III — And after the bar?
And after the bar? What happened after the bar, he asked. I saw this bride at midnight, standing still in front of the church. She was part of the moon. Had come down to see what the earth was like. So I stopped to go and talk to her and she told me that there were people still waiting. I was unnerved. I asked to admire her beauty; which she didn’t mind at all. She stood silently whilst I moved over her, immersed in tranquility. Though soon she began to fade and bade me fair well with a smile. The cobbled stone under my feet shone faintly and then I was left alone in the dark. What was that then? I don’t know, I replied.
He stood leaning against the wall with his arms folded and head turned away from me. Looking off into the distance across the shallow valley below us. Was it her or was it something else? It was probably both, I think. He moved to look over the wall, down to the earth below. I don’t really like heights, I said. I feel drawn to the edge. I don’t like the oldness of these stones either. I don’t like the green on them. They look wet and slippery and that means I could slip. But the floor isn’t like that. Just the walls. I didn’t reply; just raised my eyebrows. I’m going down, I said, and started back to the narrow staircase. It was so steep and dark I wondered how people hundreds of years ago ever managed it.
Every now and then I’d pass somebody coming up the other way and had to squeeze me up against the wall. These other people might be attractive. I hoped, but they never were. More often they were plain and fat. I figured if I waited round long enough I could watch one have a heart attack. A fly flitted past my eyes and made me slip in front of a middle aged couple. The man suppressed a smirk. I thought I’d let them know it wasn’t usual for me to slip. I say: woah! Won’t be making a habit of that! The man unbuttons a smirk and laughs in relief, albeit briefly. You slipped, he says; reassuring himself. We stood outside looking up at the great stone tower. It made me feel almost as giddy looking up as I had looking back down. Did I slip? Yes a fly flew past. No I didn’t get hurt. What do you think of these tourists? I asked him. We’re tourists. But not like them. We don’t look like tourists, do we? I don’t know. Perhaps we do. We must; we’re looking about like them, going to the same places. You know. Who can tell? But we feel differently don’t we? He didn’t answer, but looked at me blankly. I don’t think he cares at all. His face was growing a good beard, making him look tired. His dark hair was messy. It usually swept over to one side looking quite smooth but now it stood up in the middle and was flattened on the other side; how he slept. Well if we’re tourists then you’re one that’s fraying round the edges. You look washed up! So do you, he says. In fact you look like you’ve been waiting too long. You’re starting to look like the scenery round here. You’re blending in! He grinned a big one sided grin. No malice. But you said we look like tourists. Yeah! The tourist who stayed. Went native. But then you always were native weren’t you? Couldn’t separate yourself from the picture. Couldn’t turn away. That hurt a little. So I told him, That hurts. Why? He asks as if he doesn’t know. Let me think about that. Why does it hurt? When were we last here, I wondered. And in what circumstance? Was she with me? I wanted her to be. What did it feel like then? It felt like I’d been left on a planet in another solar system. It felt like I was made to wander through space, dropped off at some point across the universe and someone says: okay. Now go home. And I didn’t know which way to start. There are no signposts. You take one step forward into the blackness so thick that I might have torn my eyes out and one step later I can’t tell if I had moved at all. Or just thought about moving. I was never going to find her again, was I? She never was with me. I never got back from that place. I’m still there trying to move this way. So you hurt because you never found her. Or you hurt because you lost her?
Are you talking to me? What are we talking about here? I was wondering if you’ve lost her. Have you? Well that’s what we’re doing then isn’t it! We’re waiting for you to get back and when you do we’ll know. Where am I you fuck? I shouted it again; felt my face contort. He spun round surprised. What’s up? What the fuck was that? You were shouting at me! Genuinely surprised, he tells me I was shouting at him. And then I ask him a question to which he answers no. Do you feel all right? he asks. He looks concerned and frowns down his nose at me. I’ll feel all right when I hear her voice. When will that be? He says he doesn’t know, says he’s sorry and looks down the hill and then starts to walk. The breeze follows him.
The path leads down from the tower, through the oak woods all about. Only the top up here is open and the breeze springs out from behind the tower whipping down on the woods so that they move like fur on some tremendous hunched creature. I watch him pass under the canopy and disappear along the hidden path. If I wait long enough she’ll be on the breeze. She’s behind the tower waiting for a dramatic entrance. My left leg moves. I want to walk round to grab her. I know she’s there, but, just as soon as she made herself felt, she changes again. Images of desolation flit through my eyes and the shadows creep about me. It’s only a thought. I’m under the trees walking by his side. The wet gravel crunches. So we got into the car and drove.
Watched the hill out the left window appear and disappear with the trees. I was glad to be on the wide road, back with other people and settled comfortably into the driving seat; playing some familiar taped music. We talk about what music does and theorize how people are drawn into a feeling just because of a tune. I suggest that mood dictates what we listen to, but he counters this, claiming that sometimes we hear a tune and our mood changes accordingly. We start to talk about talking. We talk about the illusion of will that we all cling to; that the player had nothing to do with our choice of conversation topic. It’s nice. A moment out of the regular pattern of things.
We pass the time. The car eats up road without straining. It cruises comfortably at seventy miles an hour and sounds like it’s only just ticking over. I remark how smooth it all is and that it’s the first Production car I’ve been in and that if it’s typical of Production cars then Production cars must be good. I say it looks good in black. All black. The hills shrink behind us and we start out onto flatter, drier countryside. Grey with fields of skinny cows here and there. Lots of farms. I imagine from their number and closeness to one another that none are of large acreage. I wonder if anybody has any money at all around here. The small towns are haunted by a past that went missing, many decades before and appear as the remnants of the bad dream; a baleful backdrop waiting to join a play in which the main characters shuffle around mumbling things that might stop your heart if heard properly. Down through one town we pass along the wide main-street with the white buildings on either side peeling into dust. Windows of filth hiding filthy people. Filthy doors open to let the apathy out into daylight. And from there it slowly spreads to the next town and then the world. He says that the people in these towns work themselves to death scraping the fading land. I want to stop. The car slows down. We stop outside a building that stands on its own with two wide alleys either side of it. We park in front with plenty of space to choose from because no-one else has bothered. He climbs out and stretches. He doesn’t really know this area at all and yet he’s at ease. He’s at ease wherever he goes and I’m not. He stretches and yawns with his head back. I climb out and stretch and yawn and look around. This is a café we’re in front of. It’s clean in comparison. This café has some standards, I think. He pushes back the wide glass door and in we go. This isn’t my natural line of work. I just fell into it.