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THE OPAL STORIES by Crystal Jones © 2011
Translated by:

It was raining cats and dogs and Opal’s windscreen wiper was working overtime. “Rain wasn’t forecast at all,” Opal reminded herself. Then suddenly the torrent stopped just as she arrived at the market place.
“Sorry Opal, but there’s been a burst drain pipe near your stall and it’s all water-bound!”
“Oh no!” Opal exclaimed in dismay. “What am I going to do now?”
“Sorry, but I’ve got nowhere to put you, the market’s full today!” replied the organiser.
“Excuse me,” called out a rather bedraggled tired-looking red-headed man behind the stall opposite Opal’s usual place. “If you don’t mind sharing, I can give you half my space - I haven’t got a lot of merchandise anyway!”
“That’s very kind of you. I’d be glad to,” replied Opal. “You’re new here, aren’t you?” she asked him.
“Yes. It’s my first day. I’ve never had a market stall before."
“You’ll soon get used to it. As soon as I get settled, I’ll pull out my thermos and we can have a hot drink of tea, if you like. It’s still pretty cold even though it isn’t raining any more. By the way, my name’s Opal.”
“And mine is Ross Karenowski. Very pleased to meet you.”

Soon Opal and Ross were sipping hot tea and munching jam tart. “My mother prepares my packed lunch and puts in a bit of everything she has in the house.”
“If you need more room for your books I can put some of my records back in the van if you like.”
“No, don’t worry. How come you decided to sell vintage LPs, Ross?” asked Opal.
“Well, when my parents wanted to downsize their home, they thought of throwing out their old records but I had the idea of selling them at the market instead. I managed to find some other people who wanted to get rid of stuff and - here we are!”
“How much are you going to charge for them, Ross?”
“Honestly I haven’t the faintest idea. See what happens,” replied Ross who seemed to be a bit more animated than before. “You see, I’m an ex SAS and I had no idea what work I wanted to do.” Ross was beginning to open up. “I went through a bit of therapy as I was feeling depressed and it was suggested that I should try to communicate with people in a new sort of way. I’d never done any selling or anything like that, so I thought of starting off with something uncomplicated. A market stall seemed to be a good option.”
“Well, you are right," Opal commented. “I’ve made all sorts of new friends since I started selling books - and it’s brought me luck too!”
“Well,” said Ross thoughtfully, “if I make enough money to pay for my expenses today I can count myself lucky. You know, you feel differently about things when you’ve done what I did. Fighting in a country you didn’t know much about before. Well, I was living a different sort of existence, it felt like a parallel existence, really. Or maybe this is a parallel existence, I still don’t know.”
“How very interesting. Mm... parallel...” Opal remained silent for a while. 

Shazia, who had a vegetable and fruit stall, dropped by for a few minutes to take Opal’s order.
“The usual things, please, Shazia, new potatoes if you’ve still got some, broccoli, turnip tops, beetroot and fresh salad. Do you need some fresh vegetables or fruit, Ross?”
“Yes, why not? I’ll pop over to your stall, Shazia, and see what you’ve got!” replied a more cheered up Ross.
People seemed to be disappearing from the market-place and Opal got out her sketch book and began drawing some strange shapes. “Er..., I wonder if it would work,” she mumbled to herself. “Yes, I think so. I’ll have to try that tomorrow!” 

“What do you think, Brendan?” asked Opal. She had brought down a picture she had been painting for the last three days.
“Oh, there are no upside-down people this time!” exclaimed Brendan. “Mm... it looks like a good composition to me but, as you know, I’m no expert.”
“Do you like it?” insisted Opal.
“Yes, I do, but it’s rather... unusual!” commented Brendan.
“You know what Bren, I’ll call Ed Hundersford and ask him to come over and give me his opinion.”
“Good idea!”

