Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Gun fight

Pete sat back on the basket chair, burped and lit up another cigar, he began to use the cigar as a pointer. He pointed to the barman who dutifully came over, “Armadillo!” said Pete. The barman turned quickly, fiddled behind the bar and returned with a dark brown bottle and there shot glasses. “This” said Pete “will complete your education, this is the spirit of the Andes and the elders.” He poured us a shot each and in almost automatic mode the three of us clinked the glasses and swallowed the unspectacular looking drink. It was a burning, muddy, dirty spirit, forged with an acid heat that treated the back of the throat like a familiar and unfriendly razor. Ernesto smiled in a broad, uncontrolled grin, “she is the spirit!” It was good and I could tell Pete sensed our tongues loosing, our guards dropping and a potential launch pad for his business opportunity ramble to open up.

We drank three more each in quick succession, Ernesto seemed most affected, eyes glazing slightly and speech dropping. Pete was smoking and talking and I was trying to keep tabs on the barman who I decided to mistrust. I also became aware that in the corners of the room, bar or café or restaurant various shapes had taken up lodging, human shapes. Pete’s words were flowing forwards with various money making schemes, gold mines to invest in, archaeological sites to loot, pre-Colombian art deals and drugs of many kinds. Ernesto looked like he was listening but he was tired and on the way to drunkenness, I was growing in the grip of paranoia. We were here drinking like Scottish tourists with an obvious crook in a slowly expanding criminal universe a few hundred miles from home in the rain.

Like on some incoming tide the room was filling with assorted floating farm workers and bobbing truck drivers. A few candles and oil lamps had been lit to supplement the dim electric bulbs that hung over the bar area making the place only more sinister. I decided, as I drank to respect Pete a little more, listen and then look for a good opportunity to bow out to the motel at the back where I thought we’d rented a billet. Pete was babbling about the economy and the police and Ernesto was responding with one of his idealistic political arguments. Then, with no warning that tide of workmen suddenly broke over us, a group of figures appeared in front of our table blocking out the light and so applying a wild and contrived sense of theatrical drama to the evening - but with no humour. There was a crack of a gun and a searing flash of yellow and white and smoke. Furniture tumbled, hands, feet and fist flew as I spilled left and Ernesto spilled right. In the middle Pete was collapsing like a pierced balloon and gasping, he‘d been hit. There were bottles flying from somewhere and I felt a sharp pain in my wrist as my weight fell upon it as I skidded across the floor. Looking up I saw the shape of Ernesto head out the back door and in a split second I was there with him. Behind us thirteen kinds of chaos were unfolding as two other shots rang out sending a cruel percussive crack of sound into the back of my head, but I wasn’t going to stop running.

What did stop me running was the kitchen girl, screaming and shouting and waving a tray like a tennis racquet. She thinks I’m responsible for something and catches me square of the side of the head as I fly past. It is a stunning blow and propels me sideways into the wall and across the floor of the corridor (I think it’s a corridor), then it’s another blow, same tray, same head. My face hit’s the floor and a black sheets descends. I feel strangely grateful, I am either dead, shot, concussed or drunk, perhaps all four, perhaps some fifth state, the nature of which I know nothing about.

The darkness doesn’t last as long as I’d wish, headlights and rain wake me. I’m lying in the car park. Behind me I’m aware of people jabbering and moving and a distant police siren wails closer and closer.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Anonymous vegetables

“I don’t like spiders and snakes!” thankfully there were none, just a dark corner in the back of the café where a man sat, alone. We ordered a cup of coffee and browsed the menu. As we sat down the man looked up and then looked down. He was erring on the side of portly, middle aged, wearing a linen suit with all the usual crumples. His tie was loosely hanging from his neck like an upside down noose, his shirt collar was swearing at him and the rest of the room and he was in the middle of setting up a significant sweating self irrigation system. He was reading a paperback book and smoking a long thin cigar, in the mirror opposite his reflection was smoking a paperback book and reading a long thin cigar, if only I thought.

The coffee was South American muddy, it may even have been African, depends on pirate travels and broken axles. The man had stopped reading but was still smoking, long thoughtful draws resulting in grey blue rings and circles of exhaled puff. He began to look across, moving in slow motion like some heavy lizard, his eyes seeming to scan across the floor and furniture, over our table and then over to us. Two travellers hiding behind the pale coffee. He produced a squint smile that smacked of pain and irritation and then he opened his mouth and spoke. “You guys need to talk to me if you know what’s good for you.”

Gangster cliché I thought and a tad scary, he’s some old con man, bored, looking for easy prey and not finding it in us, two slippery, tired and hungry road rats with an entire days pedigree (almost). We shuffled over and sat with him, perhaps he’d have a story and that story, once started could live on with us and join the great pool of stories that lives in the collective consciousness, never written, occasionally spoken, often changed, the true living bible and lost testament. Three lives.

We talked for a while, his offer was muling, a stupid idea and we told him so and he became angry. We decided to tame him by ordering dinner, sharing it with him and by stealth getting information on mule routes and methods. Then we could either engage with them or avoid them, travel knowledge is power, at least over the highway and the mud slide. He spoke east west and coast to coast until the food arrived, Ernesto noted the place names and road numbers, they may be real, they may be made up.

There was rice, green anonymous vegetables, orange anonymous vegetables, pink meat and oily liquid with a roll of hard unleavened bread. We three were hungry men so we ate and conversed, the suited man ate but still smoked, odd and off putting, like sex with socks on or swimming in a hat. His name was Pete apparently.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Lovely Bones

We spilled out of the car eventually and the daylight flooded in. A girl with bottled red hair and miscellaneous piercings sat at a desk. She pointed to the price list and began to talk in a thick Spanish and a thin English version of international soundscape. We must have looked a sight but we handed money over and thanked her in return with body language. She picked up a phone and said a few quiet words into the mouth piece. Ernesto whispered a joke about oral sex as she got up and ushered us through a doorway. "Don't touch the bones" she said, "don't touch the bones."

