Feature

The many wives of Stephen

One of the strangest cases I ever looked into concerned a 71-year-old Huytonian man named Stephen – a dead-ringer for Vincent Price with his debonair looks, pencil moustache, and a unique accentless diction, due to intensive elocution lessons he had received as a boy to treat a speech impediment.

Stephen was also a confirmed bachelor who had reached the autumn of his life utterly contented to be single.

Most of his friends were either widowed or divorced, and Stephen had a close friend named Calvin Shepard who had just celebrated the Ruby anniversary of his divorce.

Calvin was due round this Saturday afternoon in 2002 for a game of chess and a few glasses of Muscadet, so imagine the face on Stephen when he answered the door to find a young woman he’d never seen before in his life.

“I forgot my key Stevie,” she said, and lunged forward to kiss him. Her shiny black hair hung straight as a laser and she wore some thigh-high black and white mini dress from the Mary Quant era.

“Who on earth are –” Stephen gasped as she hurtled past him, through the hallway and into the kitchen with a carrier bag. He went after her and asked her who she was and she seemed to think he was joking.

At last she said: “Cathy, Your wife, Stevie – you okay babe?” And Stephen shook his head.

“Look what I got ya!” she pulled a lollipop out the bag and unwrapped its yellow cellophane. Stephen started to believe he was suffering from dementia; it seemed as if he had forgotten that he was married – and yet he knew he was single – so where did this Cathy come from?

He was confused, and for a while he wondered if he was dreaming. The flat TV screen on the lounge wall was gone, and he now had an old bulbous black and white cathode-ray tube sitting on a small table in the corner. The place had changed within the last minute; gone were the painted walls and vertical blinds – replaced by dated floral-patterned wallpaper and dark green nylon curtains.

To himself, Stephen muttered: “If this is a dream, then I’m aware that I’m dreaming, so it’s a lucid dream, and that means I should wake up now that I have cottoned on that it’s all a dream.”

“What was that, babe?” Cathy asked from the kitchen.

“Wake up, come on,” Stephen pinched his forearm, and it hurt, but he did not wake up, and so he panicked. He took long deep breaths and reasoned he’d fight the anxiety by going along with this unearthly situation. It all started coming back now – he was her husband.

He walked to the mirror over the mantelpiece and saw that he was now young – in his late twenties from the look of it. His hairline was just three inches above his eyebrows and his skin was tight, firm and peachy in colour.

“What’s happened to you?” he solemnly whispered to his reflection.

The couple went to bed early and he made love to Cathy, and she kept chewing gum in her mouth throughout the act. Afterwards, he slumped beside her and began to recall his other life in the Huyton of the 21st Century.

Cathy snuggled up to him, kissed him on the lips and played with his hair, and then she said, “Come on – again, again!”

“I don’t think I have the energy, my dear,’ Stephen told her.

“Oh come on, tiger, anyone would think you were old,” said Cathy, and she began to kiss his hairy chest. The hairs on that chest were usually crooked and white, but now they were straight and black.

“Old? I’m positively Palaeolithic,” Stephen assured her as he gazed abjectly at the ceiling.

“Thirty isn’t old, babe,” Cathy told him, her lips close to his ear now.

“This might just kill me,’ Stephen said, with blithe unconcern. ‘I suppose this could be termed “voluntary euthanasia”’

Three times he made love to Cathy and by 11pm the couple were sound asleep. Stephen awoke to the diffused light of a miserable grey morning – and turned in the bed to catch a glimpse of another strange woman with a huge head of blonde hair lying next to him. She turned out to be another wife – 24-year-old Amanda.

Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds was oozing from the alarm clock radio. Stephen looked at the bedroom. The 1960s wallpaper, curtains and fittings were all gone, and in their place there were matching Laura Ashley Floral patterns in the wallpaper, duvet, pillows and carpet. The door and skirting boards were neon yellow.

Stephen now knew he was going insane. He ran to the toilet in an effort to escape the mind-boggling incongruity of it tall, but decided again to go along with this bizarre illusion; he felt as if someone – some higher intelligence - was playing a metaphysical prank on him. He told himself it was 2002, not the 1980s.

He went down to breakfast and Amanda handed him a copy of the Today newspaper – a publication he had not seen for well over a decade. Stephen watched the colour television set in the corner and saw

Frank Bough and Debbie Greenwood presenting Breakfast Time.

He looked at the newspaper and saw that today’s date was Wednesday, September 10, 1986. He read about the SDP party, British Coal, the mysterious disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh, Desmond Tutu, and the American Star Wars space defence research programme – all people and things that Stephen vaguely recalled from the 1980s.

That day in 1986, Stephen also discovered that he owned a Vauxhall Nova and he was a very able driver – and yet in his ‘real’ life in 2002, he never owned a vehicle and had never learned to drive.

