Saturday, 17 October 2009
Off the A24 past the blue sign, grinding down into red jam. Triple slip-roads standing still. Dirty Fords and Toyotas rutting between junctions, eyes ticking over numbers on the dash. Blackberry checks show nothing. Sun not long from dawn blanked by cloud. Seamless exhaust fumes and sky. A new road and the same. Long-term parking terminals one two three, and a shift in noise through an orange tunnel. Back to grey, crawl through constricted lanes: green barrier, park in C. Lot soaked in aircraft undercarriage. Outside the air smells of diesel.
A broken wheel on my suitcase clicks down a line of cars. Bus stop two, a glass shed, is blocked by kerbs, and I’m forced to walk double the distance of my line of sight. A bus arrives and leaves before I reach the stop. A suited man arrives just after me, then a family wearing best clothes at six o'clock in the morning. The bald father stares at everything. I can smell lacquer on the mother’s hair over several feet.
Reconcile now. Nothing. Twitter. Just Americans posting nothing. A bus arrives and an expressionless man in a black turban flicks open a door, his pupils aquaplaning on pink seas. For the entire journey, some minutes through a series of grey blocks and morgued faces hidden behind windscreens, the father looks me dead in the eye while I check my inbox.
It’s so stupid. Why do they make you check in then wait in line? It takes just as long as checking in.
If they had more people on the counters we’d get there twice as fast.
My eyes widen and my lips part. I move forward a few steps, reload the same emails and look at the back of my passport. We pass each other in the zigzag queue. I can’t hear them anymore.
Where are you flying to today, sir?
She taps some keys. A fleck of mascara rests on her shirt collar. She’s wearing too much blusher.
Window or aisle?
Aisle, please. In the rows of two at the side. Not the row of five in the centre.
I’ll see what I can do, sir.
She makes eye contact and smiles. She stops smiling and reserves my seat. She asks me the questions about whether or not I packed my own luggage. My passport.
Enjoy your flight, sir.
Thanks, I say.
I walk away.
Customs is clogged with hundreds of people. Sheep in a run. A pretty woman in front of me keeps patting her thigh. My right upper eyelid is lower than its partner. Blinking becomes a matter of convulsion as opposed to an act. The lids don’t meet. Just twitch. One foot forward. Slap thigh. Child behind a barrier. Tracksuits and gold earrings.
Shoes as well?
Please. And the belt.
I drop both into the tray behind my laptop. A man in front wrestles with boots.
The detector sounds. My arms raise and I stand aside as the guard advances. His hands are on my ass. He rubs me for a while then stops, flicking his fingers, his eyes fixed down and away from me.
I redress and walk into a shopping area.
My cappuccino was pre-made, a warm cup of milk containing a small amount of coffee. Holiday-makers clutch new passports and converse loudly about kwasonts. I sit at a blue table and open my laptop while drinking the coffee so fast I nearly vomit. I boot up, then take several minutes to find a line using a 3G modem. It clicks blue. The emails are the same I've viewed a dozen times on my Blackberry. I shut the computer down. Then close the lid.
Black-blue streaks. Drunk men with top-pocket documents. Flashing wait on the departure television. I check my Blackberry then lock it.
Dixons is inhabited by four attendants wearing blue shirts. The power adaptor I need is in a bank of power adaptors facing the tills. SLRs and camcorders stand behind the counter. I put the adaptor on the glass.
Can I have your boarding card, please?
I give it to him.<
He types away. He seems enthusiastic.
Would you like a bag for that, sir?
No, I say. Thank you. I've got room in here. I point to my rucksack.
OK, he says, handing me a folded receipt, the boarding pass and my scratched credit card. He holds up the adaptor. Light flares around his ears and right eye. I take the plastic case with a grunt and move toward the front of the shop. The racks of packets become a decipherable mess. The situation remains constant as I pass through the barcode detectors and back into the arcade's atrium; it's just louder and has more feet.
Forward toward a glass wall. Then a right angle. Toward a wall covered in HSBC adverts, red slashes on white paint. Another turn and facing a travelator. To the left is carpet, and the back of a few people stomping forwards to numbers along the corridor. To the right is the moving walkway, clustered with people standing still. I walk onto the metal. Keeping time with me to the left is a man dragging a small suitcase on wheels. He is athletic, purposeful. He's wearing a suit and a brand of glasses, something like Armani. I can't see from here. I check my Blackberry. Delete some spam. Click to and from the apps panel. I step off the travelator and move towards my gate. The man in the suit heads the same way. I lock and unlock my Blackberry as I walk.