“Well Opal, you’ve done it again! This is splendid. Quite Giottoish in colours actually!"
“Really? Er... perhaps," murmured Opal.
“Yes, soft reds and browns and beiges. You’ve got these miniature paintings all connecting to other paintings through a system of painted craquelures. Brilliant. It represents parallel universes of course!” Ed narrated.
“Yes, it does,” confirmed Opal.
“This painting here in the centre at the bottom is us humans looking at the moon and wondering what life is all about,” continued Ed explaining what he saw to himself. “It  leads through a single craquelure to another miniature painting which is in a balloon sort of shape where we can see some strange human-like beings with huge lungs who have just come out of the sea.”
“It’s a bit too complex perhaps?” asked Opal.
“No, no, I wouldn’t say that at all. Ah," Ed paused a while, then he nodded, “this miniature at the top shows us beings who live on another planet, maybe, who all have breathing masks or are carrying them ready to put on. Anyway, all the miniatures flow and blend into other miniatures and seem to swirl around these parallel universes. Some seem to be in a vortex blending its colours, therefore camouflaging itself. They can’t see each other but, occasionally, there is a link where a particle of one universe slides, or creeps into another parallel reality!”

The sun was shining as though it had been doing so for months on end.
“It’s just the sort of weather to enjoy at the seaside, isn't it?” Opal remarked to Becky, as she cellotaped the usual photos of her paintings up on the stall.
“It certainly is,” replied the nurse. No sooner had she said this when the sky seemed to darken over a little and they heard the sound of thunder in the distance.
“Well, we couldn’t expect it to last for long. I’d better hurry up and choose some more books for next week. I’m on nights.”
“Ross,” called out Opal as she saw him leaving his stall. “I’d like to have a word with you!”
“All right. I just have to take this pile of records to a customer’s car which is parked along the street. I’ll be right back.”
Ross was looking much better and seemed to enjoy chatting to the various types of people who inquired after his records. “Look, Ross, I told Brendan about you and we had an idea. As you’ve been in the SAS you can obviously drive."
“Yes, of course,” replied the surprised Ross.
Opal continued, “Well, as you know, Brendan has still got his leg in plaster and can’t get out yet, so he was wondering if you’d like to substitute him for the time being. The car is lying there idle. If you’re interested, you could take people to the airport and do jobs like that at the beginning.”
“I think I’d like that. Can I come over and have a chat with Brendan?”

The next morning Opal was simultaneously loading the washing machine, clearing up after breakfast and preparing lunch when the phone rang.
“Opal,” it was Ed Hundersford. “Look, I was speaking to a client of mine, Lindon Chappel Gore. He’s the founder of a new charity which will help homeless people to find somewhere to stay. Well, he’s probably interested in buying one of your pictures.”
“You’re not thinking of reselling Common Sense, are you?”
“No, no Opal. I’m not going to sell Common Sense to anybody, it’s mine for keeps! Anyway, Chappel Gore came into my shop to look for something he wants to put in the entrance hall of his first home for the homeless.”
“I see, what sort of building is it?” asked Opal.
“It used to be an old cinema and has just been refurbished. It will be opening shortly and he wants something suitable to complement what he is trying to do, but he’s not quite sure what exactly! Well, to cut a long story short, I took him up to my flat to show him Common Sense, which he liked, and told him you had a new painting which could be exactly what he is looking for. He’ll be popping in on Wednesday morning to see a beautiful polished table I’ve lined up for him and at the same time we could show him your picture, if you like.”
“If I like? I’ll be there as soon as the cock crows!” joked Opal.

“I must say it’s very impressive!" remarked Mr. Chappel Gore. Opal smiled happily at the thought that her painting was understood and appreciated.
Mr. Chappell Gore continued, “I feel this picture has something which resonates with what we are trying to express about our Parallel Homes. That’s what we’ll call them.”
“What a coincidence, my painting is called Parallel Universes!”
Chappel Gore breathed in deeply and said, “It’s not a mere coincidence, Opal. You see, that’s what happens when something is right. Two people think in the same way!”
Ed butted in, “This is intriguing, Mr. Chappel Gore. Why did you call them Parallel Homes? I thought that homeless people just needed a home.”
Chappel Gore answered quietly, “You know, people don’t understand that the street can be someone’s actual home. It’s not always hell on earth. It’s not always something that others impose on them. Sometimes it’s something people themselves choose and feel is their new home, what I like to call a parallel home. All places can be a parallel home, even an open space, but it must meet one’s needs, which may be safety, an identity or where bonds are made.”
“I see what you mean,” broke in Opal. “After all, not all peoples live in brick houses - the Bedouins live under the stars, many poor people in India live permanently on the pavement, and quite a lot of Orientals live on boats. When Man was born, the forest was his home and, later on, a cave. In my painting I too was trying to represent the fact that people have different ways of living all the world over, and that we must understand this and even try to embrace it!”
“Exactly,” said Chappel Gore. “I couldn’t agree more. I also think that “homeless” people, even though I don’t like this definition at all, are entitled to their dignity. If you rob someone of his dignity he is rendered helpless, lost, he has no future. Here at Parallel Homes we are simply offering an alternative - a closed space where one can rest, wash oneself, have a meal and feel safe.”
Ed felt he needed a further explanation. “I like the concept of the street being called a parallel home, but why exactly did you call this house a parallel home as well?”
“Because when two lines are parallel, you can’t say that one is parallel and the other is not, they are both parallel!” 

