Thursday, 22 July 2010

Distance (writeclub submission)


STEVEN’S Mercedes drifted into the fast lane almost silently. From the corner of his eye he could
YOU really did it- not this I mean, not what you did to bring you here, not that catastrophic crazy
see the barrier to the central reservation flashing past, the once glistening galvanised steel coated coal-
bastard selfish idiotic fucking aresehole ill-conceived ill thought out act of self destruction. I mean
black from the exhaust fumes of tens of thousands of vehicles speeding by them every single day.
you wrote it down. I had forgotten about that morning. Tens of thousands? Is that right? Did you
Beyond the barrier the verdant foliage swayed as his vehicle swept past; the sudden sensation of déjà-
count? Did you google it? Well I know all about déjà-vu. I had that sensation when I got the news.
vu overcame him. Only it wasn’t déjà-vu- that was a precise medical phenomenon. He had read
Via text. How contemporary. I thought of that morning. I was seven years old. I was “helping” you
something about it- something to do with blood clots passing over the brain. He had already seen this,
take the bottles to the bottle bank. Over the brain. What’s left of it... you used to talk to me then. Why
of course: he drove this way every day. The route was hard wired into him. First, a short drive down
did you confide in me? Because I didn’t understand, because you thought I wouldn’t remember. Your
towards Eastwood and on to the arterial, then the long, dull drive towards the A12 that would then
secret, frustrated ambitions. I’ve only started to realise now how much I’ve become you. I don’t
take him through Barking, Wanstead, Leyton and Hackney before he’d turn off at Victoria Park Road
drive, of course... familiar territory to me now: the east. Never associated it with you. Never thought
and battle the traffic into Bethnal Green. He had been driving to work for seven years; the route was
much of what you did. What did you do in Bethnal Green? Something that required a suit. And a nice
as familiar to him as the faces of his own children.
car. How familiar were our faces? I mean now. I’ve grown a beard and cut it off four times since that
Within the leather interior of his s-class Steven was completely entombed. Beyond the laminated glass
Christmas. Huh. You were showing off the s-class. Entombed. It didn’t quite become your tomb.
bubble of his windscreen lurked an almost silent world, a world he observed impassively. The faint
You’ll probably die in this bed, a silent world you’re only dimly aware of, if at all. I can hear the same
whirring of engines as he overtook other vehicles was the only hint that anything was real. But this
noise as I sit here beside you, not of passing cars but of ventilators, monitors, unreal apparatus to
was rare: the road was more or less empty, an interminable strip of black asphalt tapering into a wet
keep you connected, to keep you close, to stop you from drifting. Galvanised steel, asphalt... I forgot
grey sky. The road cut tore through a lifeless patchwork of wheat fields, cut back to stubble and bare
that you wanted to be an engineer. And a farmer. You used to tell me lots of things. The morning with
earth. The fields were divided from the road by intermittent strips of hedgerow, bereft of foliage,
the bottles, you told me about your story. About a commuter: every day the same journey, the only
skeletal hands groping limply from the earth, dead and grey and cold. Everything was dead and grey
colour in his life that verdant strip of wilderness dividing the opposing lanes of traffic. Dead and
and cold.
grey. Good imagery. You’re building up to something. I remember now. I remember why Concrete
A steady thudding pulled Steven from his reverie. He had drifted away at the wheel and the car had
Island had felt so familiar. Nothing wrong with plagiarism. But you’re no Maitland and you’re
slid closer to the central reservation, the wheel on the right hands side bumping over the cat’s eyes
certainly no Ballard. You’re another tragic middle aged man; baby-boomer; disposable income;
beside it. He took a deep breath to wake himself, make himself more alert, but the torpor that had
bumping up the ladder; living the dream... shards of glass, a shattered windscreen scattered across the
overcome him was not so easily shaken. It had been growing inside him for a long time now: making
arterial. Whatever was growing inside you has been released. You released it. Your art was never
this same journey every single day, drifting further and further from himself, from what he had once
cathartic, instead you continued making the same journey, drifting further and further from yourself
each day. You were never the same after mum threw you out. Everything that allowed you to maintain
The median was an oasis of life in a grey desert. Tall grasses swayed in the cold winds that swept
a steady speed, keeping you in the centre lane, eyes fixed firmly on the grey, indefinite horizon. You
across the barren landscape. It was a new world, a new life, a new beginning. He placed his foot upon
father, found yourself without purpose, without life, without self deception, hurtling into nothingness.
the accelerator: eighty, eighty five, ninety...
Unfinished. Now your journey has ended. I place the manuscript on top of the night stand beside your bed, then- thinking again- fold it neatly in half twice and place it in my breast pocket. The machinery that breathes for you whirs as your rib cage slowly rises, then falls. The artificial rhythm is hypnotic, I study it for a long time. I have just noticed I am holding your hand, I’m not sure why. This is the closest we have been to one another for many years. But you are not here- whoever you were is scattered across the central reservation, picked up by winds and blown like dust across the Essex countryside.

1 comment:

Joe Donovan said...

Sorry about the small font- it's the only way I could be the original line-by-line format vital to the flow of the story. Yes, I stole the idea from Cortazar, but I almost reference that... if you would like a pdf version in readable font size email me at

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