GOING TO BED
Joerg Liesegang on
good neigbours and dark nights
little alley off the shopping zone, like a tiny inlet at sea, where
the waves dont really reach. Its nice and quiet in there,
the wuthering world outside just a whisper. But if youre a branch
or empty bottle being swept into it, you know youll stay there
forever. That was about what Andrew was feeling like. Which was basically
silly, because in the alley there was the bus stop for the few night
busses heading out south. And even more silly because it was night,
and whether inside or out, the whole city was drifting in its sozzled
A couple of people waited with him, three to be exact. Two middle aged
rockers who still thought that Hendrixs death was the biggest
thing that happened in the last thirty years. Two people who have been
sedentary with their few beers and a game of pool on Friday evenings.
Most likely since they were sixteen. And a young girl was sitting on
the narrow plastic bench that the bus company probably regarded as a
great service. She was excluding herself as much as she could from the
two noisy bums arguing about whos cue had been better that evening.
And she was certainly not one who would put much trust into Andrew oscillating
around his own axis.
The bus came. It came cringing around the corner like some lurking prehistoric
insect. Two round eyes at the bottom and the double decker face like
a piece of head armory. It rolled into the bay and came to a stop. The
doors pulled open and a gasp of high-pitched air blew from somewhere
under the vehicle. The motor was thudding like a lions stomach
after gobbling down a zebra and some antelopes. It was the huge black
guy Vaughan, from Cardiff, driving it. His smile gleaming from one side
of the bus to the other. Andrew liked him. Vaughan lived about ten miles
further north than Andrew, right in the middle of nowhere. Although
they had never visited each other, they were next door neighbours. It
was like the first day in school and there was somebody there with the
same name as you, either you became great friends, or you spat on one
another. The lonely crew went on board and the bus pulled off.
The bus dandled down to the southern rim of the drowsy city. The streetlights
were beating over them with their slow blues rhythm as the double-decker
passed under them. The two night hawks got off after two stops, turned
out they had boarded the wrong bus. The girl left at Shrewsbury Road.
She was picked up by someone who could have been anything from her brother
to her great uncle. You could never tell. From then on it was only them
two. Vaughan steering in the front, turning up the radio and shutting
off the lighting in the passenger room, because he knew Andrew liked
it better that way. And Vaughan probably guessed what had happened.
He was a considerate one. And Andrew didnt exactly try to hide
he had hit ground. They tackled the city border without turning a hair.
The radio was still playing and trying to paint its colours but it was
like the ears had gone away. The blackness of suburban insignificance
had intruded into the bus and overtaken its two passengers. They were
winding their way through the lifeless factories and warehouses and
later, the bushes and shrubbery along the road which seemed to pound
onto the bus. Vaughan up front was besting them with the steering wheel
firm and cool in his hand. Then the fences raised themselves on either
sides, chaperoning. The bus was curving so smoothly it was like a magic
towline was pulling them into some harbor. The slope began and the bus
started to climb. The motor was yelling, and Vaughan let it loose like
an adept jockey would with an old horse of whom not too much was to
be expected unless you wanted it to squeeze its lungs through
Andrew could see the city unfurling itself beneath him. He loved these
rides out of town at night. Loved the distance it conveyed. Loved the
raw little shell he was moving through the greatness of space with.
Andrew was sitting there, loving it all but not really thinking. Everything
was much too empty for that. He felt sick. Felt his own body loosing
him turning and twisting, going up and up, and the carburetor was probably
going crazy, at least it was making him crazy when Andrew thought of
it tucked away in the vibrating back next to the cylinders smoking away.
Andrew stood up. Went to Vaughan and asked him to halt for a second.
Vaughan nodded. He made a stop once they had the rise done with. Vaughan
pushed the illuminated thick button, and the door screeched open. The
wind was pushing cool air ahead of it, up the slope and gushing directly
into the bus. Andrew took a step out.
The stones were crumbling under his feet, little grasses and mosses
sown sporadically in the dust. He put a few yards between the bus and
himself, pulled his pants down and peed. That felt good. The city under
him. The sky above, clouds swimming by, shining violet and green over
the spotlights of the city. Solitude around him, the constant purr of
the bus to comfort him. He wasnt that alone. No matter what happened.
He felt big. Like he just peed on the whole city under him, sleeping
in their innocence. If only they knew. Andrew wasnt about to tell
He got his trousers up again. Vaughan had turned his headlights down.
What a considerate guy he was. Andrew went back slowly. And they started
again, not exactly lurching. The noise the bus made ebbed away in the
solitude, they had no one to tell them they were actually there except
themselves. Eventually they came to the power pole where Andrew was
to get off. Vaughan pulled the double-decker over and let him out.
And Andrew watched the lights disappear behind the scrubs seaming the
road, watched the lights gleaming over the top of the coppice disappear
behind the next hill, listened to the noise stifle in the distance.
Andrew trotted back the narrow walk that led to his house. He didnt
want to be there. This was what he had been trying to forget going out
to town and scrambling through the pubs. This was what he had never
been able to explain to anybody. He didnt want to go back there,
having to open the door, just to find that there was only desolation
there to greet him. He didnt want to search for the light switch,
because there was nobody else to turn on before him. He didnt
want to stumble over the forgotten toys and papers and bricks and crayons
that were lying around. He didnt want to go in the kitchen, and
find the spaghettis his little girl hadnt finished before leaving.
He didnt want to go upstairs, where the beds were still untidy.
He didnt want to have to look at the nightgown of his wife, all
cold and crumbled between the sheets, without her body in it to make
it warm and moving and good. Her toothbrush still wet lying next to
his. Her perfume still in the air. He just didnt want to. He couldnt.
He went back to the power pole. He knew Vaughan was finishing his shift
with this bus. All Vaughan would do, was to drive to St. Ives, which
should take him another twenty minutes, park the bus there in the garage,
and come driving back again. He would come by here in about an hour,
probably even quicker. Andrew leaned himself on the pole. He could wait
an hour. Better than going back. He would ask Vaughan to come over,
to spend the night. Maybe they could play cards. He still had an old
malted whiskey stored away, saved for something that never happened.
Or maybe Andrew could invite himself over to his house.
Andrew waited. It got really cold, and there were lots of jackets and
blankets in his house. But he wouldnt go back. Not alone. He would
wait for Vaughan. He had told his wife this would happen. No. He had
thought this would happen. His wife had asked him, "Are you sure
you can handle it?" And Andrew hadnt wanted to be a wimp.
"Yeah, I can handle it, you just take Jodie and drive to your mothers
for the weekend. Youll enjoy yourself."
But saying that, he had known this would happen. And now he waited.
Waited for Vaughan come back and be a neighbour for him.
© Joerg Liesegang, 2001
also by Joerg MAKE PEACE