Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cloudy Thoughts

The rain battered down in West London until the redbrick mansion blocks were subdued under the torrents of water. She and I sat outside the pub, surprisingly well sheltered by the thick overhang of trees. Ensconced, we drank and talked and were smugly amused at how we somehow remained dry. As the shower subsided and the eight o’clock sun dipped, the sky took on a pixalated hue, clouds of grey and red spiralling lazily through the open air.

‘Look at that,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it beautiful? I love British skies.’

I agreed, even though I wondered how much thought I’d ever given to it before. The wide American skies, the clear star speckled nights above the Mediterranean, yes, but had I ever truly looked up at home?

That night, on the bus between Victoria and Peckham, I inexplicably dreamed about my ex for the first time in months. Only, rather than a paranoid dream fuelled by whiskey and bitter confusion, it was more like a memory resurfacing. I dreamed of a rain sodden afternoon in a park that no longer seems to exist. We watched people ride flight platforms, inflate translucent bubbles of sky and think wishfully of surfing the napes of clouds.

*

‘Aaannd ah saw tailll-lights, laaast nnight, in a dream abhout mah first wife, everybahdy leaves so whay shouldn’t you?’ sang the retro-American, angrily, when I turned down the music to answer the phone.

A couple of hours later I drove straight through clouds that clung to the asphalt of the M40 as rain thundered backwards off the car’s bonnet. I drifted too close to the car driving frustrating slowly across both the outside and middle lanes and flicked my headlights angrily. As I did so, I wished I had the swirling blues that
I was chasing the slipstream of all the way to the hospital.

By the time I was wandering through the wards trying to find the right one it was
finally starting to seem real and trepidation was nibbling away at my gut. When my mobile rang, I looked at the display and hung up on her thinking ‘not now.’

*

‘You should go, anyway,’ said Boss later that afternoon. ‘I’m all right. Really. Go.’ And he pointed to the exit.

And, unusually, I did as I was told.

*

The clouds were thick and low in Snowdonia, drifting in clumps to occasionally reveal glimpses of sharp descents and scambled ascents, razor sliced ridges and implausible jumps, as we, typically enough, went up the back route. The clouds defined the scope of the land. Those shadowy figures that lurked just beyond the edge of our vision were like visitors from within the mists, the Gods of Olympus stepping down off their immortal cloud to taunt us. From within the murk the occasional blurt of a haunted train distilled across the air. Whilst we continually threatened to loose the path we were never going to lose each other, if only because of the radiating baby-blue glow from B.Eagle’s rather dapper footwear.

And on the final descent, the wind finally blew the clouds clear and the valley opened up. Green, green land spread itself across the slopes in all its glory.

‘It does make it all rather more pointfull,’ said John, ‘when there’s something to look at.’

*

With Boss successfully liberated from the boredom of hospital, I roared through the East Midland flatlands and felt the sun dapple through the muck on the windscreen. Above, the sky opened out, almost entirely cloud free, wide and welcoming in a way that reminded me of New Mexico. I idly day-dreamed of dust and cowboy hats and visions of an imaginary Billy the Kid slouching in the Lincoln drizzle.

*

‘I think there’s some serious cloudage coming in,’ said Stu and we turned to look at the distant rain falling relentlessly once again.

It did indeed come and then it went and then it repeated itself all over again and again.

In a brief respite, Clare-without-an-i and I stood amongst the tents finishing our last drinks whilst around us others struggled into their swine-flu swathed sleeping bags. The sky, once again, seemed open - stretched across like a prepared canvas. Thick black heavy clouds were scattered like the first dollops of water-sodden paint.
Clare spotted a shooting star in the far distance.

‘Did you make a wish?’ I asked and she screwed her eyes tightly shut for a moment. ‘You see that cloud?’ I continued, once she had reopened them. ‘Don’t you think it looks a bit like the Loch Ness Monster should?’

*

Finally I got to tromp in unexpectedly glorious sunshine. To either side of what momentarily felt like a plateau, yawing plains spread all around, as Claire-with-an-i excitedly talked about going to Venezuela and a nine day rain forest trek up into the mountains.

