Dec 17 2009

Christmas Truce

On Christmas Day 1914 a spontaneous break in hostilities, the Christmas Truce, occurred between the German and English soldiers fighting on the Western Front.

Lance Corporal Adams was a farmer by design and a soldier only by accident. From within the muddy walls he looked up and wished he were up above the clouds looking down on a field below. Way up, above the black and orange, above the flak and shrapnel bursting high before falling back to shower the lines with the slow-spinning scythes that looked like sycamores but would take the fingers from your hand if you were foolish enough to try and catch one. He wondered what the crenelated trenches looked like from up there; like gaping gasping jaws perhaps, like a grotesque sideways smile. Up there above the clouds in the clear cold spaces was home to what his Commander called the ‘Insubstantial Multitude’, the ghosts of the dead with no place to go. Adams was not a religious man, Lord knows he took no comfort from the shallow promise of heaven, but he’d seen men right next to him suddenly switch off, like a faltering engine and he reasoned that something had to happen with the life that had been within them. Soon there would be a million up there, then unbelievably more. Every once in a while a single soul, freed of its flesh, but with unfinished business would descend through the biblical plumes that shamed heaven and scolded earth to reanimate a body long left for dead. It was chilling to behold, especially in the middle of the night if you happened to be nearby. But their stories of peace and the fact that they were no longer afraid…

Heat, hot and noise.

It would be noisier closer to the ground, of course. And just above the field ear-splitting. Rising from the writhing, the pounding of a thousand metal hearts. Ancient music. Lower down, the jaws in Adams’ imagination would resolve themselves into two raggedy trench lines scraped higgle-piggle with shovels and boards or sometimes fingerclawed in the frozen grey clay. And within these trenches sheltering like hermit crabs were men. Men like Lance Corporal Adams. Frightened men. Brave men, let it be said, can still be frightened.

Tonight a peace of sorts settled in the trenches at eleven, a whole hour before time. He watched the last hell-fire flare strobe the sky and then candles flicker up, casting domestic pools of light. Cautious camp fires next, warming at intervals and with the smoke he heard song. Crackling hoarse song though sweet and reverential all the same. English and German, tribal tongues mixing like incense above a battered altar. He smiled to himself and hunkered down for the night in his stinking uniform. If his Commander were to be believed, the two languages had an Indian mother in common. Of all things.

Dawn brought a thin frost and crisp blue-pink skies. In the trenches, Adams awoke and noticed the way the soil in the walls lay in bands. Strata, the Commander had named them.

“And if you look closely, you’ll see they bear evidence of previous extinctions,” he’d said this with a wry smile. Adams’ answer when he felt he was being patronised was always the same:

“What would I know, Sir. I’m only a farmer.” He reached within his coat and jogged another man – a Private – awake with a smile and a proffered smoke.

“No bombs yet,” he said. To himself he added: ‘And if I don’t think, if we don’t think – you and I – if we were to think instead, the pair of us, on the gift of this shared cigarette then maybe…’ The atavism of an age, the Commander had called it. Adams took his meaning. It bent some men double. How heavy is hope, how thin superstition?

A projectile soaring in the calm. Eyes wide and adrenaline. Adams pushed himself and the Private hard against the trench walls. Incongruously it sounded for all the world like a football. It was! It was a football. Suspiciously, at first, they eyed it, caught others doing the same. The hope. The soaring hope!

“Come on,” said the Private. “It is Christmas.” They looked at each other like children. Weighing hope in the balance.

“All right,” said Adams. Like lung fish, they crawled upwards, coalescing upright finally in No Man’s Land with others in four-four-two formation. Could this be real? To Adams it had the qualities of a dream. The Private stuck two filthy fingers under his tongue and whistled. Germany kicked off. A game – a tragic game – was danced under a pale winter sun. Cheers of a different kind rose above the field. The poets among them shed private tears from the sidelines while comrades and combatants played. Too soon a whistle blew on the only glorious minutes in four damnable years.

Enemies shook hands that day. Along the battle lines, men fell silent. Angels walked the earth.

On boxing day war resumed. The bombs for a time fell short, the bullets long. When the Generals sent warrants for court marshal Lance Corporal Adams and the Private were gone, part now of the Insubstantial Multitude themselves. And separated from time, Adams would ponder his Commander’s words and wonder what stewards are we, that in the intervening hundred years we would nurture these seeds of ninety peaceful minutes to reap a harvest of only seven stunted days.