After the family had all gathered round to hear the good news, Jane cornered Opal, “Mum, what are you going to wear to the inauguration of Parallel Homes?"
“I really don’t know yet, dear."
“Also, we’d better overhaul your make-up for the occasion,” Jane added. “How about a gothic look, mum? I think purple streaks in your hair would look nice!"
Opal decided to accept Jane’s offer of borrowing her newly acquired leggings and tunic to make her look more trendy, but stopped short at a too eccentric make-over.

“Now let me introduce you to Mrs. Applegate, who is the institution’s secretary, and other members of the staff: Ms. Raj and Mr. Nandobe, who are also looking after Parallel Homes,” said Chappel Gore taking Opal by the arm.
There was a pleasant atmosphere: journalists took photographs and asked questions about the purpose of this safe house for the homeless and one of them interviewed Opal briefly about her painting.
After a while a sturdy bearded man who seemed to be in charge of the inauguration came over to Opal.
“Congratulations on your painting! It’s very original indeed!” he remarked. “My name’s Angus and I work for Mr. Chappel Gore. We’ve been on this project for the last two years, and now we’ve got it going at last!" He had a strong Glaswegian accent.
“Excuse me Angus - I need to have a word with you," said Mr. Chappel Gore beckoning him, “Could you just come into the office? While I think of it, don’t forget to...” as they disappeared into the office.
“Have you tried these canapés, Opal? They’re delicious,” said Mrs. Applegate. “And what about a glass of white wine? I think we both deserve one, don’t we?” and seeing Angus returning to the party, “I bet you won’t refuse a smoked salmon appetiser?”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Applegate. My stomach, you know...” said Angus grimacing slightly. 
“Oh Ed,” said Opal seeing her friend. “Thanks for getting it right - your frame is absolutely perfect for my picture!”
“Well, actually I was a little in doubt between two alternatives but Sally recommended this one and I saw she was right. You know she’s got very good taste. Ah, here she is!” said Ed seeing his wife approaching. 

