Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Q: If you could see the future, would you want to?
Chapter one - Visions
Rain. Hurtling against the window pane. Over and over again. Drumming through her brain, overwhelming her thoughts. Relentless. Like the voices on the radio.
I saw my mother passing away…then it came true…I saw myself getting the job…and then I actually got it…I saw Macron stepping down…I saw Elon Musk getting stuck in space…I saw Kamala Harris being sworn in as president…I saw…I saw…
Laura switched the radio off and turned over in bed. Eager callers sharing their visions were doing her head in. Their voices so needy. So desperate to share. It was all anyone could talk about these days. That and Ivanka Trump’s new role in the British government. I mean, really!
The TV wasn’t any better.
Latest strain has led to visions…during coughing…prescient visions…scientists cannot explain quite how…still unconfirmed…the Prime Minister has asked for calm while…blah, blah, blah…
Endless chatter. So much airtime. On what exactly? This whole thing was ridiculous. Of course you couldn’t see the future! Whilst coughing, at that! Had lockdown finally broken people? Or was she missing something? Maybe it was a way for the government to distract from their endless incompetencies or worse still, a teaser campaign for some new reality show. Yes that must be it. Batshit crazy.
Laura found herself getting even more agitated. She took a deep breath. Why exactly was this all irritating her so much? She inhaled again and reflected. It was the self-aggrandisement, she concluded. The self-importance of all these people unified by this fantastical phenomena. It went against her family grain to behave like this. There, self-promotion was never rewarded. Achievement was expected and yet never enough for her mother. Maybe that’s why she had chosen a career in the arts, her therapist had suggested. It’s subjectivity had provided a protective shield around any criticism, or in her family’s case, a lack of praise that may or may not come her way.
She still wasn’t feeling right. The fever had abated but her head still ached. Thank goodness she didn’t have the cough…
Suddenly her chest tightened. She gasped. Her lungs clung against her rib cage. All the air squeezed out. Choking for breath. Knuckles white, gripping her bed sheets. She coughed and in that split second, she saw:
Out of which, a chink of light.
Into a spinning bicycle wheel. Twisting and contorting in slow motion. Like a film. A bad film. Where something truly awful happens. An accident. A life-changing accident. Then…
Laura gasped and lay back down on her bed, preparing herself for the next round of coughing bubbling up. She saw:
A faded outline of a figure.
Standing next to a mangled bicycle wheel, an exhibit in an art gallery. Her name next to it. Her work of art.
Laura reached for a glass of water and doused her enflamed throat. What were those hallucinations? No…it couldn’t be.
She threw the covers over her head. She must be imagining things. Over-thinking. Psychosomatic. All in the head. That was the other angle that they had been exploring in her weekly shrink sessions. The emotional impact of her family finally taking its toll. Laura paused…but what if it wasn’t? What if these were the visions that everyone was getting so excited about. Wait. It couldn’t be real. How could Danish minks cause virus mutations that lead to clairvoyance? You couldn’t make it up. Her mind spiralled out of control. She hadn’t liked what she had seen. An accident. Her own…she could feel it. Followed by blindness…hers.
She had her first group exhibition coming up at The Gallery. The culmination of years of dreaming and hard work. Was it to be her last? She could picture her mother, tight-lipped, frozen smile. They would all look at her with those faux-sympathetic eyes and sigh with disappointment. Careless, they would say. Just like you to have a mishap, just at the point of opportunity. How can you be an artist if you can’t see? She couldn’t bear that. She pushed the thoughts out of her head and closed her eyes.
Days later, she emerged from her quarantine and opened the front door. Her bike lay waiting for her, her urban steed. Words filled her head again. Voices telling her to be careful, that she was hopeless, a loser. Even though she berated herself for it, she walked past her bike, suddenly afraid.
Government posters telling people not to act upon their visions peppered the streets. Don’t change the course of time. Your actions could affect our collective future. Laura shook her head sadly. No one would take any notice. Ever since the infamous Cummings debacle, people had stopped caring about authority and more worryingly, the collective. We were now all islands. Self-seeking, drifting aimlessly. Nothing new for me, Laura thought to herself. She had always felt alone in her family. Never sure where she was heading…until the exhibition had finally given her the direction she needed.
Now the visions were setting her off course. The fire in her had started to wane as she found herself avoiding all two-wheelers like a modern day Sleeping Beauty. Whether the visions were true or not, her survival instincts were forcing her to stay away from what she saw.
However nothing was ever simple. The Gallery kept pressurising her to deliver her central piece for the exhibition and she had no idea what this was to be. Every time she started on something, she ended up destroying it. Nothing worked. Nothing felt right. Apart from the one thing she was trying to avoid. The bicycle. Unconsciously she kept drawing them. Something macabre in her was making her. She told herself that Duchamp had already done it years ago but she couldn’t get them out of her head. Don’t give in. Don’t give the visions validation, she told herself but her subconscious wouldn’t listen. Her potential future was blinding her vision.