Dedicated by a respectful stranger to the memory of bomb disposal expert Staff-Sergeant Olaf Schmid, killed while defusing his 65th bomb in Afghanistan on October 31, 2009, aged 30. And with deep awe to his brave, dignified widow Christina. I applaud you.


Dec 10 2009

Everything is Changing

When we found the car it was parked against a tree, a horse chestnut. I let go of my girlfriend’s hand and walked around it. Amazingly there was not a scratch anywhere.

“It looks different,” she said. It did, she was right, but I didn’t think it was helpful of her to point it out at just that moment.

“Well, yes,” I said. “It does.” I tilted my head, and tried to work out what had changed. The nearside front wheel was eight feet off the ground and nestled against the trunk. It looked like it was lounging. Like we’d caught it chatting casually with a neighbour. We looked up and down the street. It was the only car parked thus.

“Did you…” she trailed off as I raised an eyebrow. “Then how?” she said, her hands palm up by her sides. She looked thin when she did that, thin and young. A stocky old lady walked – waddled – towards us towing a languorous bulldog.

“Morning dears,” she said as she passed.

“Morning!” said my girlfriend automatically, hugging herself against the cold. I scowled at how desperate she was to make a good first impression with everyone around here. We watched their stop-start progress until dog and lady turned the corner.

“She didn’t even notice,” I said. My girlfriend nodded, then shook her head. I rummaged in the bag around my shoulder – a prized Rough Trade record bag I’d had since my first undergraduate year, when I was oh so certain of myself – and pulled out a dishevelled pack of cigarettes.

“What are you doing with those?” she said. I ignored her. I walked around to the passenger side and squatted on the grass, slotting a rumpled smoke between my lips. I lit up and drew deeply. It made me want to puke.

“You started smoking?” she said. “I didn’t know you’d started smoking.” I wanted to say ‘your point is?’ and ‘there’s a lot of things you don’t know,’ or something equally enigmatic but I kept quiet and carried on smoking, or at least pretending; embarrassingly, I couldn’t get the knack of inhaling. The truth was, I’d found the pack of cigarettes on a wall outside the city museum a couple of days ago and had felt an existential urge to try. I was getting that a lot recently. Perhaps I was getting old. There was a slim plastic lighter inside, I’d tipped the butane from chamber to chamber for hours at my desk.

I looked at the car. It looked away, upwards, staring, as though the headlamps eyes were looking for something in the canopy. I following its gaze. There was nothing unusual up there that I could see. A couple of blackbirds, a squirrel, but no smaller cars braced shivering among the higher boughs.

“Can you get it down?” said my girlfriend.

“I’m thinking,” I said.

We stood or squatted where we were. I held the cigarette awkwardly between finger and thumb, then between two fingers. Neither felt comfortable. I held it like a pencil. That felt weird too. The smoke coiled into my eyes, making them sting. I held it to the side like an incense offering. My girlfriend looked at her boots, at me, at the car.

I’d parked it the night before where I always did in the space outside our tiny new flat. Parallel parking through gritted teeth, swearing softly to myself as I messed it up again and again. A queue of traffic formed itself behind me in the narrow road. My coat, my clothes, had seemed suddenly too tight. Our evening, as usual, was uneventful. This morning, when we left together for work the car was gone. It never occurred to me that it might have been stolen. We set off to look for it. My girlfriend had slipped her hand into mine. I didn’t admit it, but I liked it. A lot. It felt right, like we were right. We’d found the car two roads away, parked against a horse chestnut tree in front of the new plastic looking dental surgery. Everything was new and plastic looking around here.

I frowned at the car.

“The tyres are different,” I said. It was true. All four of the ordinary road tyres had been replaced with ridiculous balloon tyres, small versions of the ones they put on monster trucks. “I don’t understand,” I said. My girlfriend began to nibble her fingernails. I ducked underneath the body and glanced, oddly embarrassed, at the spare slung beneath the rear wheels. “Even the spare,” I said. “That’s been changed, too.” We stood facing each other for a long time in silence.

“Everything is changing,” she said. She looked like she was going to cry.

“I’m going to be late for work,” I said, perhaps a little quickly.