The next morning at the market Ross came over to speak to Opal.
“You know I started working for Brendan yesterday. I took a chap to Luton airport!" he said proudly.
“Oh, that’s lovely. Did everything go all right?"
“Yes. At first I was a bit panic-stricken but then the client, an American, started chatting to me and I felt much better. He told me that he was an army man as well. I think I’m going to enjoy doing this!”
“I’m so glad,” said Opal. “I too had quite a day at the inauguration of Parallel Homes. A journalist even interviewed me when he discovered I had painted the picture hanging up in the hall. It was all very exciting!”
“Good for you, Opal!”
“Oh,” she remarked, “I must have forgotten to charge my mobile - it’s completely dead.”
“We’ve got the same type of mobile, Opal. I’ll go and see if I’ve got another battery in the boot of my car.” Then lowering his voice Ross murmured, “Opal, there’s a chap looking very keenly at the photos of your paintings!”
Opal turned round and asked the man politely, “Can I help you?”
The young man started, ”Er... are you the artist Opal?”
“Yes, but how do you know my name?" she replied.
“Because... because I’m interested in art - and I like these paintings,” he said hesitatingly.
Opal sensed something wasn’t quite right. “And do you like the style I paint in? I was inspired by the school of Ernst Brakkenem, of course. You are familiar with it, I imagine?”
”Of course... er... I am!” he replied.
”Strange, there is no Ernst Brakkenem school, nor a painter, as far as I know. I just invented the name!” Opal quipped.
rather unpleasant and ruthless young man knew he was defeated and suddenly pointed a smartphone in Opal’s face ready to record.
“All right, I am an investigative journalist for The Daily Portal, my name is Clay Brooks and I just want to ask you a few questions. How come your picture was in the entrance hall of Parallel Homes? And how much were you paid for it?”
“Whatever’s going on? Why are you asking me all these questions?” asked the amazed Opal.
“Because of the theft of your painting last night!” he retorted.
“What - my painting has been stolen?” replied Opal completely taken aback. “Are you sure?”
“Come on, Opal,” replied Clay Brooks. “You must know about it. It’s in all the newspapers. Parallel Homes was burgled last night and your picture was spirited away. Look!” He thrust into Opal’s hand a copy of the Daily Portal open at an article entitled ‘Burglary at Parallel Homes.’
“In fact it’s a very strange thing that only your picture was stolen!” he went on. “Are you sure you don’t know anything about it? Maybe you regretted selling it and wanted it back?” The man became more and more insistent.
Opal was confused, “Did I want it back? Well, I missed it, er..., but I was happy to sell it too. My husband - everybody knows... er...,” replied Opal rather incoherently.
“Oh yes, your husband Brendan, I interviewed him before coming here.”
The young man continued in his persecution. “Your husband said that he felt the picture was part of the family. Did he have Parallel Homes burgled to get it back for you?”
“You’re really talking nonsense, you know. Please go away.” Now Opal was becoming furious.
“By the way, how did you come to meet Lindon Chappel Gore?”
“I'm not telling you anything else. Go away, or I’ll call the police.” said Opal decisively.
“Actually, I already know everything,“ Clay Brooks said unpleasantly.
“Need any help, Opal?” it was Ross who had come over. He looked even taller than usual and had a frightening expression on his face.
“All right, all right. I’m just doing my job...” pleaded the journalist when he saw the ex SAS arriving.
“And I’ll be doing mine, if you don’t just disappear,” Ross menaced.
Clay Brooks decided the odds were against him and made himself scarce. 

Opal sat down behind her stall to read the article in The Daily Portal. “What on earth is happening?” she said to herself. “I can’t believe that a painting of mine has been actually stolen. I can’t imagine who could want to steal it. It’s not as though it’s worth a lot of money...”
She had always had problems like everybody else and was usually moderately confident that they could be solved in one way or another. Now, the mention of the theft of her picture hit her where she was weakest. Her pictures were still part of herself and not yet objects meant to be sold to the public. Yes, she deemed herself lucky that her first painting had been purchased by someone who sincerely appreciated it and that the second was destined to become a symbol of parallel freedom.
Then a thought really shook her. Ed was an ex-burglar! Could it be that it was Ed who had stolen the picture? She knew he was in sincere admiration of Parallel Universes. Had he liked it so much that he stole it away for himself? 
Opal began to tremble and tears came to her eyes. “I couldn’t bear that,” she thought. Then, thinking more rationally, she said to herself, “No, Opal, don’t be stupid! You know you don’t really feel that at all. You’re just panicking!”
Now another frightening thought came to her mind. That horrible journalist might even be able to find out that Ed had once been a burglar and start dragging his name in the mud. Opal decided to drive over to his shop straight away and warn him.

When Opal arrived, she found the antiques shop closed. As Ed lived above it, she rang the bell to see if he was at home. “Won’t be a minute, Opal,” replied Ed over the doorphone.
He came down to his shop and invited Opal inside. “I was just preparing a spot of lunch because my wife’s gone over to Kingsmart court. Sally’s a magistrate, you know."
Opal tried not to show her surprise that Ed’s past as a burglar hadn’t stopped his marrying a magistrate. She explained why she was there in detail.
“I see..." reflected Ed. ”You must be feeling terrible. I know you put everything into your art. Anyway, don’t worry about this Clay Brooks - if he comes here, I’ll be ready for him."
Just then someone banged on the door.
“Opal - go into the back room just in case it’s the reporter!”
Ed went to the door and unlocked it.
It was Clay Brooks. “May I have a look around?”
“Er... you can’t hear a sound?” replied Ed raising his voice in the way of people who are deaf.
“No... er... my name is Clay Brooks....” the journalist replied.