Monday, 16 August 2010

Dead engines

For those of you who don't know, don't really know or really don't care; I can see dead engines. Ernesto, Claudia and the rest do not possess this twisted gift, I struggle with it, it's use and the inherent responsibilities of having this weight to myself. Sometimes I think that this pain will never end, then I wake up, with a start, sweating and realise that though I have been sleeping, perhaps for a very long time, none of this is a dream.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Roadkill Ford

Everything is everywhere at all times and matter cannot be destroyed, it is all on a journey to somewhere unspecific, we may for a time join it as it travels and as our paths run in parallel. This 1983 Ford Sierra is a reminder of...1983 I suppose.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


I was asleep for most of the 36 hours that I’d been awake for and it seemed to have been dark for longer. We had swapped driving, thinking and sleeping duties eventually despite the fading light and the pressing need to get out of and through the country. I lost count of the artificial borders we crossed and recrossed but I had to eat something. The lights of a restaurant beckon and we stop, the rain water steaming on the bonnet in rainbow wisps as the doors slam.

Inside it’s warm, welcoming, slightly grimy and busy. Diners jostle for positions, glasses and cutlery play a rough musical accompaniment, the diners eat and talk. There is candle light and music, louder than it should be. There is a customer queue but it is reducing like an optical illusion. The waitress shows us an empty table and despite being cramped in the car the wooden benches are a comfortable relief. We order from the limited menu, steak. See wipes the table with a cloth and smiles.

Steak comes from cattle, cattle from fields, fields from farms, farms from the land, the land from the sea, the sea from the clouds, the clouds from the vapour, the vapour from the breath, the breath from the lungs, the lungs from the body, the body from the womb, the womb from the female, the female from the male, the male from the chip, the chip from the block, the block from the granite, the granite from the cliff, the cliff from the beach, the beach from the sand, the sand from the stone, the stone from the earth, the earth from the other, big earth, somewhere out beyond our understanding. That is the story of the steak that sustains us. The tomato and baked sweet potato that take up the remaining third of the plate have their own stories and creation theories, I cant repeat them here. We all need some mythology to sustain us on this long journey, e need to come from somewhere and be going somewhere else.

I cut into the dark, brooding steak creating a continental divide and took a mouthful of coffee. Ernesto was staring at his plate savouring the meal, smiling and chewing on the beef. He pointed his fork at me to make a point, “here the produce the best meat, the best, it what they do, the cattle men, we can learn, we can watch, we take our knowledge back to our ranch, one day.”

I don’t know so much about the steak, though it is pretty good, the right thing at the right time, I like eggs.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Coffee will help

I was enjoying this disastrous break with that permanent fixture and dog lead that is time. Studies and essays and the apology for early adult life were somewhere back in the tyre tracks, veiled with rain and pinned into the retrograde grey cityscape. My beloved, remote intelligentsia were propping up bars, flexing angle poise lamps and scribbling, they were drinking a fourteenth cup of coffee, watching pavement patterns and reading dull books. I was a passenger in a speeding car in a new conversation famine but I still could see them..

Claudia was lying on Ernesto’s bed, close to an exaggerated embryonic position in the dusky room. Eyes everywhere, looking for clues. His things were scattered around and she breathed in the remaining atoms of some testosterone cocktail that she sensed was hanging in the air. Each intake was like a sweet addictive overdose, each one an experience of something that she’d never admit to. She had rummaged in drawers and cupboards looking for tags and traces. She has found glossy pornography and tattered novels, penknives and family photographs, bills and receipts, coins and broken cigarette lighters. She settled for the pornography and thumbed across the tanned and shaven pages sensing more and less of him and some wild cloud of past appetites and sexuality. As the raindrops beat the time’s dry passage onto the wet window sill she slept but could find no dream. When she awoke he was still gone.

We are racking up ruthless smooth miles, dark towns and villages, road numbers and green signs, truckstops and the flotsam of traffic and animals pass by. We follow some vehicle for a while, a speeding taxi or empty truck, some other sports car or a white minibus cranked up to it’s limit. One by one they leave the road, turn right or left, are overtaken or just disappear backwards into their own lives and journeys. We however pursue the straightest and most direct road while those others, the non explorers peel away. The trip counter says 425 miles and we are running low on fuel.

The crumbling petrol station is glistening like a forgotten Christmas tree, the petals and balls and coloured masks reflect in the shop window festooned with adverts and notices. The pump sucks some life back into the car and pushes the needle back from E to F, back down the alphabet lined road. We buy sugary drinks that look to be doctored, suspicious, we pucker up and drink through straws and much chocolate that has escaped from silver paper. At the till nobody bothers with eye contact or talk, this night time rendezvous has no witnesses to it’s business. The CCTV captures images but fails to record, a habit that the local police have also acquired.

Claudia rubs her eyes, sits up and falls back on the bed unsure how much time has passed. Ernesto has flown like a ghost and the debris around her is all his fault. Seedy magazines and trash, she feels spiteful, remorseful, angry and frustrated. The coffee will help.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Save as a draft

And so on the 2nd August the dull and dreary descended upon us blanking out the endless tape worm that is the road. The future is reduced to light and shapes and spontaneous manoeuvres and reaction times. We can see only so far and every other driver is intent on blinding us and puts the fear of some dark God hard into our souls. It all feels strangely good, almost wholesome, wildly scary, like a fairground ride gone wrong but nobody wants to stop and dismount. I collect my thoughts nicely and then proceed to let them loose like freed pigeons escaping into a crazy race they don't even know they are competing in. We just drive, today, the first day.