“Rik says there’s nothing more for us to do for the Big Bang broadcast tonight,” says Evelyn. “He was up super-late last night, processing your run to the sun. Then he was up at dawn today, putting the three sessions together.”
Twenty minutes later, the three of us are strolling up the Boardwalk in the sun. There are one or two other people around, but the sand is deserted. “Strange there’s no one lying on the beach or swimming,” I say.
Evelyn laughs. “You’d have been looking at hundreds of them, back in the ’twenties. You can see them in the old photos on the wall in the hotel there. Even just few years ago there’d have been a handful of people sunbathing. I used to see them, growing up. Pippa was one of them. But hardly ever since then.”
I muse upon the subtle change there seems to have been, between us, since we got here. Maybe there’s just been too much going on. It’s easy enough while we’re actually working together, when it’s all about the project at hand; but at other times there has started to be an odd undercurrent from her that I can’t quite make sense of.
We duck beneath yellow tape and set off across the sand. I watch Evelyn while she hurls pebbles out to sea, competing with Alaia to throw further … and a faint music wafts on the breeze, Evelyn. It has the magic of the song in Sound & Vision; but you know it is a lie, because it’s mixed with the lies from Alaia’s song of death. You hear it as a song of some unreachable perfection—a thing from which this world has fallen short and for which this world yearns from its gutters of disease and dirt. There’s lifting-up and flowering and bursts of sunlit glory in this music, with angel choirs piercing and soft (maybe lies?). The music carries ancient things and future evolution, outside time (another lie?). Out above the ocean we half-see mountains in celestial mist and valleys inaccessible, or is this just a cloudscape? I suppose that if you’d not been so behind the scenes with us, so much “behind the curtain”, you might have been more taken in by the pair of us.
In your eyes, behind the watermarks of Asbury Park, are flickers of another world you carry inside. As you laugh with Alaia in your pebble-throwing contest, I tune deeper in, to see the flowers in your looking-glass. And there in the palace garden’s scented dusk, I see them: flowers, in a more literal sense than I’d expected, mauve petals dripping scented tears onto humus. You’ve caught a peacock butterfly somewhere in the palace and have cupped your hands around it to bring it out here, where you now toss it up into the night—whereupon a dark bird swoops from the roof, snaps the peacock up, wheels with a rip of feathers flapping through the air, and is gone. You cry out and set off at a run through the grounds—a sweep of yellow silk down a twilit colonnade, where a frieze on the wall shows black human figures flitting delicate and sharp through a pale gold field. Your skirt is like a fluted column, coloured pale celadon beneath the yellow silk sash, running, turning back to me. (Celadon and yellow—a combo that you’d probably once have judged too fresh for Kingsley Street.) “I once collected tears in a glass!” you call. Your laughter ripples out from you, fluid as the image of the moon ahead reflected on the lanes of water running up the fields in our direction through a valley full of dripping mist. Soft weather, lilac-tide: we’d hear a feather float, just assuming that there were a feather, carried on the air where the samphire blooms under trees whose golden autumn leaves tremble on their branches. This cartoon candy-pastoral is undermined, however, by the final thing I see. Through your palace garden gate is the sea, but de-classicised by certain shoreline details: “Evelyn, it’s a mushroom bay,” I say. And it’s true: for the only things growing on the curve of this enchanted shore are mushrooms, some a metre high. As you nod in solemn pride at this, a line of dolphins leap from the water far across the bay, then dive beneath the surface once again, without a ripple. We hear a magic interval between two notes, several times—bewitching, as if an angel lives between them—and I know that I should now leave your mushroom bay. I shan’t intrude again here, so never shall I hear again that magic angel interval; but never will it leave me.
For more about "The Imagination Thief" by Rohan Quine, see
For some great reviews of it, see
And to pick it up from whichever retailer you may prefer, the retailers’ links for the paperback are at
and for the ebook at