It's always the same. My knees against the carpeted seat in front, the back of which came fully back the moment the seatbelt sign went off. Scratched perspex covers a film about a woman played by Jennifer Aniston. My eyes are filled with tears, my peripheral vision a cone of gradiated black to the more expensive seats at the front of the plane. Sometimes it's a .357 Magnum; sometimes it's a .45 Glock, but mainly it's the Magnum. Occasionally there's a 9mm Beretta, but that transforms to a 9mm Glock which instantly becomes a .45 model thanks to the larger bore. Turbulence brings my hand to the tray across my knees. The film's climaxing and I'm trying not to cry. There's a hair on my supposedly sterile plastic cup of water.
Whether or not the pistol's barrel touches my temple depends on my mood. The gun is now floating in the air some inches from the right of my head. It's in the front of the face of a Middle Eastern man who's incapable of understanding that I don't want to talk to him. He likes coffee, he tells me, and has lived in San Diego for twenty seven years. In a few hours he will have been travelling for a full twenty four, having joined the London flight from an Iranian connection. I murmur responses and replace my headset. He stares at the screen's map, the invisible gun before his eyes. More turbulence. The plane rattles a tear free from my left eye.
I allow my hand to hold the gun. Mostly I refuse the experience and dismiss the weapon, but now I put the stock in my palm. I stand on a firing range in Los Angeles. It's a Model 30 Glock; a .45. I've shown the staff I can operate a handgun by firing a 9mm Beretta and a Police Special, so now they don't care what they give me. The magazine is an oversized single-row block capable of holding ten rounds. I've filled the entire thing. The pad of my right index finger flicks the outer edge of the trigger's split design, the gun's only attempt at safety. It won't fire unless the finger is placed across the trigger's entire width. Light is bright, and I have a paper target out over the floor around five metres away.
I look at the target. I'm deaf in the ear protectors. I raise the muzzle to my right temple, a little higher than I'd like thanks to the headset.
The Middle Eastern man is asleep. Tears streak my cheeks. I pull the trigger. The gun is firmly against the side of my head in the centre of the depression just above my cheekbone. The tip of the gun's barrel is warm. I frame-spot my head exploding. There's a sleeping child sitting to my left. Muzzle flash is bloomed around the whole right side of my head. Above the shot, the moulded stations holding reading and call lights are lit white, as if flashed by a camera. At close range, the .45 ACP hollowpoint causes absolute damage. A halo of orange flame cushions my right ear. To the left of my eyes, bone, blood and other matter is sprayed across the aisle as if from a hosepipe. In the picture no one has yet reacted. Then my head flaps to the side and there's the first scream.
At the back of the aircraft is a space in front of a toilet. If I bend forward, I can look out of a window onto a white sea. I don't understand the North. I can see the curvature of the earth from here, but all I can see on the ground is featureless ice. Sea shows through its cracks as black lines. For a time the ice preoccupied me so much I looked up the distance you can see from 35,000 feet. Taking the equation h*2R = d^2, where h is height, R is the radius of the Earth, and d is the distance to the horizon, d becomes roughly 221 miles at this height. I could walk to the other side of the plane and see the same thing. Just ice. I could look, but I don't. I've done it before. From the two windows I can see nearly 450 miles, and yet all I see is ice. Nothing of interest. Not a mountain or a variation in colour. I can't believe that this aircraft is the only thing in this landscape containing colour, anything other than frigid eternity. It's illogical. When the white stings my eyes I look back down the aisle towards my seat and see a black well. There's the impression of movement. Nothing else.
I arch my back. To the right of my space is a staff station. Attendants are eating microwave meals. I step into the toilet and shut the door. There's piss on the floor. I can smell groin sweat. The bent mirror and low light artificially widen the pores in my skin. I remove a box from my pocket and sit down. Inside is a hypodermic syringe, a Q-tip, a spoon and a lighter. I remove a small plastic bag from from my sock, open it and remove a paper wrap. I put the plastic bag back in my sock. I open the wrap and look at the gram of brown powder. I half-fill the spoon with water from the tap and add all the powder. The lighter cracks on and I tap the spoon over its flame. A few bubbles break at the liquid's surface. I put down the lighter and fix on keeping the liquid in the spoon level while I pull off a piece of cotton wool from the Q-tip. The plastic stick drops to the floor while I roll the fibres between my right thumb and forefinger. My eyes don't leave the liquid level. The surface ripples as the plane trips through the air. The cotton wool in the liquid, I pick up the needle and fix it against the mass in the spoon, point straight down. I pull all the liquid into the syringe. Then I drop the spoon into the sink.
