Absent without leave
Zardoz. I pressed play, and flakes of white light blew over the screen. I began to fiddle with a knob of our decrepit telly, thinking that it must be misfiring again, but Paul told me to stay my hand. "It's supposed to look like that" he explained. "It's shot in infra-red." I squinted, and realised that the white light had only partially obscured a half-empty caryard and a crowded food bar.
"This is the way Fallujah and Kabul look like to invaders, in the twenty-first century" Paul explained. "This is the light that the best rifles offer. This is the light that terrorists and freedom fighters die in." "Fair enough" I replied, "but back in 1863 the 65th Regiment just used lamplight, didn't it?" Paul was unimpressed. "I thought you wanted to mix up eras" he said, "to let time run wild while space is restricted. I told you about Fellini's Roma, where some gladiators from Nero's era share the back of a troop truck with some blokes in khaki...but don't worry, I've left other stretches of the road pitch black. Anyway, what we want is a bit of narration. Throw some anecdotes and poems into that recorder, and make them rhyme with the images, if you can see them. You don't have to leave the couch. Hell, you can even hide under that duvet and read."
Here's a text from my first book To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps which I've lightly revised and tried to match with some of Paul's footage. Most of the nasty stuff in it comes from the stories that used to be broadcast in my Seventh Form Common Room. I hope they weren't true.
Now it seemed to be unrolling metre by metre in front of him, like an unfamiliar hallway late at night, when you're scared to turn a light on and wake your hosts, and instead walk slowly into the dark, peering down at your silent slippered feet. Above the road a large sign approached, blurring as it got bigger. Suddenly, as he was about to pass it, the words swam into focus, and he read CONIFER GROVE 200M. He swore, but when the next sign appeared in the distance he didn't even bother to squint. He realised he didn't want to turn off. He reasoned that there was only a finite number of possibilities, of possible encounters and actions, in one suburb. He could drive to a late night bar, drink some more bourbon and cokes there, perhaps chat up a middle-aged trophy wife on a tottering stool, more likely sit alone and watch strobe lights dancing on the black floor. He could stop at a Burger King or KFC, and observe squeaky-clean boy racers pulling up in their mothers' Hondas to refuel. He could drive down dark quiet streets and fields to a beach, and park under a row of Norfolk pines, and watch the dark hull of a Ford Fairmont rocking between empty carparks, and perhaps linger long enough to see a girl spill out of the car's back door, pull her panties up under her skirt, and turn and swear and stagger away, rubbing tears into her makeup. He could follow the pines until they turned into a seawall and a disused sewage pipe, then turn left, away from the silent water, and creep up one of the driveways that rise off each waterfront street, then crouch in some convenient bushes until a dog stopped barking, or a light was quenched, and it was safe to stumble across the lawn toward a groundfloor window the heat had prised open. What would he do, once he got inside? How would he know if the house was hers, was his? He knew she lived somewhere in the south, somewhere close to the sea. He would look for something blunt, like the alarm clock she had kept beside the bed - something that would knock her out without hurting her. Something that would give him time, time to make a black coffee, to tell the story to himself. He had hit her with that clock before, when she was about to surprise him with the girl from across the road. He had kicked that bitch out the back door, then dragged his wife from their bedroom to the lounge's long couch. When she woke up she accepted his story, or seemed to, in spite of the bruise, because of the bruise. But he hated the idea of turning off. He loved this road. As long as he stayed on this road that might go on forever the number of possible actions could be considered infinite, and he had command of them all. He remembered again his grandfather’s house, how he'd stayed there once, when his mother had dropped him there in the middle of the night, after her last fight with his father. His grandfather had sent him off to a small room at the end of the hall, but he couldn't sleep, no, he didn't want to sleep, and he'd walked up and down the hall in his grandfather's old slippers, passing each door slowly, not daring to turn the handle, fearful of what might be inside, of what might not be inside. He'd resolved to visit each room in the morning, but his mother woke him very early and took him away, and he never visited that house again. He suddenly realised he was driving far too fast. He was sweeping past one car then another: first a Fairmont, then a Ford Escort, then a Mercedes. A Mercedes! He smiled when its owner showed her annoyance by sounding her horn and shouting something out the window. How much was he doing? This old bomb had trouble getting past a tonne, even on the Bombay Hills with a tail wind! He looked at the speedometer: 25 KMS. Quite illogically he leaned on the brake, and saw the speed drop to 15 KMS. He realised that the Escort and the Mercedes had passed him. Looking into the distance, he could see tail lights that probably belonged to the Mercedes, turning off to the left. Now another driver was passing him, honking her horn as she did so. With a sudden twist of the steering wheel he pulled over to the side of the road, where weeds grew amongst loose gravel. He sat there for a long time, watching pairs of tail lights pass him and slowly disappear.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]