My girlfriend did something with her long thin arms and went to the back of the car. The rear window was near the ground. She clicked it open and ducked inside. I watched her boots disappear over the seats.

“Careful,” I whispered. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

Soon I saw her above me slipping effortlessly into the front seat. She leaned out of the window.

“Watch out,” she said. “Backing up!” She eased the parking brake off and rolled the car gently down the tree until it sat like a normal car on the side of the road. Normal in every sense except for those big balloon tyres. “Hop in,” she said. “I’ll drive.”

In the passenger seat I found a letter scrawled on pale pink water-buckled stock card, with a blue Biro pushed through the bloated corner.

Hi there, Russ, Daisy! said the letter. Found these in a bin at the Goodyear factory. I thought you could use them. See ya!

I folded the crinkly note and tucked it into my record bag. I had no idea who it was from, or how they knew us. “Ride seems a little bouncier,” I said.


Dec 4 2009

Strawberry Stained Teeth

Back then, wars were far away.

We drove past the first two signs. From the back seat I watched my parents exchange looks, an eyebrow raised, a tiny shrug. Their faces were plastic in the dusty light, that peculiar, over-exposed 1970s light – you’ll know it if you were there – that streamed in through the windows of our coal-blue Vauxhall Viva. It’s odd to think now that things actually did look like that in the 1970s: bright, contrast jammed up high, perhaps a little blurring at the edges. As we neared the third sign they did it again. Something was going down. I sat forward and tried to join the dots. They were making a decision, or at least attempting to. If you know my parents, you’ll know that they would need some help. It had something to do with the signs. I looked. PYO, declared the third sign, 100 yds, and an arrow pointing obliquely off into the sky. The letters, daubed foot-high onto a whitewashed piece of ply, were formed in untutored clots. A clumsy childlike squish, red and heart-shaped, filled the space below. Garish green fronds sprouted from the top of the squish and a face – a smiling, spotty face – sat indecorously below, too far below to be compositionally correct.

It’s a strawberry,” I whispered to my brother. PYOing, whatever that might be, was connected with strawberries. Clearly this was what my parents called a treat. It was now or never. He leaned in.

Could we PYO one day?” he said as casually as he could. The ‘one day’ bit was the clincher. I watched my father compose his face for the benefit of us in the back seat and exchange a serious look with mother. She shrugged again, raised a brow, did something with the corner of her mouth, all signs that I had come to realise meant ‘I don’t mind if you don’t, dear’. My father locked eyes with my brother for a full three seconds in his rear view mirror.

No,” he said. Father’s voice was gruff.

Great!” said my brother. “Yes!” We celebrated, my big brother and I, with crooked arms, clenched fists batting at the cheap vinyl seats which released frantic coughs of dust. In the front, my father cracked a smile and indicated off the road.

What’s going on?” I said to my brother. “Why are we going this way?”

Just watch this!” he said imperiously, though I’m sure he didn’t really know himself. I nodded, complicit.

We pulled into a courtyard, hastily convened in a farmhouse garden by the imposition of a combine harvester and a battered caravan. There were no parking bays to speak of and we abandoned the car between a clutch of other sedans. In the back we spilled out, doors gaping and raced around the rough yard, pushing and yelling like indigents, at least that’s what mother called us. While we raced our parents collected a white cardboard box edged with blue and equipped with a folding metal handle. Instinctively, I knew it to be a punnet. Pun-net. I taste the word now. Delicious, Germanic. It formed itself in my head back then along with that fizzy feeling that told me I’ve lived a life before, and would again; that we all would live again someday. They called us over, my brother and I, and the farmer handed us a punnet to share.

We usually weigh the children before and after picking,” she said “But these look like good kids.” My parents laughed. I looked at them, flexing backwards at the hip, scuffling shoe. My brother laughed too, pretending to take her meaning. After a while I joined in.

Whatever you pick goes in here, understand?” said mother. She addressed this at my brother but then glanced sideways at me. “That goes for you, too. Clear?” We nodded. He grabbed the punnet and darted off. Moments later I screamed and ran after him.

We descended, he and I, deep into the interior of the field running side by side between the saw-toothed leaves that sprouted in clumps from the ridges. I had never seen so many berries, nor so big; some as big as apples sitting pretty on a rustic bed of straw. We ran past them all, evidently looking for something else, running even after we rounded the hill and were lost to the farmhouse. As we ran my brother jumped on top of the ridges, crushing plants and fruit beneath his shoes.