? No, I don’t deal in books,” shouted Ed.
“I’m looking for a nice chair,” said the reporter after cursing under his breath.
“You’re looking for something rare...? Well, what for instance?"
Clay was starting to get nervous.
“Come on, young man, do you want to buy something or not? I haven’t got all day!”
Clay Brooks gave up and made his way out of the shop. Ed and Opal, happy their ruse had worked, went out to buy some newspapers and returned to the shop. Shortly after Sally arrived and they all went up to the flat to have a sandwich and look at the papers.
“It’s such an incredible story,” remarked Sally. “It just goes to show, someone must have realised the value of your picture!”
“That may well be,” intervened Ed, “but selling it is not going to be so easy, especially now that the papers have got hold of the story!”
“That’s strange, I can‘t find anything about it in any other newspaper other than The Daily Portal” said Sally. “I hope this reporter didn‘t steal the picture himself just to make up a story for his paper!”
“I think we should have a word with the staff at Parallel Homes and see if we can find out something concrete.” said Opal.
“Good idea,” agreed Ed. “Why don’t we all pop up there now?” He fetched his car and they all drove up to Parallel Homes. It was nearly five o’clock before they got there and rang the doorbell.
“Opal! So you’ve heard the news?” exclaimed Mrs. Applegate, the receptionist.
“Unfortunately Mrs. Applegate, a very unpleasant journalist informed me about it!” answered Opal.
“Oh, he must be the same one I spoke to this morning as soon as I arrived, a very aggressive chap. A police constable came to write a report after that but he didn’t comment on the matter.”
“I suppose you have informed Mr. Chappel Gore?” asked Opal.
“No, I haven’t, because he left for Australia before I arrived this morning. His son is getting married there. In fact the inauguration of Parallel Homes was put forward as he knew he had to go away.”
“That’s right,” Ed confirmed, “I had to finish making a frame for your picture very quickly Opal, otherwise it wouldn’t have been shown at the inauguration.”
Mrs. Applegate looked at her watch. “I should be off home now, but I’m waiting for Angus to arrive - he stays here all night to look after the place.”
She looked at her watch again, “Oh my goodness, he really is late. That’s funny, usually he’s extremely punctual!” she said as she dialled his telephone number.
Opal whispered to Ed, “Do you think he’s involved in the burglary and has just slipped away?”
“From what I saw of him I wouldn’t judge him to be the type at all... but one never knows,” he whispered back.
“He’s not answering, I think I’d better phone Mr. Nandobi to ask him to come and stay the night here,” decided Mrs. Applegate. Just then someone rang the door bell.
Mrs. Applegate pressed the buzzer on her desk and in walked two men with toolboxes and coils of wire and other equipment in their hands.
“Pearson Electrics. We’ve come to install the burglar alarm for the painting,” one of them announced.
“Well, it’s a bit late for that, to be sure,” said Mrs. Applegate. “The painting isn’t here any more!”
“Not here? Look, I don’t think you understand. Angus phoned us yesterday to have a burglar alarm put in. As we couldn’t come immediately we made an appointment for about six o’clock this evening! He said he’d be here!”
“Funny, he didn’t tell anybody about it!” replied Mrs. Applegate.
Suddenly the phone rang, “Is that Mrs. Applegate I’m speaking to?” the voice asked.
“This is Heartfield’s Hospice. I’m Nurse Collins. We’ve got a patient here, Angus McKenzie.”
“Oh my goodness! Angus... what’s wrong, has he had an accident?”
At this point Mrs. Applegate switched on the speakerphone so that all could here the telephone conversation.
“He’s asked me to inform you he’s had an emergency operation, an appendectomy!”
“Oh no! poor Angus... but how is he now?”
“He’s still recovering. The operation went well but he had a bit of a reaction to the anaesthetic. Do you think you could come and see him as he said he’s got a very important message for you..." Voices could be heard giving out orders and hospital trolleys being wheeled about the ward.
“Mr. McKenzie, what are you doing? Get back to bed immediately!”
In the background Angus could be heard begging the nurse to let him use the phone as it was an emergency. Finally the nurse gave in. “All right, as a special exception to the rule. Just one minute though - no longer!”
“Thank you, nurse," replied Angus in a weak voice. “Mrs. Applegate!” Now he sounded breathless. “I must tell you something. Mr. Chappel Gore... had asked me... to have a burglar alarm... installed for the painting as soon as possible... and to take it home for safety’s sake if they couldn’t come immediately.”
Opal felt relieved, “That means the picture is safe!” she thought. “It was all a storm in a teacup!”
“So the painting is at your home now?” asked Mrs. Applegate.
“Yes... no! You see... I soon began to feel ill again... do you remember... I had a terrible pain in my stomach during the inauguration? The pain got worse... and I knew I’d never be able... to get the picture to my home... so I decided to put it... oh... my head’s swimming," Angus faltered. “I can’t remember... where I put it. Please look for it!” His voice broke off and the line went dead.

