‘I know exactly how you feel,’ said the driver as he pulled out into traffic and I huddled over his heater, thanking him profusely through teeth that were now properly chattering. It had grown preternaturally cold, like the air was choked by a stillborn summer.
‘I used to hitch a lot when I was younger,’ he continued. ‘Never in the middle of the night though,’ he exaggerated. 'You must be a little bit mental if you don’t mind me saying so.’
I agreed that I was.
Gradually, thanks to the three quite violent drafts of hot air pumping into my face, feet and hands, I began to regain some semblance of body temperature. I was shivering. Good shivers though. Warm shivers. Piss shivers. ‘God, that feels good,’ I said. I thought briefly of the old man again.
No pleasure for him.
The driver laughed happily. ‘Open that dashboard,’ he said, his eyes fixed on at the road but his left hand pointing vaguely. ‘Not dashboard. Glove compartment.’
I opened it. It was overfull with paper and pens and documents and CD cases and coils of cable from chargers which tied the whole mess together forever like liquorice laces.
‘Root around at the back,’ he said. ‘There should be a little bottle of whisky. If you fancy it. Do you good.’
I rooted like a truffle pig but could locate no whisky.
The driver made a small noise of dawning memory and reached into the inside pocket of the car door. ‘Ahaaa!’ he said. ‘Of course.’ He passed it over to me and said, in the obligatory Scottish accent. ‘A wee dram’s what you need, laddy. You wee sleekit beastie, you!’
‘I’d love some,’ I said, taking the quarter bottle of Jack Daniels from him gratefully and holding it softly between my tingling fingers. Like it was some kind of elixir.
‘Don’t worry by the way. I haven’t touched a drop,’ said the driver. ‘I mean, in case you were worrying I might be inebriated, which you probably weren’t, but might be now. Now that I've mentioned it.' He laughed. 'Help yourself anyway. Finish it if you like.’
‘No, no,’ I said. ‘Just a wee dram likesay.’ I tittered, slightly embarrassed, and slowly unscrewed the cap. I only really properly discovered whisky about a year ago, and I'm still just really learning to appreciate it. I had a feeling that this would be one of the finest whisky experiences I would ever have. If I was Sal Paradise, I would’ve been making mental notes. I was making mental notes... The smell hit me like the smell of abandoned coal mines and obsolete shipyards and the roar of a billion insects and black clouds swooping low over chickenshacks and churches like the broken dreams of baggy-legged drunks and repressed jessies. Yeah, yeah, whatever. Another small shiver rustled through me.
I was thrumming with anticipation.
‘I haven’t got a glass I’m afraid,’ said the driver. ‘You’ll have to go commando, or whatever the glassless equivalent is. Squaddie. Go squaddie!’ And with that, he flicked on his CD player and the loud music mixed with the hot air and the anticipation of the whisky to create – and I honestly don’t think I exaggerate – one of the happiest moments of my life. What really tipped it into mythical, however, was the fact that the song suddenly filling my brain was one I truly love. It was loud. He turned it up.
This is our decision – to live fast and die young.
We've got the vision. Now let's have some fun!
Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?
Forget about our mothers and our friends.
We’re fated to pretend.
I took a sip of whisky. And another. The spicy liquid seeped across my tongue and scorched its way into my throat like acid reflux. I knew from what little experience I had that you had to wait for the plea- aaaaahhhhh, there it was. I closed my eyes.
‘How long had you been waiting there?’ the driver asked.
I looked at my watch. ‘A couple of hours,’ I said. 'Roughly.'
‘Ay carumba,’ he said.
I nodded, clutching at the whisky, my eyes glazed over as if with dreadful memories of the past 72 hours, shivering in a crevasse with a splintered tibia.
But there is really nothing, nothing we can do;
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew.
‘Shit, you must be hungry,’ said the driver. ‘Are you hungry?’
I thought about it. ‘Umm... not really, no. Thank you.’ I wasn't hungry at all. On the contrary, I felt absolutely excellent. The heat and the whisky and the rhythm of the loud music and speeding car which was going to take me all the way to Sunderland had mingled in my essence like a delicious cocktail of total relaxation. ‘Thank you for your hospitality though,’ I said. ‘It really is massively appreciated.’
‘Think absolutely nothing of it,’ said the driver. ‘Your pleasure is my pleasure. If you do get peckish though, there’s some stuff on the back seat. Cakes and crisps and stuff. There’s even some Hob Nobs,’ he said, smiling, expectantly.
I lifted my head, suddenly curious. ‘Why are you smiling?’
He shrugged as he drove. ‘No, no, I'm not.' He was. 'It’s just that, you like Hob Nobs.’
‘You like Jack Daniels too if I remember correctly.’ He glanced at me and smiled. 'I mean, I know I'm not Audrey Tautou, but still, this is a pretty good lift all told.'
Suddenly I felt cold again.
‘What’s going on?’ I managed. I remembered the time I thought someone from the blog was following me. That same sense of paranoia descended upon me now, like a shadow from behind. But this had nothing to do with the blog. This was real life.
‘I read your blog,’ said the driver, only slightly sheepishly. ‘And I follow you on Twitter.’
‘Ahhhh,’ I said. 'Well, OK then. That’s not too weird. I suppose. Just a coincidence.'
‘I probably know more about you than anyone else alive.’
‘That’s a bit weird,’ I said. My voice cracked over the words.
‘Don’t panic,’ he said. ‘Have a Hob Nob. It's going to be a bumpy night.'