The day came when she realised that she had to make a choice. Laura watched Elon Musk halt his space programme under duress from his share holders and President Biden start a course in cryogenics. They believed. Their actions confirmed the legitimacy of the visions. Soon the scientists would too. Laura knew that if she was to proceed with the show, it would have to be with a bicycle. Her artistic success depended on it.
Laura’s heart ached. She now had the biggest choice of her life. Pursue her artistic dreams with her eyes wide open, knowing full well that in doing so she may risk blindness. Or resign from the show, aware that she might just turn out as her family have always expected…a failure.
Chapter two - Back to the start
Looking back, I never had a chance. I was never Readymade.
Sunlight blinded me as the hill loomed ahead. The burn in my legs flared and I relented. Let my feet drag as the bike came to a halt. Again. I noticed the dull ache of failure welling up inside but I managed to dampen it. That, I was good at. I was just never destined for greatness. Unlike her. She was Readymade.
Duchamp coined that term. Disrupting the role of the artist as creator. He changed thinking so that ordinary objects like the bicycle wheel could be elevated to ‘art’ by the mere choice of the artist. Suddenly lowly objects were catapulted to fame. Suddenly they were Readymade.
My mother always favoured my sister. Tending to her every need when she was nearly dying and then tending to her every whim when she recovered. No wonder she went on to achieve greatness in the world. The pride in my father’s eyes whenever he spoke about her burnt a hole in my heart. If only they had elevated me too, it might have all turned out so differently.
I stood on my bike and used all my power to get it going again. I wobbled as it slowly gained momentum.
Would I be doing all this, I thought to myself, if they had just shown me a little love? Would I be giving into the visions, giving them validation if they had just praised me a little? They had always been harder on me because they thought I was stronger…but I wasn’t. I was just a little girl then, like her, wanting her mother’s attention, her mother’s gentle hand caressing her to sleep. Here I was risking myself, my sight, my life because of their shortcoming. Just one encouraging word would have done. Just one.
I pedalled harder as I got nearer the top. Stay with me, keep going, said the imaginary voices in my head. I saw my sister’s face flash before me and it made me push on stronger. I wasn’t going to fail. It was no longer an option. My future had shown me how to fulfil my dreams. It was now my turn. I’ll show them, I said to myself. I’ll show them what I can do. That my work is special. That I’m special.
A drop of sweat trickled down my face. I got this. I was going to do it. Recreate the art in my visions. The mangled bicycle. The spinning bicycle wheel, twisting and contorting in slow motion. Like a film. A bad film. Where something truly awful happens. An accident. A life-changing accident. Then…
As the oncoming car tried to swerve out of my way. As my foot slipped and I lost my balance at the pinnacle. As the mass collided into me and knocked me out cold. As the trickling sweat down my face became a stream of blood. The last thing that came into my mind as I tumbled into the darkness was maybe this might make them care. At last.
A faded outline of a figure.
A gentle hand caressing my head as they are removed.
I open my eyes. I see…
My mother stroking my forehead with genuine concern whilst my father looked down on me with relief in his eyes. There was love there and for a second, it overwhelmed me.
As I wiped away my tears, I saw my reflection in the window. Wait. What’s going on? My twelve year old self looked back. Still young. Still impressionable. Still ready to be made.
Behind my mother, I caught a glimpse of my younger sister, crowded out by the commotion by the bedside. She tugged at my mother’s skirt, wanting attention, only to be brushed aside as my mother leaned over to hug me once more. Desperate for affection, she clung on to her skirt with all her might. She should have been the one in bed. I remembered. This was the age when she was bedridden for over a year. The moment she was elevated to Readymade and I wasn’t.
I could see the pain in her eyes as she was ignored. I knew exactly how she felt. I’d been there before. The ache in the heart, twisting and contorting, like a mangled up bicycle wheel. It ended up affecting my whole life and forever distorting my view on reality.
The feeling of empathy didn’t last long though. It was fleeting, replaced swiftly by euphoria as I was showered with the love and attention that I had always craved from my parents. Here, somehow, I was Readymade.
It was then that I realised that in their minds, my parents truly believed that they were doing the right thing. They were loving the one that needed it the most. They only had the capacity to nurture one child at a time. They hadn’t realised that all children needed love all of the time.
The door opened and a doctor came in, ushering my family out so that she could check me. As soon as they were gone, she lowered her voice. Laura, she whispered, you have a choice. You can choose this world or go back to your other one. It’s your time. Choose well. Your choices will have consequences.
Posters from my other life flashed in front of me. Don’t change the course of time. Your actions could affect our collective future. I pushed them aside.