He drove Amanda to a former warehouse in the city centre where she was the manager of a sex chatline company, and then he drove to a second-hand science fiction bookshop he ran on Rodney Street called Fahrenheit 451 – named after the famous Ray Bradbury dystopian novella. This bookshop was located at 16 Rodney Street – and being something of a gourmet in 2002, Stephen knew that the upmarket Puschka bistro should have existed at this address.

He sat in an easy chair behind the counter, and reflected upon this strange life which could not be explained by logic. He wondered if he was in fact dead, and that these lives with different women were just the imaginings of a brain decaying as he lay in his coffin, buried under the six feet of soil in Allerton Cemetery – in the burial plot he had bought for himself twenty-five years ago.

He pinched his forearms – and finding that it hurt, he decided that this present life was real after all, but simply couldn’t be explained.

He pondered on the possibility that some psychology teacher in a future age might be messing with his mind to demonstrate to his class how humans eventually accept any metaphysical stimulus if they are subjected to it for a long enough period. Or was this rampant paranoia?

He philosophised till he felt nauseous. He sold six books that day, and then he drove to the sex chatline company off Victoria Street, picked up Amanda, and took her home.

That evening she cooked Stephen a fine dinner and at 10pm the couple went to bed, where Amanda tried to get her husband to take a sleeping tablet. He refused and in the end she took one and was soon in the arms of Morpheus.

Stephen lay awake beside her till two, ruminating on his uncanny, disoriented life. When he awoke the next morning he found himself in the arms of his 1950s wife Tina. She was looking into his eyes and he was startled by the unfamiliar face.

He was about to ask her who she was but soon realised that the trickster from beyond was playing another prank on him.

“I think we should have three children, Stephen,” Tina told him, and pressed her index finger on his lips. She then told him she was looking forward to the street party – for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

She also patted her abdomen and told Stephen she was pregnant and wanted to call the child Winston – but before Stephen had a chance to contemplate the gravity of being a parent he was back with 20-year-old wife Cathy in the 1960s when he awoke the next morning.

Then, a few days after this, all three wives appeared in the same house, which changed its decor to suit the time periods they were from, and Stephen became so dizzy on this extraordinary marital carousel, he ran into his back garden and hyperventilated as he hid behind the old beech tree.

“Please make it stop, make it stop! You’re driving me insane! Stop it, please!” he said, eyes closed, and shook. He was terrified of the three wives meeting one another as they moved around the different rooms in the house, and although he knew he was a bachelor in the life he’s led before all of this, he felt like a three-timing cheat.

There was a roll of thunder and a heavy downpour. “Stephen!” came a male voice nearby. “Calvin!” Stephen ventured out from behind the silver-grey trunk of the beech with a tincture of a smile on his lips.

“Stephen! Where on earth have you been?” Calvin came running towards him. “The front door wasn’t locked,” said Calvin Shepard, “and I have told you repeatedly about the rogues knocking about nowadays.”

“Did you see anyone in there?” Stephen asked his friend, and his eyes turned towards the house. “No, why?” Calvin asked.

“Calvin, how long have I been away? Something happened to me – something you will never believe.”

It transpired that Stephen had only been missing for a few hours. It was still that Saturday when he had answered the door to the first of the three wives. But how? Yet another mystery to confound the card-carrying lifelong bachelor.

He told Calvin what had happened, and Calvin, who had been his friend since they met in the same nursery 65 years ago, had never known Stephen to tell a lie – not even a little white one.

Calvin knew something which could not be explained by the science of this world had taken place. Stephen kept thinking he might have hallucinated the wives for some unknown reason, and he visited his doctor.

“One of the common key symptoms of dementia is memory loss,” the doctor told Stephen, “but your memory seems sharper than mine, and I’m only forty. The confusion you have reported will have to be investigated though, so I’ll send you for a number of tests and assessments to see if you have some other condition.”

“Yes, please do, doctor.” Said Stephen enthusiastically, ‘I’d like to get to the bottom of this strange experience too, believe me.’

Stephen was subjected to a battery of thorough tests and it soon became clear that he was not suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, nor any of the related brain disorders – and so, the blame was put on that good old scapegoat – stress. But Stephen said he had not been under any stress whatsoever. The specialists then started suggesting that he was some time-wasting attention-seeker.

I talked to Stephen and told him about the concept - derived from Quantum Physics - of the ‘Multiverse’ – the countless universes of which our one is just one of a countless series, and in each of these universes we differ slightly by degrees.  

I think Stephen’s three wives in different time periods might have been the result of his mind crossing over into different timelines in other universes – or perhaps, as Stephen felt, that someone or a something was drawing his mind to those three women.

But why? Stephen found himself feeling very lonely once the ‘phantom wives’ had vanished, and he felt as if he had missed out on being a husband. Because of his loneliness he started to go out to socialise, and he ended up dating a neighbour named Fiona, and he married her in the following year – with Calvin as the best man. Did something beyond our dimension – some metaphysical Cupid - steer the certified bachelor into a relationship? That’s the feeling I get, but of course, we may never know.

Haunted Liverpool 28 is out now on Amazon

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