‘Wow,’ I thought, unable to really get across quite how jealous I was.

Later, as we took a quick drink in the pub on the hairpin bend, google-Steve said to someone else: ‘I think you should just do it. Nobody ever had any regrets about doing something, only about not doing things.’

Even later still, as the fine drizzle came down across the meat being steadily charcoaled in the garden and the clouds circled in the dark, Google-Steve added: ‘Do you think that the Chinese factory workers who stuff the novelty Loch Ness Monsters wonder what the hell they are?’

‘Legless green camels, wearing tartan caps – its self explanatory.’

*

‘I’ll ring you on Tuesday, Boss,’ I said breaking the embrace. ‘After you’ve seen the doc.’

‘Look after yourself,’ he replied. ‘Don’t do anything too silly.’

‘Me?’ I replied. ‘You don’t need to worry about me. I bounce. Eventually.’

*

Returning home to the city after ten days, the cloud circled and the sky seemed inexplicably full of grit and grime Рa smogged up, dirty m̩nage of brickdust and exhaust fumes. It was good to be back.

I exited the flyover into the centre of town and pulled over. I looked at the phone in my hand.

‘No regrets,’ I muttered to myself. I scrolled through the numbers and hit dial.

‘The person you are calling…’ I held the phone away from my ear and thought about leaving a message, but couldn’t think of anything to say and so hung up.

As I fired the engine again, the CD restarted and the folksy-Englishman sweetly sang ‘I mean if love is just a game, how come it’s no fun; if love is just a game how come I’ve never won? I guess maybe it’s possible I’m playing it wrong.’

‘Baaa-baa-bah; baaa-baa-bah,’ I tunelessly joined in as I headed on home.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Red Means Stop

It was turning late as I walked down the access ramp to the subterranean car park, nestled under the bowels of the Cutty Sark’s reconstruction. The warm rain made the air exude a steamy mist that shivered in the hue of the white electric lighting. The peroxide eighties shock blonde in the greyed-out leopard print coat walked alongside me and chattered amicably enough, the background hammer of water on concrete masking her Eastern European accent. I have no memory of the words we spoke, for by this point I had been drinking heavily for eight hours.

A pair of hazard lights blinked out the murk.

I looked at the car and then looked at her. She nodded and opened the left hand driver’s door of the cider-piss coloured Tigra. With a mental shrug I followed, curling my oversized frame into the tiny passenger seat. Unable to sit upright I squished my neck down until it was vaguely comfortable and quickly gave up in my attempts to find a seatbelt.

‘Can I have your postcode?’ she asked.

I gave it to her and she twiddled knobs and buttons on the magic box.

‘You won’t be able to go the way it tells you,’ I said.

‘We’ll see,’ she replied and fired the engine. A nervous cough came from under the bonnet, a protracted rattle that rumbled through the metal and into my bones.

‘You want to get the oil topped up,’ I said, shifting awkwardly in the seat – already my feet were turning numb.

‘What?’ she said, not sharply, but certainly brusquely.

‘That rattle? Top the oil up.’

‘What?’

‘Never mind.’

With a squelch of rubber we thlumped across the car park, bounced up the ramp and roared into the Greenwich evening, the car’s headlights were set for full beam and span through the dark. She reached across and, with a starkly painted finger, pressed the stereo into life. The volume preset for maximum flushed Marilyn Monroe into our lives, singing sugary sweet vocals over a delicate, whispery melody: ‘Send that raaaiinnbow to me.’

‘Veer left,’ said the box, as though it was reading erotic literature.

‘Roadworks,’ I said. ‘You need to go right, then left.’

We turned right.

‘Veer right.’

‘She says right.’ She glanced at me.

‘It thinks we’ve missed the turn. It’s taking you around the one-way loop again.’

‘What?’ she yelled as Marilyn hit the chorus.

‘Diiiaaaaamonds are…’

‘Go left.’

