M O V I N G______V E H I C L E
Open: a wild summer day and a blue sky of infinite hope. Streaks of white vapour high up. Dreamy cumulus foamed with the hot connotation of every sunlit day remembered. And four people travelling in a car by the coast. Young: still fresh-faced, but numbed now with the approaching sigh, the hard lines of sombre adulthood. Half-feared, half-wanted: the ensuing funeral of marriage, family, middle-age and boredom. But just now, still: four head poised above the warm seats of a moving automobile; statues, busts, adonis's. Four people pure, golden, untalkative; features frozen in the thrill of speed. And young still, almost young in the bright excitement of a sunlit season. The smell of leather from the cooking seats, the glow of sun in a curl of hair still encompassing the mystery, the sparkle: of light on distant waves, of the glittering sweat of warm lust, the sallt thirst for living.
And they go on moving. Music Flowing from the macine, immersing them in the glow of youth. In the speeding car: strange twentieth-century tin can with living-room armchairs. Four poised, enthroned god-faces survey their changing kingdom through the tilted screens of glass. Yellow fields and rolling trees tumbling down to unseen rubble shores: turning tides, rotating coastlines, as the car goes on moving. Mysterious, horseless carriage, invisibly powered like a living being which carries four people forward: thoughtlessly through their time and space, churning up their past, their doubts and ambitions. And their lives secretly calculated in the tiny turning numerals in the dashboard: the casual unthinking hours counted out like a cricket score, for romantic or career success to be ruled upon, later.
Under a big daylight moon: stark skull-face surveying the yellow fields, the controlled petrol explosion continues under the bright tin can with the four statues dreaming. Moon-face: twentieth century god looks down, controlling the blue waves and the pulsing blood ardour of the two silent females. Moon: rocket-torn, flag-slain moon looks down with the sadness of America; murdered Kennedy's and white-gown barbituate stars. The spirit of broken technology, severed ancestry: all burns and roars in the power beneath these statues' feet ; like the gasp of Caper Canaveral or Hiroshima, carrying youth on the polluted wind of uranium, over the dead fields, the forgotten villages and fishing ports of their forefathers. The away-day youth survey the tourist showcases of their tribe's homelands, the sugar-glazed toytowns of their history: and do not feel the shock, the severance. The peculiar collision of miracle and tragedy, hope and emptiness: which is their century. The four people, unwitting messengers from the obscure past: cannot feel their link with the fallow fields, the torn nets of the past which hurtle by them. Their cathode-ray brains flicker vacantly with the second-hand emotions of a vicarious generation.
But still they know how to love -don't they, at least? -from their soap-opera scripts of standard emotions? The yellow warmth of the cornfields, the rolling greens of ripe trees: these quicken their pulse and make their hearts hang open dog-thirsty with the wide hope of longing, gladness to be with each other. The four figures turn from time to time, as the hurtling car changes gear and takes corners and embankments: and a blue eye rests fondly upon a glowing cheek. A single soft hand still reaches to touch the idle fingers of another. And they think they love each other. Or love their visions of themselves confirmed by each other: but their very delusions are what give them beauty, the majesty of nature in the numb tin can racing over fields of forgetfulness.
Four people, of whom one drives. Call them Bold, Dawn, Wise, and Faith. Bold drives, steering the tin-can; his brain detached as the mechanical procedures of the engine redefine his actions, punctuate his consciousness. Dawn beside him, her hand on her lap occasionally twisting and changing as if driven by some irrational patterns in her dreaming brain. What does she think of? Memories, future plans? And Wise on the back seat, his broad arm draped gently over Faith's shoulder. Do they think and wonder, as their eyelids flicker in the drowsy sunlight, glances rotate through the fluid landscape? Do they burn their past or buy their future with the churning wheels and the hypnotic ticking of the mileometer? They are supended, hovering beyond responsibility and before regret, held in a state of grace flosting between heaven and earth. Not knowing theit destination.
And now Dawn is drumming her fingers. Tapping her feet to the rhythm of the music on the machine. The long ribbon of chromium dioxide turns slowly inside the cassette mechanism: secretive, unseen. Like the road they are driving on: the tape must have a finite length, a beginning and an end, but here in the middle with the emotion and intoxication of sound: the music is total, eternal, shuts out all knowledge of before or after. Dawn half-sings a word or two: American words chanted in the liturgy of youth-dogma. All four, the smiling statues, tap or move imperceptibly to the promise disended in that music. America affirms their purpose for them. That cultural myth constructed by their migrating forefathers: natives fleeing a stolen land to steal the land of other natives. Now Mother America has sailed back on the airwaves, permeates their homes, has raised them, taight them how to hope and to rebel and to conform. Has invented motor cars and rockets and mid-life crises: and has collapsed. Has left them in the ruins if their own disillusionment, racing numbly over the graves of their ancestors, green and golden fields beneath the daylight moon: captured moon. JFK's mistress, the twentieth century's fallen goddess, now property of territorial primates.
