I was pouring synthetic milk over my cereal when I looked up and saw him: a tiny Lionel Richie in my driveway. Had I forgotten to take my pills? I double-checked the blister pack then stared out of the window again. He was cross-legged on the ground, flicking a twig at my bicycle’s rear tyre. Lionel! Hands off my wheels!
Grass blades were tangled into his rain-soaked hair and he was wearing a green gabardine jacket. He looked… dishevelled isn’t quite the word. I’m tempted to say decrepit but this is Lionel Richie – seems disrespectful. The jacket? Torn and patched. His shoes? Muddy, split at the toes. His hair? Very un-Lionel, like someone had flattened it with an iron. And why was he shrunken into such a tiny form? I felt a shame flood through me that I didn’t understand.
I went outside.
Hello, I said, then kicked myself.
I tried again: Mr. Richie? Are you ok?
His eyes swam, in a way that wasn’t synchronised.
I scooped the four-time Grammy winner into my palms and carried him indoors under my coat while the rain continued to thump down bleak and hard. I placed him on the kitchen table, in the shadow of a fruit bowl where I thought he’d feel more comfortable. I poured a saucer of milk, crumbled a digestive biscuit on a small china plate. I used my best china.
Lionel gawped aimlessly around the room, apparently unaware that he was in a stranger’s house, amidst the ruins of a life flailing apart. I switched my mother’s photo frame around to face the other way. She wouldn’t have wanted to see Lionel like this.
I’ve been in a few tight spots before. Mother always said: sometimes the best next step is to do nothing. In the most important ways, the world had proved her utterly wrong, but for this new situation in my kitchen, it seemed like wise advice. I settled into silence, inviting the underside of my brain to figure things out. Should I contact the police? Reach inside the man’s tiny pockets, look for a phone?
The clock ticked onwards. I noticed a humming sound. Lionel’s low, unsteady voice – a plaintive, mournful melody. I imagined a folk ballad about the old ways, before the climate turned feral, before the virus took hold.
The atmosphere stilled. Lionel was crying. He sang louder. There it was, his gorgeous, honey-dripped smile of a voice, harnessing all the bittersweet glory of the planet.
The fine hairs rose on my arms. I set aside all thought of rescue. I just had to cherish whatever moments our community had left.
I mumbled along in harmony, trying hard to remember.
We’re going to party, karamu, fiesta, forever.
Michael Loveday’s hybrid novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He is currently completing a flash fiction collection on the theme of secrets. More at: michaelloveday.com | Twitter: twitter.com/pagechatter | Facebook: facebook.com/MichaelLoveday001