Despite the protracted boozing, despite the fact that a significant proportion of my blood had been replaced by ale, I didn’t feel drunk. Clearly I was, but it was one those uber-alert drunken states, where everything appears crystal, rather than fuzzy. It was the sort of drunk where you feel as though you could keep going for eons and never have had enough. I already knew that I was unlikely to be hung-over Sunday, but that Monday afternoon would be a struggle.

As the rain came down harder we seemed to glide faster. Marilyn gurgled louder and steam foisted itself onto the insides of the glass. She swashed ineffectively with the rim of her coat and I wondered if that had been a red glow we’d just whipped past.

I was more certain about the one rapidly approaching: ‘Red light.’

‘What?’

The car slushed to a halt in a wave of standing water.

‘Turn left,’ said the box huskily.

‘Ah just wanna be loved by you,’ sang Marilyn saucily.

And away we jerked.

‘Red light,’ I had to say again.

‘What?’

‘Never mind.’

‘At the lights go straight on.’

‘You need to turn right,’ I corrected it. ‘The road’s closed.’

‘She says straight on.’

‘I know better than the machine. The road’s closed.’

‘Okay, okay.’ She crossed her arms, hard. ‘Right, then.’

I wound the window down to try and combat the fast encroaching steam. Rain splashed across my cheek. Outside, Deptford bustled with life heading for bed.

‘Turn left.’

‘Road’s closed again. Go straight on.’

‘Every dog-dicking road is closed,’ she said as though it was my fault.

‘Redlightpedestrian!’ I replied.

‘What?’

When I opened one eye we’d stopped and the young man was swaying his way onwards oblivious to anyone not playing by the rules.

She looked to the left distractedly as Marilyn changed gear.

‘Green light.’ I said eventually, and then, after a while: ‘Go straight on.’

‘Veer left.’

‘She says-‘

‘I know. She’s wrong, I’m right.’

‘Okay, okay.’

We sharply switched lanes and somewhere behind a horn yelped. She dropped down a gear and with a frustrated cough the Tigra shot forwards through the orange. We hit the first speed bump with such crunching force that my forehead connected with the dashboard. By the time of the second one I’d rebounded into the headrest. She laughed graciously.

After a moment I said: ‘Here’s fine’ and we stopped instantaneously, the moped following swerved out into the middle of the road. With difficulty I prised myself out the miniscule space, inadvertently wrapping myself up in the seatbelt which had finally turned up. ‘Thanks for the lift.’

‘No worries,’ she said and I stood in the drizzle for a moment watching the bruised pear-coloured car lurch off into the night.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Straight to Hell

My name is David Marston. I am a thirty year old male with delusions of grandeur and I am, in all certainty, going to hell. All the lies I’ve told, all the people I’ve played, all the cheats I’ve pulled, all the icons I’ve idolised, all the blasphemies I’ve screamed, all the wrong women I’ve coveted, all the ideas I’ve killed and all the lost midnights when anything probably happened were bad enough but this time, oh, I’ve really done it this time.

For this, I will be hung upside down and lowered deep into the fiery pits with only the morningstar for company.

Heh.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating.

But, you may remember this incident a few weeks ago and it appears I wasn’t looking for anything when strewing my belongings with wanton abandon around the room, but rather I was trying to hide something away. When I got home it fell with a saintly thunk out of my bag onto the fake wooden floor.

It appears I stole the Gideon’s bible from the hotel room.

Either that or the god-damned monkey planted it on me.

Now, clearly theft in itself is a sin (not to mention a crime), but theft of the word of God is, surely, a damnable offence. I can smell the sulphur now.

I mentioned this to someone better versed in these things than I and she replied that God was probably just pleased that scum like I was reading the word in any form.

She’s just trying to make me feel better.

It sits on my desk, in the shadow of my computer monitor and taunts me pious ability to be full of memorable passages. It reminds me of everything I don’t believe in and that the end is going to be nasty.