Yah!” he said as his feet came down. “Yah! Yah!” My heart leapt. Wide eyed I gulped air and screamed it too “Yah!” The inside of my chest felt as though it were made of light.

When we reached the end of the field we stopped to catch our breath hanging from our armpits over the rail fence. We hung there forever. In the next field barley rippled like sunset on a perfect sea.

Later we peeled our rocking bodies off of the fence and walked as slowly as we dared. I stooped and twisted a berry free, putting it carefully into the punnet. My brother reached out and put it whole into his mouth. I watched, impressed. I picked another. He ate that too. We filled the punnet and empted it twice.

When we returned our parents were drinking tea at a wooden table. I kept my head down as the farmer weighed our harvest and my father paid. My brother though, was untouchable. This is how I know he is all right, that nothing can truly harm him. He held their amused eyes as they asked why we’d been so long and returned their smiles through strawberry stained teeth. He will live in that field forever.


Nov 27 2009


We travelled to and from school together every day like this for two-and-a-half years. It felt like forever and then afterwards like nothing.

I pressed my head hard against the window cushioning most of what the road had to offer. My sister, twelve years younger, sat at my side and talked. I watched the road ahead, picking my way through the lines of a ballad she’d chanted while I swung the rope for her through a hole in the chain-link fence that separated our school grounds. The words jumbled together in my mind with the operations for discovering angles for x and y and with what we would eat for supper that evening. Somehow it all made sense.

Barbara Turner, the elected senior on our bus, was talking in loud hushed tones to the two boys in glasses, the Sidney twins. She sat turned in her bench and was leaning forward to address them, folder clutched adroitly to her chest with her slender free arm. I watched. She twirled a lock of thick, chocolate hair as she spoke and avoided my eye. I caught only snippets over the sound of the engine which the driver revved loudly at the bends and breaks in the road.

‘My mother said she saw her wearing lipstick…’ and ‘Well, yes, that’s certainly possible.’ Terence Sidney, always the brighter of the pair, sucked air and shook his shocked head. Albert simply stared, besotted. I loved him for it. I understood from the way she angled her body that lipstick was not looked on kindly in the Turner household. As these things work, I guessed it held a fascination for Barbara. I glanced at my sister who was still talking, whistling sibilance, through the new gaps in her teeth. Our own mother wore lipstick often when she worked. Bright lipstick. The brighter the better. I chewed on my wind-chapped lips hoping to raise a little colour.

Outside, the day was yellowing. I reached out and squeezed my sister’s hand. It fluttered like a sparrow. She turned her face full on me and looked a question.

‘Go on, Grace.’ I smiled down at her. ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt.’ She turned back to her neighbour over the aisle, picking up where she had left off in her small serious voice. I shivered.

‘The way we make it is by braising the filling first,’ she said. I’d shown her how to braise weeks ago and she had rolled the word around in her mouth, delighted at the discovery. ‘Sometimes we braise rabbit, mostly it’s a vegetable.’ She pronounces this last in four staccato syllables, finishing with her tongue sticking through the gap. ‘Then I roll out the pastry, put it on top of the dish and pinch the edges. We take it in turns to poke a hole in the top with a knife.’ I blushed at this, wondering if Barbara was listening, hoping both that she was and was not. I focused on the houses outside the window. I loved cooking with Grace, the chat, the little discoveries about her day that made mine come alive. I also hadn’t realised how limited our diet had become and resolved to learn another dish.

I’d fallen behind in the year of my sickness, only regaining my strength and my interest in school when the man, father, had finally gathered his things and left. I don’t even think of that time. And then the baby; Grace. Mother’s nerves were too fragile for her to do anything but help me name her. We had raised her together.

At our stop we thanked the driver and clambered down onto the side of the road, Grace skipping ahead. In a few years things would be different. We would relate as peers. She would stand tall, make her own way and the hollow fear inside me would be replaced by gentler things. The best I could do for her now would be to move aside. I let her turn the key in the lock when we got to the house. Mother was home already, busying here and there, filling empty spaces. I hung our bags while Grace climbed on a chair and took down mugs for cocoa.