Shadow coats the bottom of my jaw in the mirror, hiding the fat. I am not the man my wife married. I slap up a vein, the noise masked by the outside air-rush. I look like a dog. The light from above pushes down on my dog face like amber. Glacially. I'm an ant. I'm already dead. I push the pin into my arm, draw back a good amount of blood and inject the whole dose. Gouge instantly. Even the confetti was self-conscious. Suits from some tailor and a four-figure dress with a three in front of it. My mother in tears and my father proud. Her parents dead. Cocaine in the toilet. A hundred pounds for each meal and stupid women in high heels. The table candles had shaved scrolls. We had six bridesmaids. I loved her. Ambition kept children from our marriage. Something happens to my heart. I nod forwards, falling off the seat to push my face against the cubicle's wall. Not sure about anything now. The London flat was beyond us but we did it anyway. A sound investment. I'm not breathing because my body's mechanically incapable of doing so. I am about to suffocate to death. My cat was killed. I was distraught. The work and sex suited us for around three years before we both got bored. The chill turned to frost then to featureless ice. Last moments. The only reason we're still married is because of a shared cowardice in the face of divorce. Kicking on the door. Far too late.
My mouth is downturned; my head nods as the engines whine. The other passengers fidget and tuck hair behind ears. Sunlight rolls across seat-backs as the plane levels and the brown mountains surrounding LA rise on the right. The Middle Eastern man is talking again, but I'm ignoring him now. Some British people ahead of me are panicking, trying to find a pen to fill in their green forms. I close my eyes, a snore pushing at the back of my throat. The Middle Eastern man will not stop talking. My Blackberry is digging into the top of my leg. When I open my eyes again, a sludge of colour's pouring passed the window and the wheels hit the ground. A cheer goes up and there's some clapping. As the plane's engines pull back, pressure forces me forwards. My eyebrows knot. The Middle Eastern man is still talking. Something happy. Something about how happy he is to be here. To be home. I open my eyes and turn to him. He's smiling.
I'm happy for you, I say. I really am.
The skin around his eyes pulls tighter and his smile flattens.
I won't be going home for a little while, I say.
Why not? he asks. Are you working here?
Yes, I say. For a little while.
He goes to looking out of the window, out at the heat signatures sitting over the terminals. I sniff and twist my back up, pull my Blackberry from my pocket and turn it on. The plane taxis and people around me sigh and grimace.
Searching, says the phone.
How are you?
Not very good. You?
How was the flight?
It was all right.
I've had a bad day. I know you don't like me talking about this.
I don't know what to say.
Look, I've just landed. I'm still standing on the plane. I'll call once I'm through customs.
I might be in bed by then.
I'll try anyway.
I'll speak to you later.
I love you.
I love you too.
The Middle Eastern man alternates between looking at his knees and looking out of the window. I stand in the aisle with my head bent to one side, one hand under my rucksack's strap. I close my eyes and watch the light through their lids, then walk down towards the door.
Thank you. Thanks. Thank you.
Hot in the metal corridor, and round to the right in front of a glass wall. My Blackberry picks up AT&T. I receive a text detailing charges. I almost walk into a wall as I read it.
The sheep run in front of customs is a windowless yellow room half-filled with a snaking red tape and metal pillars. Posters on the wall tell us we'll be treated politely. I fiddle with my Blackberry. People around me talk nothing. I send a text that says I love you xxx. The purposeful man from Heathrow is in the queue ahead of me. As he turns the end of one of the zigzag rows, I'm given time to look at his face. He has red eyes.
What business are you here on?
I'm here to see a film. I'm a producer.
He's about fifty. Shaved well. A grey hair pokes through the gap between the buttons at the top of his blue shirt.
What film are you here to see?
It's an independent film I'm doing a little work on. It's called The Thaw.
Is it good? I like movies.
He's leafing through my passport, stapling the green visa waiver form into the central pages.
It's going to be good, I think. I hope.
He smiles and stamps twice.
Have a good day.
Thanks, I say.
I walk away.
Through the terminal's sliding doors stands a band of blue sky penetrated by palm trees. White and yellow cabs roll along under the concrete over-pass as officials look on. I walk to the right and find a patch of bare sidewalk on which to smoke. I don't remember lighting a cigarette, and yet I find myself smoking one when I'm approached by a man with a shaved head and a bag.
Hi, he says, stretching out his hand. I shake it.
Where are you from?
Great. Would you like one of these? It's a book about you.
No thank you.
It's only fifteen dollars.
No thank you.
He stands in front of me holding the book. The cover bears a picture of a god and some text.
No thank you, I say.