Thursday, 5 September 2013

A terrifying comedy

What does the invisible picture inside all our heads say to us? I'm just shaking out futility or punishing somebody. That's a familiar line and a comfort. My memories are real enough now. At times I cant quite believe where I am and what is happening, whether it's happening to me or someone else. I'm in the deep red leather rear seats of a Lincoln Continental. In my left hand a crystal glass half full of a fine Scottish malt whisky, just a sliver of ice floating on top offering little resistance to the spirit's heat. In my right hand a thick dark Cuban cigar, slowly smouldering as I prepare to take another puff and another gulp of the warm whisky. This is a satisfying moment. We're cruising on a smooth desert highway, the sun squints at me through the window tint. Scattered shrubs and bushes, dust and heat roll away and back in this flat and throbbing landscape. Even looking out at it tires me so I sink back into the wispy smoke and the tantalising corrosive drink. My shoes are kicked off, my toes are stretched, alone in this huge rear seat. I'm enjoying this moment.

A glass screen separates me from my silent driver, he looks forward, straight down into the vanishing point, never turning to me or attempting any engagement. He is under strict orders, there is a consignment to deliver, a schedule to maintain, a deadline to meet and I am the object at the centre of it. The car purrs on, smooth as a silent night train, miles burning out under the tyres, clouds stationary as we race past them. My bored and drunken state adds to the absurdity of the moment. I wonder how I will be, what will my state of mind be when I reach my destination? Do I really care? Another mouthful of cigar smoke and whisky tells me no. It's all about the journey, slipping and sliding on the glossy seat.

Maybe I sleep, maybe I dream, maybe nothing is really happening and this travel is an illusion. It seems so until we stop for fuel at a brightly lit station. I take time out for a pee, a cool beer and to stretch my tired legs. The driver keeps one eye on me as he pumps the gas, I note the sinister bulge of a pistol in his breast pocket. No words are exchanged, he just nods as he hands the money over to a cashier. He cracks a red-frozen can of Coke and glugs it down and lets it clatter, empty into the bin. Then back out onto the forecourt and into the car. A truck driver looks across and nods to the driver. He raise the bird and the trucker sneers. We're back on the road, heat and dust and insignificance, the black shoots of exhaust and the hot engine becoming hotter. In seconds we are back up to cruising speed whatever that is and headed on beyond the signs and fractured neon patterns. The sun is slowly sinking and so am I. It's time to snooze through this part of the travel plan.

The gravel crackles under the tyres, the slow crunch, the splatter of the tiny stones. Mechanical marvels and clockwork dreams. I love the American automobile but I'm slowly waking up here on the rear seat like a stranded celebrity. There's a film of dust on the window, the sun is coming up and we seem to have stopped. The driver is gone but the engine and air conditioning is running. I'm cool but uncomfortable, I'm nervous. I pour out a whisky breakfast, I light and cigar and allow the window to wind down. I blow out a puff of uncomfortable smoke out into the still air. We have arrived in some empty place. The cigar tip glows and osculates as I breathe in past it to smoke and continue with collecting my scattered thoughts, they were there once, in order. Now they seem lost, misfiled inside my head and overlooked by my conscious mind. I cannot drive them back in to some sensible structure. They are left behind now. Perhaps it's for the best. Surely I did bad things.

I unclick the central locking and open the door. I'm stepping out onto dry gravel. The car is parked by a low white wall next to an empty road. The sky is clear. The engine still hums as I walk away from the vehicle and turn 360 degrees taking in this horizon, over the wall, across the scrub, across the dunes, beyond the dull ribbon of road. I stand still and take a few last puffs from the cigar, stub it out under my shoe and then drop the empty glass to the ground. It fails to smash. My gut tells me it wont really matter now. It is another discarded prop in the telling of the tale.

They say you hear the bullet coming, the bullet with your name on it, there in that long final second. That timeless spilt between life and death and the black hole that opens up before you. I heard a strange whistle, it seemed to emerge from the sun, over the wall somewhere, hidden by the car. Then a crack, then more whistle than maybe some flash, it was hard to tell. Everything, suddenly is hard to tell. Then the white hot metal, a molten contradiction, an apology and an ending. Now a huge thud inside my head, like my heart is punching me out, from the inside. Now the sky is spinning and I'm down and horizontal. There should be voices but silence prevails. Now I'm on my back on the warm ground, my hands are scrambling across my chest as it was a broken piano on which I'm looking for tune. There's a pain there, unidentifiable, and a slow, grainy grey fills my eyes from the back outwards. Now the voices come, all around, surround sound, cackling and broken, speaking but making no sense. It's all strangely familiar.

I'm lying on my back, I'm aware of fluid draining away, swooning inside myself and there are shadows over me, hovering like dark angels. I hear Robert Johnston tunes and strains, spastic rhythms that descend into discord, it should all have been so sweet. I forgive myself and wallow as they play on. My foot or my finger may be tapping a beat, it may be automatic or a spasm, it's hard to tell, something is pounding me down like a broken drum, slowing slowing and growing faint. It's all just a terrifying comedy. A terrifying comedy, split open and flat on my back. There am I. Life and death, a terrifying comedy. I never did expect that to be my final thought.

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