Nov 19 2009

Venus Rising

When the rain woke her at 4.13 she had been asleep for less than an hour. She lay still beneath the cover listening to the steady patter of raindrops. With her head turned this way her body felt curiously heavy, unresponsive.

She opened her eyes. The world would soon grow light; darkness would thin and night retreat with swags of sumptuous sky in tow. Why keep on doing this? she wondered. Why won’t you sleep? It’s been weeks.

The rain – such a beautiful sound – wrapped itself tightly around the house, blanketing the sounds of night. It fell straight, she could hear that, without a whisper of wind.

She listened.

There! A subtle shift indicating a change in direction, a delicate lull, a discernible quickening. She hesitated, breathing as softly as she dared. Outside, the edges of the rain expanded into the stillness, crossing the gravel path that divided her tiny lawn, picking out rhythms on her Hostas.

She should twitch a finger to make sure she still could, perhaps one of the fingers on her left hand curled comfortably, as it was, somewhere next to her. That might be an idea. Perhaps she would in a while.

She had stared like a spellbound schoolgirl, embarrassed yet unable to stop. Nothing like this had ever happened before in all her adult life. His table had been a little way off to the right. She had noted the arcs his hands described, the shapes he left in the air. She would remember the way his shoulders carried the rest of him like a good coat hanger, the way he held and used his fork. She judged his dinner date – finer, possibly, yet eclipsed, certainly eclipsed – more than a little distant. After coffee the woman dabbed the corner of her mouth, stood fluidly and raised nothing more than a questioning eyebrow in Phillipa’s direction. She watched them go, hotly aware of her plainness, grinding urgent circles with her wine glass on the table. Her muscles of her jaw felt slack and tight at the same time. Later Phillipa left and hailed a taxi. She was half way home before she risked placing a hand beneath her ribs; a space had opened somewhere.

The house had been dark and cold when she arrived. She turned on a lamp and sat at her kitchen table with a mug of steaming tea and a desire to call someone, though she couldn’t think what she would say. On a whim, she ate a dish of rhubarb crumble then understood that the absence she felt wasn’t hunger at all. She washed her bowl and spoon and left them upturned on the wire rack next to her sink. She watched the bubbles as they swept idly downwards, switched off the light and climbed the stairs to bed. The sleeplessness had started then.

In the weeks since, she had become a spectator of sorts, disjointed, watching time shift away from her. She wondered what she looked like, curled on her side like this, hair spread out across her pillow. She should focus on moving something soon; the smallest part would do, if not a finger then definitely a toe. It would be her choice; it would be a victory.

At work she had begun to forget things, small things at first, like the way that her friends took coffee or the rituals of productivity. In meetings she realised that she could no longer understand the meaning of the more difficult words. She wrote notes frantically, hoping to make sense of them later. At lunchtimes she took walks through the park, taking care to avoid the restaurant. It was only when her fingers bled that Phillipa realised she had been chewing the skin from around her nails.

It made no sense, not to her at least. Was all this for him? A stranger? It couldn’t be. They hadn’t exchanged a word. She couldn’t even remember the way his face had looked. She called her father early one Saturday morning.
“I’m breaking,” she’d whispered into the phone. “I’m scared there’s only dust inside.”
“It’s Okay,” he whispered back. “That’s what they make bricks from.”

She watched herself lift the corner of her cover and sit on the edge of her bed. Padding downstairs, she crossed the kitchen floor and opened the door to the garden. Phillipa stood on the threshold and watched the rain fall in warm stripes. Away to the East, beneath the distant cloud base, Venus was rising.


Nov 12 2009

Charmless Man

I left her bleating in the kitchen, her back turned on me, arms busy at the wash. Outside, the wind blew South-South-East. I set my face against it and walked erect over rain-slipped stones and silent decomposing things that slushed beneath my boots.

In time, Orion’s shoulders nudged above the true horizon. She slept upstairs. In the stillness of our house I found her letter, unscented this time, though folded as carefully, and propped against the mantle mirror.

“It is not the same,” she said. And, “why can’t you just leave it alone?”

I watched my lip curl savagely at such revealing imprecision, evidence, if more were necessary, of hobbling flaws of character.

“By Christ,” I surprised myself. “I really am annoying.”