Now Wise hugs Faith's shoulder tighter and points out of the moving window at a distant church spire floating over a tide of treetops. His lips move with some unheard words and he turns his head and sees Faith is nodding and smiling. It pleases him to feel the little impulses of her body responding to him: warming againt his chest like some fluttering dove. He moves his fingers lightly through the hair at the back of her head, and she flutters. He imagines she almost purrs like an exotic feline. Wise is glad and gazes proudly at the passing glades of rich trees, interspersed with little roofs and chimneys, rambling farmsteads and dirt-track roads. Faith shivers slightly, unconsciously: at the sight of the church spire, and then the fleeting glimpse of the country graveyard, the neighbouring houses with their turned backs and bricked-up windows. Like the houses, Faith does not want to look at death. Somewhere, subconsciouly, buried in her memory: the grey stone of churches evokes in her the dark fear of dying, of dead relatives, of childhood nightmares. But this, paradoxically: is why she smiles. She snugs closer to Wise, taking the sight of grey-stone death among the golden shimmer of fields as symptomatic of his value as a comforter, as a subliminal father banishing the darkness. But none of this is conscious or voiced: only a submerged feeling in that oceanic glow that she dare not call blossoming love; only the secret hope of a happy, conjugal future.
Bold grips the wheel with one hand and feels clever, competent, strong. He asks Dawn to light him a cigarette, and unconsciously delights at the thought of her ensuing compliance with this order. Dawn delays long enough to almost state independence, even defiance. The slightly too loud slamming of the glove compartment thrills her, but thrills Bold too: since without resitance, how could dominance be enjoyable? The dual flames flicker, the head part, the fire ceremony completed. Dawn's unwinding of her window allows a puff and a sigh. She gazes absent-mindedly at distant cottage, low-roofed, almost buried under a tumbling rise of potato plants. She thinks of nothing, except perhaps her own completeness, general well-being and validity as a human female. She breathes out a long sigh.
Wise in the wind from Dawn's opened window. He finds his mind entertaining a moment of folly: he imagines Faith and he, together alone in an ancient cottage, surrounded by fields of red poppies. Like a fairytale: born there perhaps, almost brother and sister; the two of them. He dreams of a long shapeless love which immerses them both, leaves their souls innocent and naked, like two children in a bath. He imagines them old together, surrendered to time, unafraid of death. He sees their fates entwined like wild nettles on a rusted gate. Maybe soon, he thinks to himself, I will tell her I love her.
Bold speeds up. He feels restless, tugs on his cigarette. He wants to show leadership. He is thinking of his boss, in the city far behind them. The great cruel towering city which inspires and confounds him, makes him big then small, glad then wretched: in out, like the breathing of the subway trains. Success and failure: he thinks of his boss's face on the road ahead and he wants to drive faster; to tear it apart, to destroy that self-satisfied smile that twists over the landscape and always recedes into the distance. Most of all he feels Dawn's presence impinging on his mind like a great insatiable itch. He feels her dissatisfaction with his money: those meagre wage-packets for long hours, a lack of authority. Worse than that, he sometimes imagines a disdain, a secret disdain which disregards him as a dull fool. He feels an unconscious hatred for her cleverness, her perpetual ball-crushing smartness. Her friends, her beautiful glowing friends who secretly disdain him. Look Honey, that car! -she exclaims. Shit. Slowing down fast now, without dignity. That car might have pulled out. Too distracted, not thinking. Calm down. He wants to show leadership.
Dawn turns away. Looks at her cigarette end glowing in the rushing airstream. Sees the speeding blur of the long grass close by. Thinks nothing. Except:- wishes Bold would relax. Too much angry self-justifications: a slight man drowned in broad shouldered suits. Be anything, be stupid or strange she thinks: but just stop being nervous, so damn self-aware. Raw wounds, sore bristling spots exposed daily in the shaving mirror. The man a great burst pipe of inadequacy, a soul-wound waiting to be healed. Forget it. Sunlit day smiles into her face. Dawn leans and turns and looks at Faith and Wise. Love birds, happy young fools in the back seat. You two OK?-she says-Think maybe we could do a stop soon? Beach, fancy the beach soon, eh?