“Well, what shall we do now?" asked the bewildered Mrs. Applegate, “The electricians are still waiting.”
“Why don’t we just all go off in different directions and search for it!” Opal suggested. Sally and Opal went to explore the rooms upstairs while Ed and Mrs. Applegate looked in the basement and on the ground floor.
After about twenty minutes Opal and Sally came down the stairs empty-handed. “No luck," commented Opal looking down in the mouth. The two electricians were still there  wondering how much longer they would be kept waiting.
Opal was now wandering around the entrance hall searching for inspiration. She felt dismayed. Mrs. Applegate, lost in thought, unlocked a door leading onto the office.
“Mrs. Applegate, what’s in there?” asked Opal not having noticed there was a room there before.
“It’s the locker room, I’m just going to fetch my cardigan as it‘s getting quite chilly,” replied Mrs. Applegate.
Opal and the others followed her into the room as she opened her locker.
“Hello, what’s this?" Ed said fingering a tiny piece of dark blue and silver wrapping paper sticking out of the locked door of the closet right next to Mrs. Applegate’s. “When I brought Parallel Universes here, I wrapped it up in blue and silver paper exactly like this!”
“That’s Angus’s locker!”
“Can we open it? The picture could be in there!” urged Opal.
“There’s a master key, Opal, but it wouldn’t be right to...  Ok, I'll go and fetch it," said Mrs. Applegate understanding the necessity.
Opal turned to Sally, “I can‘t stand the suspence.”
When Mrs. Applegate came back she put the key in the lock but it was of no use. “I can’t open it," she said. “The lock must have been changed.”
Opal exclaimed, “Oh no!"
“Let’s have a look,” said Ed pulling out a bunch of keys and a small screwdriver from his inside pocket. He then inserted a key into the lock and then another and then another.
“Ed used to work for security, Mrs. Applegate,” explained Sally. “He’s such a handyman about the house. He can mend pretty much anything!”
Opal wondered if Sally was being economical with the truth  or if, in fact, she actually knew about Ed’s past as a burglar and was just trying to protect him.
Ed finally managed to open Angus’s locker.
“Right! and here’s the blanket I used as a cover to protect Parallel Universes when I brought it here,” he said pulling the blanket away and revealing Opal’s picture.
“Here’s the loot!” he added, laughing heartily.
Opal had her usual appointment at the market the next morning but arrived rather late. Ross looked perplexed.
“What’s up, Ross?” asked Opal.
“Er... I was just looking at The Daily Portal... there’s another article about your picture,” he said handing Opal the newspaper.
‘Undisclosed sources have revealed that the stolen picture from Parallel Homes was mysteriously found somewhere near the building last night. What is the explanation behind this incredible story? Did the burglar’s evil deed prick his conscience so much that he brought the picture back? Or did he feel that the police was closing in on him? Probably we shall never know.’
“Oh Ross, I‘m so glad that‘s the end of the story and that it really was a storm in a teacup. Now I’m just going to relax and get on with my painting!” 

When Opal arrived home that evening she opened a letter which informed her of jury service the following week. 

T H E  E N D