can do to you, but which, when he briefly reassembled them in that particular order on his face, made you suddenly fee, ``Oh. Well that's all right then.''

When he spoke, you were glad that he used the smile that made you feel like that pretty often.

``Oh yes,'' he said, ``they come and see me. They sit right here. They sit right where you're sitting.''

He was talking of the angels with the golden beards and green wings and Dr Scholl sandals.

``They eat nachos which they say they can't get where they come from. They do a lot of coke and are very wonderful about a whole range of things.''

``Do they?'' said Arthur. ``Are they? So, er ... when is this then? When do they come?''

He gazed out at the Pacific as well. There were little sandpipers running along the margin of the shore which seemed to have this problem: they needed to find their food in the sand which a wave had just washed over, but they couldn't bear to get their feet wet. To deal with this problem they ran with an odd kind of movement as if they'd been constructed by somebody very clever in Switzerland.

Fenchurch was sitting on the sand, idly drawing patterns in it with her fingers.

``Weekends, mostly,'' said Wonko the Sane, ``on little scooters. They are great machines.'' He smiled.

``I see,'' said Arthur. ``I see.''

A tiny cough from Fenchurch attracted his attention and he looked round at her. She had scratched a little stick figure drawing in the sand of the two of them in the clouds. For a moment he thought she was trying to get him excited, then he realized that she was rebuking him. ``Who are we,'' she was saying, ``to say he's mad?''

His house was certainly peculiar, and since this was the first thing that Fenchurch and Arthur had encountered it would help to know what it was like.

What it was like was this:

It was inside out.

Actually inside out, to the extent that they had to park on the carpet.

All along what one would normally call the outer wall, which was decorated in a tasteful interior-designed pink, were bookshelves, also a couple of those odd three-legged tables with semi-circular tops which stand in such a way as to suggest that someone just dropped the wall straight through them, and pictures which were clearly designed to soothe.

Where it got really odd was the roof.

It folded back on itself like something that Maurits C. Escher, had he been given to hard nights on the town, which is no part of this narrative's purpose to suggest was the case, though it is sometimes hard, looking at his pictures, particularly the one with the awkward steps, not to wonder, might have dreamed up after having been on one, for the little chandeliers which should have been hanging inside were on the outside pointing up.

Confusing.

The sign above the front door said, ``Come Outside'', and so, nervously, they had.

Inside, of course, was where the Outside was. Rough brickwork, nicely done painting, guttering in good repair, a garden path, a couple of small trees, some rooms leading off.

And the inner walls stretched down, folded curiously, and opened at the end as if, by an optical illusion which would have had Maurits C. Escher frowning and wondering how it was done, to enclose the Pacific Ocean itself.

``Hello,'' said John Watson, Wonko the Sane.

Good, they thought to themselves, ``Hello'' is something we can cope with.

``Hello,'' they said, and all surprisingly was smiles.

For quite a while he seemed curiously reluctant to talk about the dolphins, looking oddly distracted and saying, ``I forget ...'' whenever they were mentioned, and had shown them quite proudly round the eccentricities of his house.

``It gives me pleasure,'' he said, ``in a curious kind of way, and does nobody any harm,'' he continued, ``that a competent optician couldn't correct.''

They liked him. He had an open, engaging quality and seemed able to mock himself before anybody else did.

``Your wife,'' said Arthur, looking around, ``mentioned some toothpicks.'' He said it with a hunted look, as if he was worried that she might suddenly leap out from behind the door and mention them again.

Wonko the Sane laughed. It was a light easy laugh, and sounded like one he had used a lot before and was happy with.

``Ah yes,'' he said, ``that's to so with the day I finally realized that the world had gone totally mad and built the Asylum to put it in, poor thing, and hoped it would get better.''

This was the point at which Arthur began to feel a little nervous again.

``Here,'' said Wonko the Sane, ``we are outside the Asylum.'' He pointed again at the rough brickwork, the pointing and the guttering. ``Go through that door,'' he pointed at the first door through which they had originally entered, ``and you go into the Asylum. I've tried to decorate it nicely to keep the inmates happy, but there's very little one can do. I never go in there now myself. If ever I am tempted, which these days I rarely am, I simply look at the sign written over the door and shy away.''

``That one?'' said Fenchurch, pointing, rather puzzled, at a blue plaque with some instructions written on it.

``Yes. They are the words that finally turned me into the hermit I have now become. It was quite sudden. I saw them, and I knew what I had to do.''

The sign said:

Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion.

``It seemed to me,'' said Wonko the sane, ``that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a packet of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.''

He gazed out at the Pacific again, as if daring it to rave and gibber at him, but it lay there calmly and played with the sandpipers.

``And in case it crossed your mind to wonder, as I can see how it possibly might, I am completely sane. Which is why I call myself Wonko the Sane, just to reassure people on this point. Wonko is what my mother called me when I was a kid and clumsy and knocked things over, and sane is what I am, and how,'' he added, with one of his smiles that made you feel, ``Oh. Well that's all right then.'' ``I intend to remain. Shall we go on to the beach and see what we have to talk about?''