There was a purpose behind my actions and I flick through its thin, near-transparent pages looking for the words I need. I take the passages required and wonder if, when I am finished, there’s a way I get it back without anyone noticing. At the same time, I’m aware from its unfingered pages and perfectly flat spine that I am probably the first person to spend any time with it.

And then I notice the inside back cover.

The pencil scrawled words with a loop of desperation to them shout out to me in the glow of the desk lamp.

‘Lizzie Sims loves Max Fronnicke.’

Who, I wonder, scrawls a love note in the back of a Gideon’s bible?

This wasn’t the sort of hotel where you’d whisk someone away for a romantic weekend. This was the sort of hotel where you passed through on your way to or from elsewheres. Or possibly hid, for there was nothing around and nobody paid anyone any attention.

So depending on what genre they were living in would depend on what happened.

Perhaps, Max lay in the bath holding his guts in as the white porcelain slowly stained red, his breath gaining that trapped rattle. The smoking gun that finished him was still between the fingers of the corpse out on the runway. Lizzie, meanwhile, sat on the bed, her bare thighs flinching from the sheets still soaked with sweat from the night before. She scribbled down the last words she could think of before finding her own way to the exit.

Perhaps, it was just the start of a stressful journey of discovery. Lizzie sprawled alone in the bed, dreaming of his arms somewhere on the other side of the world. She ached from her toes to her fingers, longing to look into his eyes just once, if only she could find him. So, she took pencil and wrote down the words, like a mantra, a good luck charm and replaces the book back in its drawer on the empty side of the bed.

Perhaps, Max was even watching her whilst she wrote them down. He stood at the mirror, tightened his tie and checked his collar for evidence. He watched her scribble something down, in some old book and he wondered what on Earth it could be. But then the thought was gone, replaced with wonderings of how long it would be before he’d see his wife and kids. All of this, he had already decided, Lizzie, the hotel, the perfume, had been nothing but an extremely satisfying moment of madness.

Or perhaps, Max wrote it down as Lizzie prepared to leave him one last time, after one too many fights, one too many raised voices and thrown objects. Unable to even get on a plane with him, to spend those hours cramped into the sky together she was picking up her bag and walking out the door as he wrote it down because all words can hold some measure of the truth once committed to paper.

I glance back over the four scenes that so readily came to mind and their bleakness distresses me. I rub my eyes and sigh.

I pace around my bedsit a little.

I pour a glass of water and sit back down.

There’s only one way I can redeem myself, I decide. Only one way I can atone for my sin. I need to save them.

I need to give them a happy ending.

Lizzie was exhausted yet buoyant, high on adrenalin pumping around her system. She felt as though every hour of the past six months had been spent in an air-conditioned cell, one hand strapped to a keyboard the other to a telephone, repeatedly given the same instructions day in, day out. But now the holiday was so close she could almost taste the salt in the air, the sangria in the glass, the sheer open freeness of it all.

In the bathroom Max was showering. She could hear him humming old Beach Boys tunes above the sound of cascading water. The door was open and steam slithered out and across the room like a morning mist. A new morning.

Lizzie’s lip hurt slightly from where he’d tugged at it with tongue. But it hurt in a nice way, a way that meant even when he wasn’t there his presence lingered all around her.

The weather played on the television. Cold and grey in London tomorrow. Not where they were going. Where they were going the days were endless, the skies open and wide enough to allow everyone’s hopes and dreams to breathe.

Just in that moment something without physical substance cannonballed into her, sending sparkles across her vision. She’d not realised before quite how much she was in love with Max, even after such a short period of time. Something was snarling up in the chest and threatening to smoother her unless she simply accepted the joy it: He was her everything.

She leant across and opened the drawer on his side of the bed.
There, as expected, was a copy of the bible. Lizzie opened the bible at the first page. The first lines of Genesis, the creation of existence, of love even.
Virtually everyone knew these words. They had lasted for thousands of years, passed on from mouth to mouth.

She flipped to the back and using the little pencil atop the room service leather bound menu wrote: ‘Lizzie Sims loves Max Fronnicke.’ Her words would be in good company, encouraged to last as long as those before.

‘In the beginning…’