Sample: © A. Colin Wright. For the story in its entirety, see

I’m a librarian, and I kissed a film star once. I touched her nipples too. At least I think I did.

     A holiday where you fly to New York and return to England on the Queen Elizabeth 2. With my brother Arnold, who hated it, but since my divorce there’s no one else to travel with, I’ve looked after him... well, since you died, mother... he has to come. This film star... well it would have been better without Arnold in my cabin. I like exotic places, libraries like in New York, would have toured the one in Washington if there’d been time.

    You’d like her films. Hélène Martin, pronounced the French way, I learnt enough of it in school for trips to Calais, for the duty-free. It happened on the ship. Where there’s a library too, not that it fits in that fantastic world, not what I’m used to either. I mean, why get a book for entertainment with so many other things to do, like meeting famous people? My British Library is for study, I fetch the books for scholars.

    Before I met Hélène I spent the time strolling round the ship in awe at that whole new world of floating elegance between sea and sky. Watching for shearwaters--I’d read about them in the ornithology section, flitting over the ocean, never coming in sight of land except to breed. Arnold, meanwhile, stayed sleeping in the cabin--we may be twins but we’re not identical, he’s not too bright, poor Arnold. I mean, when there’s luxury food, day or night, even for those paying the lowest fare like me! Easy to gorge yourself and get indigestion like I nearly did but managed not to. Good entertainment in the evenings too.

    I didn’t read a single book. Five days at sea and a film star were escapism enough after managing with Arnold in our old East Croydon house... well you remember how some people, who might have bought it, called it unpleasantly musty when they didn’t.

    Exploring decks and their different levels, discovering you can walk the length of the ship on some, while others stop at a staircase, or a lift... that’s how I met her. I’d wandered up two flights of stairs to the balcony with its expensive shops overlooking the Grand Lounge. Then forward towards the Queen’s Grill Bar, off limits to the likes of me. You see, mother, the wealthy passengers have a restaurant of their own, even special seats upstairs in the cinema... like a private club where they can remain anonymous without appearing in the public rooms. Except in the Casino, the best place for seeing the rich and famous, with slot machines I’d sometimes risk a pound on and green gambling tables--not that I’d not make a fool of myself with things like that. The night before, I’d stood watching a TV personality playing craps--didn’t say a word, of course, he’d never remember me afterwards, not like Hélène.

    She was coming out of a first-class cabin. The corridors in the higher part of the ship are no different from those below, nothing to stop you imagining having a cabin there provided you don’t go too far, to the Queen’s Grill Bar itself. She turned to look at me, and with my democratic principles denying special privileges to the rich I told myself I had a right to be there. That I’d no desire to mingle with the upper classes, that walking round the boat deck you could see into their windows anyway and might glimpse a celebrity if you weren’t afraid of staring.

    She was in tears, genuine as in her first film, Love in the Morning. Seeing me--like the fantasies I make up for my brother Arnold, I still can’t quite believe it happened--she flung her arms around my neck and sobbed. No explanations, mother. I didn’t say a word, not knowing where to put my hands and tempted to hold her like I would to calm my wife, but that had ended badly and I wasn’t sure it was the thing to do, someone might follow her out of the cabin, and how would I explain it?

    “My God I’m sorry,” she said artistically.

    Less glamorous than on the screen, I wouldn’t have paid much attention if she hadn’t been a star, with wispy blond hair falling across a face... well somehow anonymous, except that everybody knew it.

    Did I really invite her for a drink? I’m still in awe at the enormity of it.

    “Coffee,” she said. “Not in the Queen’s Grill, though.” (As if I’d ever suggest a place like that!) “I can’t stand it another minute! Somewhere else. It’ll be an... experience!”

    With other passengers looking on, I paraded her proudly down the glittering, metallic staircase, through the Grand Lounge to the Lido Bar behind. Sitting at a comfortable table with views of sea and open sky, with the swimming pool outside and glimpses of an occasional shearwater skimming by between the waves--it was a place I loved. A waiter in white gloves took her order.

    I didn’t dare ask why she’d been crying, so I asked her name instead. Knew it already, of course, but not whether it was correct etiquette to say so. Bad enough not having a dark suit for dinner, which would have done for our Mauretania Restaurant, but I’d only brought a decent pair of trousers with me, plus that corduroy coat you made me years ago.

    I’m not sure she was offended I didn’t let on I’d recognized her, or relieved. “Hélène... Martin.”

    “I’m Horatio Humphries.”

    She laughed. I’ve never liked my name.

    “My husband says he doesn’t want us slumming with the other passengers. He’s the director, Brandon Phillips.”