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Joerg Liesegang on good neigbours and dark nights

There’s a little alley off the shopping zone, like a tiny inlet at sea, where the waves don’t really reach. It’s nice and quiet in there, the wuthering world outside just a whisper. But if you’re a branch or empty bottle being swept into it, you know you’ll 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 state.

A couple of people waited with him, three to be exact. Two middle aged rockers who still thought that Hendrix’s 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 who’s 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 lion’s 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 didn’t 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 it’s lungs through it’s ribs.

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 wasn’t 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 wasn’t about to tell them, though.

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.
"Bye, Andrew."
"Thanks, Vaughan."
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 didn’t 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 didn’t want to go back there, having to open the door, just to find that there was only desolation there to greet him. He didn’t want to search for the light switch, because there was nobody else to turn on before him. He didn’t want to stumble over the forgotten toys and papers and bricks and crayons that were lying around. He didn’t want to go in the kitchen, and find the spaghettis his little girl hadn’t finished before leaving. He didn’t want to go upstairs, where the beds were still untidy. He didn’t 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 didn’t want to. He couldn’t.

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 wouldn’t 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 hadn’t wanted to be a wimp. "Yeah, I can handle it, you just take Jodie and drive to your mother’s for the weekend. You’ll 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

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