One vision I couldn’t dismiss was my sister. Her pain on being rejected was palpable. Not being the chosen one. Never being good enough. I knew how that felt and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone but this was what I had been wanting all my life. It was my turn to be Readymade. I deserved it. Didn’t I? I stared out of the window, hoping for a sign. What was I to do?
Chapter three - Uncertainty
The sign came. Swiftly like a summer storm, building up in heat and then suddenly releasing in a downpour. A small pinch. Just a little squeeze of skin between sharp nails but the pain… Like a paper cut. Seemingly innocent but eye watering.
My sister wanted to make her feelings known to me. Her displeasure at being invisible. Her green-eyed monster making its appearance. I understood. She was only eleven after all. She wanted to inflict the pain she was feeling the moment she returned to the room. No one saw but I flinched and remained silent. In that one small action, she had sealed her fate.
I choose to stay, I announced. Simple as that, the deed was done. I was Readymade. Forever.
Like the wheel of my bicycle, time spun forward to the present day. An adult once more but now, somehow different. An air of confidence, of success, of being Readymade. People bustled around me, asking for my opinion; the gallery staff following me, eager for my thoughts on my upcoming show. I was apparently a success, a sensation of the art world. Everyone wanted to know my next move. What amazing creation was I going to bestow on to this world? It felt somehow ridiculous. Overblown. Excessive. Suffocating. I remembered the ignored me of yesteryear and yearned for her. Even my sister, the black sheep, seemed to have a better time than me. No expectation meant no expectation. My parents knew that she was going to amount to nothing and so didn’t seem to care what she did. Is that how they used to feel about me? I felt sadness mixed with envy.
My sister became a different person. Without the parental adoration and enabled success, she seemed a nicer, more humble person. Why couldn’t I have been as agreeable as her, I wondered, instead of the twisted creature that I had been.
The seemingly small change in my future had transformed our whole family. We were all somehow more pleasant. Not so judgemental. It was a fortuitous change.
However, other changes - happening all around - were more profound and not so straightforward. It was as if no one had listened to the Don’t change the course of time advice. I couldn’t judge though. We were all an island after all, doing only what was right for us.
Musk put all of his money into his space programme following the withdrawal of his investors. Bezos did the same to out-phallic his rival. Like the Space Race of the Cold War era, it was all-encompassing and the present day giants toppled under their own hubris, making way for smaller competitors to thrive. Small became beautiful again and bit by bit, people started supporting the underdog instead of greedily backing the corporate duopolies and monopolies, who operated without a thought for the damage their unchecked scale brought.
The fall of Musk, with his inventive genius, was a blow for civilisation but like the phoenix, it was predicted that he would rise from the ashes to bring about greater change in the future. Whether someone had actually seen that or it was simply a prognosis, nobody knew. People were becoming more cagey about their visions. It was as if they didn’t want to tempt fate or they just knew that providence would find its way. Biden and his team did their best to divert from the course of his envisioned demise but he passed during one his cryogenic sessions.
With all these changes in our lives, the only constant I had was my art. The one place where I could lose myself and explore my inner being. However having seen my future, I didn’t have to spend any time or perform self-therapy to come up with my latest masterpiece of the Mangled bike. It was all there, like an Ikea self-build kit with all the parts included. Practical but uninspiring. No room for creativity or imagination. Knowing the future negated the need to dream. Uncertainty was possibility. Without it you had nothing.
When I unveiled the work to a crowded room of appreciation, I felt empty. Nothing made my heart race any more. I had been dulled. I downed the endless glasses of champagne until I was blind drunk. I had to somehow numb the desolation that I was feeling. I tumbled through the adoring flock, stumbling on my words and feet. I tripped on something…my conscience perhaps…and suddenly I was surrounded by:
A faded outline of a figure.
It was then that I knew. I had always been blind. Hadn’t seen what had always been there before me. That the visions were telling me to open my eyes, not that they were going to be closed forever in the accident. I pulled the bandage off my eyes and I saw…
Rain. Hurtling against the window pane. Over and over again. In time with the the voices on the radio.
I saw my mother passing away…and I couldn’t do anything…I saw myself getting the job…so I stopped trying…stopped dreaming…I stopped…and I lost myself…
The TV was on.
Latest strain has led to visions…during coughing…prescient visions…vaccine approved today to prevent further outspread…90% success rate…the vaccination programme will commence on Tuesday…we recommend all to participate…your actions could affect the collective future…
I knew then what I had to do. I was going to heed the government’s advice this time. I wasn’t going to risk getting that cough again. I didn’t want to see my future. I wanted to embrace my present and meet my obstacles face on. What was I without my strifes and dreams? I needed to see again. See what was in front of me and not what was around the corner. It was then that the name for my next project came to me…
Uncertainty is possibility.
If you need to talk to someone, call The Samaritans on 116 123 (UK) or 1(800) 273-TALK (US).
📷: Lawrson Pinson