Nov 11 2009


It had happened again that morning. From where he sat, Mackintosh clad, gloved hands gripping the steering wheel at ten and two, the road and trees – in fact the entire landscape outside – felt as though it were moving and his car was the only thing that could be trusted to be still. It made him feel nauseous and slightly disengaged. He wondered if it was the act of commuting that had propelled the world from day to night beneath his tyres all these years.

What happens when I retire? He wondered. What then?


Nov 8 2009


I’m swimming through a polarised blue so deep and featureless that I’m not sure if I’m in a tropical sea or the sky above the Hindu Kush. A slow barrel roll reveals nothing, no features to orient myself by. Coming up from sleep is like this, through layers of consciousness that shift and meld into new, terrifying non-shapes in that moment before your body twitches you sideways through a door into another world. I try and imagine the twitch-or fall, it’s more like a fall I remember-to see if I can trigger it. I think I’m failing. I’ve been failing to fall for a while. How long, I can’t remember.

It’s not quite featureless. If I look ahead I see strange geometric black and white patterns. I used to get these when I rubbed my eyes with my towel after a shower, when I pressed too deep into the orbits. Maybe something is pressing on them from somewhere.

A layer disappears.

It’s clearer now. I can hear something hissing, then glugging. Hiss, glug. Hiss, glug. And I know that, for now, I’m back there, back then, watching the world, watching the twisted frame of my bike spin away like a seed on the wind. There’s a powerful wind stirring the blue, whispering that I don’t belong here, not here and not now.

Hiss. Glug.

Ice in my veins. It’s coming closer, speeding up through my chest, spreading its chill through my back, through my carotid artery to bathe my brain.


A nurse in here with me. She’d be moderately attractive if she weren’t so fat. She was here. Last. Month…

Lights coming towards me. Too near, too fast. A sound like thock, horizon spinning, slow, slow fast fast fast, slow. Branches, black and yellow, and blood. Mine, I presume.

Who was I before all this? Am I the same person? Who can say? Why the sudden need for continuity? Much of my skin was transplanted; cut from dead people with surgical precision and placed carefully onto smashed bones, torn sinews. My hair falls into my new corneas from time to time, which means it’s long. Too long. It’s also grey. I’m sure my hair wasn’t grey before. I’ve lost some weight. I understand that I’m almost white now with the salt and pepper beard of an older man sprouting from my-his-chin. I have the heart of an animal. Not an insult, it’s true. I had the valves from a pig’s heart transplanted into my chest to replace my own. The surgeon joked with me, he hoped it wouldn’t offend my religion? Couldn’t you tell, I asked? I laughed along with him. I’m not sure if it would, I said, or what that would mean. What would that mean? I asked. He stared at me when I said that. I stared at a painting over his shoulder, mentally applying thick layers of cerulean paint, like the sky I swim in. Like the sky I cycle in.

No one, apparently, reported me missing. I had no identification on me at the time of my accident. I’d probably just popped out for some milk, or something. Admittedly, that’s an odd thing to be doing in the middle of the night, in the middle of the countryside, in a three-piece-suit. One piece for every year I’ve been away.

Which got me thinking about me. It’s terribly freeing not to be shackled to a particular persona, to a particular history. I think I might like it-the old me, I mean-I think he might have liked it very much. But on the other hand, I can’t make up my mind, shackled, as I am, to indecision. And this is the key.  Life’s residue is a friend to the amnesiac.

But do I need a friend like that? Lets see. Can a person ever miss that which they have never had? Did ‘I’ have an identity before if ‘I’ can’t remember it now? Should I pine for my past when my present might be so much better? What about those who I might have left behind? Should I grieve for them, grieving for me?

Here’s what I know: Life’s too short.

So my ID is at ground zero, ripe for rebuilding. I’m the architect who is about to resolve the nature-nurture debate for myself.

At least I would if it weren’t for my residual self.

Here’s what else I know:

I’m right brained (the painting), left brained (the reasoning), I think, therefore I am (even if I didn’t continue), I live, I breathe, I love and love loving, I’m tidy (the long hair), I have prejudices, I’m going to have some fun.

Here’s what I think I know:  Identity, doesn’t live in the eyes, heart, face, space or race.

And something else: It does too.


Nov 5 2009

Eden’s Hare

I saw a rabbit. Or it might have been a hare. It was! It was a hare. There, by the side of the field. You saw it? It’s gone?