Bold wishes he had spoken. His chance of leadership, dominance: stolen. Now Dawn is speaking, choosing, making decisions for everyone. Suggesting a town, a destination. Bold drops into third and overtakes a frail Sunday driver, smiles at the angling rays of the rolling sun. Watches the orange-yellow landscape pan and rotate under the watchful moon. Bold will start his own business. Yes, soon. When his developer friend gets that permission through. Yes, his own business, authority and power. No smiling smarm in a suit to answer to. He speeds up. Bold growls, and suggests a town: a good stopping-off place, known, waiting somewhere behind the next imperceptible rise in the vast flatness of landscape. Relishes the silence after his tyrannical pronouncement.
Dawn frowns, suggests another place. Turns, throws her cigarette from the open window. Winds up, pauses, sees two figures climbing through the middle-distance past rows of crops towards a tractor or hay-baler silhouetted in the dim blue heat haze of the far horizon. She pauses, her eyes caught by the thought of the power, the grace in the bent back, the obscure load piled high on the aged shoulder. She imagines lined faces, sun-worn, salt-stung by the sea. She winds up the window. Thinks that the light has just started to change. Sighs, reaches down, fast-forwards the nearly finished cassette. Searches with her free hand for another cassette in the glove compartment. Bold's sunglasses roll out and bounce on the floor. Dawn stares ahead, pretends not to notice.
Bold drives, but glimpses a sign for a hotel; swinging at a lane's end. Yes, he thinks. A beer, food if we can afford it. Conversation, reconciliation. Enough alcohol later, after dark perhaps: and everything might be forgiven. The slow spiral into bed with all that sand falling out of shoes and shirts and pouring away in the hour-glass of memory: beaches and waves and winds and the dust of abandoned cities.
But Faith has been dreaming. Enclosed, enraptured for a moment in the arms of her nearly-new lover. Not thinking of him, as he of she, but of life in general; being by nature more slow and cautious in her feelings. The half-heard words of Dawn and Bold have gently intruded on her reverie and created ripples there: painting fluid pictures that bend and change. Faith has been running through images, day-dream sequences from her past. Her mother wrapping her in a towel on the beach, warming her up after the shivers of the sea. Aand opening the bif raffia picnic basket, the sand-wind stinging in her face, the sharp sunlight. The happy pink and red brightness of the patterns of her mother's dress. And then this pattern changing: into a street grid. The familiar blocks and roofs and chimneys of her own district. The morning walk to work through the beautiful languid haze of the city. Smoke and mist intertwined in the half-sleeping murmur of morning traffic. Her mind pleasantly lost in the memory of some wordless satisfaction.
And Wise smiles, content with his imagined triumphs. Looks ahead at the horizon: a headland coming into view. The sprawl of a slow beach revealed reclining beyond the tumbling meadows. Hears a church bell ring somewhere, half-closes his eyes. Imagines a town already rearing up on the horizon. Thinks the summer day's light has started to change. Dreams ahead to evening somewhere, and a town whose geometry he cannot guess. Looks forward to tiredness, warmness, a search for a bed: preferably even shared if diplomacy permits; and all the strange unspeakable beauty of darkness shared with this mysterious creature at peace here in his arms. But before that? A beach, soon: to run on, laugh. Even swim a little.
And the road unwinds under the daylight moon, as the sun burns, blurs and loses its first sharpness. Four people hurtle on, statues frozen by speed: dreams borrowed, lives suspended between yesterday and tomorrow. Bold, Wise, Faith and Dawn: racing forward in a horseless carriage over fields of unknowing. Restlessly searching: unsure, without destination. Though time and their lives crunch and roar into the controlled explosion, vanish into the remorseless clock which beats time in the dashboard. Still they wait in their car for the world to stop passing. For a beach, a town. Or the inevitable, all-forgiving: evening. Evening, which masks everything with its escape from fact, its loss of definitions. Night will come and shadows fall over the unseen villages, and lights appear along the coast. And then other lights will appear on the turning clocks and guages inside which guide them. And the moon will glow as sky and earth fuse, the wound of day heals, and the children of the land sleep again; forgetful. And then: reprieved from the future, united with the past, they will go on travelling forward in their dreams, naked and innocent.
(First published in Northwords Magazine Issue 6).
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