Thursday, 27 May 2010

Fantastic Voyage :: Chapter Four :: Darkling

Somewhere slightly north of Ashby-de-la-Zouch I stood by the side of the road and watched the day die.

It seemed like the early evening had barely got into its stride and already a Stygian gloom had descended over the bowels of England like a blanket of halitosis. I stood by a motorway road-sign and smiled.

It was a fake smile.

I was coming up on an hour of standing, waiting, being ignored, and I was hungry. I wondered whether to wander into the service station and fill up on saturated fat or stodgy bread. A sausage roll maybe. Or a baguette.

My only concern was that if I left my spot now, I might be turning my back on my dream lift with English Audrey. It’s like when you’re waiting hours for a bus. Should I just start walking? you think. But you know if you do, the second you’re out of running distance, the bus will appear on your horizon like a dream you're about to forget.

Only a nincompoop would desert his post now.

I deserted my post and went inside for a feed.

Forty minutes later, back on the road, a large fried breakfast and two cups of tea slopping around inside me, I felt gloomy. The gloaming had slunk in and vanquished all signs of the summer. My mood began to change. I started to feel down. About myself. About everything. Being ignored by a succession of strangers didn’t help. It’s awfully dispiriting. Not that I feel anyone is under any kind of obligation to pick me up – far from it – and I’m always overawed and excessively grateful when anyone does. It’s just the disdain that people show you in their furrowed brows, the embarrassment in their quickly averted gazes. I never realised that hitching was so clearly associated with begging for so many people. I can see why of course, because basically, it is begging. It's asking for something for nothing. And I know that sort of thing rubs a lot of people up the wrong way. But it really oughtn’t.

The bulldog frowns and ostrich eyes are of course as nothing compared to the scowls, the mouthed obscenities and on one memorable occasion, the coil of orange peel tossed from the open window of a speeding white van.

By 9pm I was really tired of hitching. It had been an absolutely ridiculous idea inspired by an odious book and I wanted no more part of it. I wanted to go home. I was a grown man, for God's sake. A grown man with a badly paid job, standing out in the murk of an unlovely summer's night, goosebumps pricking at my skin, begging. I should have got the fucking train. Why didn't I get the train? Fucking Jack Kerouac, that's why.

I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. Oh, please, Jack. Do shut your whining trap.

I found myself drifting into a self-loathing jag. Christ, I was a cunt. If I insisted on hitching, why hadn't I started at 6am instead of fucking 3pm? Why didn't I have a car? What happened to my car? My brain shook its head and swore. Why didn't I have a decent job and a decent car and a decent wife and a child and a life? Hmm? Because I was a fucking worm, that's why. There was no getting around it. I was a useless fucking waste of space. No wonder people were averting their eyes and scowling at me. No wonder they were throwing orange peel. Balls to orange peel. They should be throwing coconuts.

I stomped. And as I stood and stomped, increasingly pissed off – Where is my beautiful wife? – I began to feel cold. What if I die here? The darkness of the night had brought with it an unseasonable, unreasonable chill. My teeth threatened to chatter. I should have worn more clothes. I couldn't believe I didn't have a hoody with me. What a cock. Never cast a clout till May’s out. My grandmother had warned me.

For the first time I began to feel afraid. What if no one picked me up? What if the temperature continued to drop? What if I was still here at midnight, frozen to the spot, quite, quite dead?

The sky was starless, the roadside unlit. I wondered if I was actually still visible from the road. I felt pretty invisible, I have to say. And if I couldn’t be seen, who's to say I was actually there? Did I in fact exist?

My face was rubbery with cold. ‘Do I exist?’ I said out loud.

As if in reply, a Road Runner beep sounded off to my left. I jerked my head and followed the car that had made the sound. It slowed to a halt twenty or thirty metres ahead of me. I snatched up my bag and sprinted after it.

When I reached the car, the passenger-side window was already rolled down. I squatted, steadying myself against the door, and I peered in. The driver turned on the interior light so I could see his face and he smiled as if he’d been expecting me.

‘I can take you to Sunderland,’ he said. And he said it proudly, but with a hint of surprise, like a little boy who – apropos of nothing – had happened upon a wonderful idea. The light above his head provided a fitting approximation of a cartoon light bulb.

‘Hop in!’ he said.

I hopped in, my maudlin mood a thing of the past.

I was happy.

Everything was going to be all right.


Tomorrow: Crumbs in the Cocktail

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Anonymous said...

Jack Kerouac has a lot to answer for but at the same time, thanks to that man, we have your wonderful blog to read. :)


isabelle said...

Oh I'm really enjoying this story.It actually makes me want to hitch too. I like people, even old men needing some love. ( sort of )Are you hitching back too?

Anonymous said...

Talking Heads!
All this excitement and in only a few hours.
Hurray for the lift to Sunderland.

Anonymous said...

No! It wasn't going to be all right!

I can tell from all the foreshadowing. Do go on.