They went out on to the beach, which was where he started talking about angels with golden beards and green wings and Dr Scholl sandals.

``About the dolphins ...'' said Fenchurch gently, hopefully.

``I can show you the sandals,'' said Wonko the Sane.

``I wonder, do you know ...''

``Would you like me to show you,'' said Wonko the Sane, ``the sandals? I have them. I'll get them. They are made by the Dr Scholl company, and the angels say that they particularly suit the terrain they have to work in. They say they run a concession stand by the message. When I say I don't know what that means they say no, you don't, and laugh. Well, I'll get them anyway.''

As he walked back towards the inside, or the outside depending on how you looked at it, Arthur and Fenchurch looked at each other in a wondering and slightly desperate sort of way, then each shrugged and idly drew figures in the sand.

``How are the feet today?'' said Arthur quietly.

``OK. It doesn't feel so odd in the sand. Or in the water. The water touches them perfectly. I just think this isn't our world.''

She shrugged.

``What do you think he meant,'' she said, ``by the message?''

``I don't know,'' said Arthur, though the memory of a man called Prak who laughed at him continuously kept nagging at him.

When Wonko returned he was carrying something that stunned Arthur. Not the sandals, they were perfectly ordinary wooden-bottomed sandals.

``I just thought you'd like to see,'' he said, ``what angels wear on their feet. Just out of curiousity. I'm not trying to prove anything, by the way. I'm a scientist and I know what constitutes proof. But the reason I call myself by my childhood name is to remind myself that a scientist must also be absolutely like a child. If he sees a thing, he must say that he sees it, whether it was what he thought he was going to see or not. See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting. Most scientists forget that. I'll show you something to demonstrate that later. So, the other reason I call myself Wonko the Sane is so that people will think I am a fool. That allows me to say what I see when I see it. You can't possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you're a fool. Anyway, I also thought you might like to see this.''

This was the thing that Arthur had been stunned to see him carrying, for it was a wonderful silver-grey glass fish bowl, seemingly identical to the one in Arthur's bedroom.

Arthur had been trying for some thirty seconds now, without success, to say, ``Where did you get that?'' sharply, and with a gasp in his voice.

Finally his time had come, but he missed it by a millisecond.

``Where did you get that?'' said Fenchurch, sharply and with a gasp in her voice.

Arthur glanced at Fenchurch sharply and with a gasp in his voice said, ``What? Have you seen one of these before?''

``Yes,'' she said, ``I've got one. Or at least I did have. Russell nicked it to put his golfballs in. I don't know where it came from, just that I was angry with Russell for nicking it. Why, have you got one?''

``Yes, it was ...''

They both became aware that Wonko the Sane was glancing sharply backwards and forwards between them, and trying to get a gasp in edgeways.

``You have one of those too?'' he said to both of them.

``Yes.'' They both said it.

He looked long and calmly at each of them, then he held up the bowl to catch the light of the Californian sun.

The bowl seemed almost to sing with the sun, to chime with the intensity of its light, and cast darkly brilliant rainbows around the sand and upon them. He turned it, and turned it. They could see quite clearly in the fine tracery of its etchwork the words ``So Long, and Thanks For All The Fish.''

``Do you know,'' asked Wonko quietly, ``what it is?''

They each shook their heads slowly, and with wonder, almost hypnotized by the flashing of the lightning shadows in the grey glass.

``It is a farewell gift from the dolphins,'' said Wonko in a low quiet voice, ``the dolphins whom I loved and studied, and swam with, and fed with fish, and even tried to learn their language, a task which they seemed to make impossibly difficult, considering the fact that I now realize they were perfectly capable of communicating in ours if they decided they wanted to.''

He shook his head with a slow, slow smile, and then looked again at Fenchurch, and then at Arthur.

``Have you ...'' he said to Arthur, ``what have you done with yours? May I ask you that?''

``Er, I keep a fish in it,'' said Arthur, slightly embarrassed. ``I happened to have this fish I was wondering what to do with, and, er, there was this bowl.'' He tailed off.

``You've done nothing else? No,'' he said, ``if you had, you would know.'' He shook his head again.

``My wife kept wheatgerm in ours,'' resumed Wonko, with some new tone in his voice, ``until last night ...''

``What,'' said Arthur slowly and hushedly, ``happened last night?''

``We ran out of wheatgerm,'' said Wonko, evenly. ``My wife,'' he added, ``has gone to get some more.'' He seemed lost with his own thoughts for a moment.

``And what happened then?'' said Fenchurch, in the same breathless tone.

``I washed it,'' said Wonko. ``I washed it very carefully, very very carefully, removing every last speck of wheatgerm, then I dried it slowly with a lint-free cloth, slowly, carefully, turning it over and over. Then I held it to my ear. Have you ... have you held one to your ear?''

They both shook their heads, again slowly, again dumbly.

``Perhaps,'' he said, ``you should.''


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