Although a car breaking down never happens at a convenient time, it’s not always a bad thing. The contemporary human spends so much time rushing around, that sometimes, external forces are required to bring them to a halt. The functionality of a machine is dependent on it working and a broken-down car becomes a useless, large lump of metal, as soon as it looses it’s ability to move. Unless it happens to be raining, when a car, whether it can move or not, becomes a temporary cave. The inventor of the steel roof and the designer of comfortable seats, become gods. Lifting humanity from cold, damp drudgery to an evolved, dry, comfortable world.
Being human, in relationship with another human is a wash with nuanced experience. A human lives a complicated, often, over thought out life, that requires the presence of other humans, to reflect and illuminate their gifts and short comings. Two facing mirrors create infinite reflection.
Speeding down a duel carriageway I pass a broken down car. My windscreen wipers are on full, furiously slapping away the huge drops of rain that threaten my safe progress. To my left, in a lay-by, sits a car with its hazards on. Behind the misted glass, I can just make out the shape of two human beings, sat, twisted toward each other. Deep in conversation.
‘Why does it always happen when you’re doing something? We’re supposed to be there in in fifteen minutes.’ The driver throws himself back in to his seat and sighs. The human being in the passenger seat seems more relaxed. ‘If we weren’t doing something, we wouldn’t be in the car’, he says, looking straight forward, unsmiling. ‘Oh, piss off clever clogs’, comes the well trodden reply. They both laugh.
‘How long ‘til they get here?’ asks the passenger. The driver lifts his phone. ‘An hour at least, apparently’. A lorry speeds past them causing the car to rock, and water to dowse the glass of the driver’s door. The red of the lorry’s tail lights smudge across the windscreen. Both men, shudder. The driver, twisting round in his seat, reaches in to the back and pulls a woollen coat in to the front. Leaning forward, he clumsily works his body in to it. Huffing and puffing with every change of position. The passenger watches, enthralled. Smiling.
Once both arms of the coat are filled with the corresponding limbs, the driver lifts himself, smoothing the coat under his bum and thighs, before landing again in to the seat. Releasing another sigh, he looks over to see the smiling passenger. ‘What?’ he asks, shrugging. ‘Nothing’, the passenger replies, not taking the opportunity to let the other man know how much he enjoys watching the way he conducts the little things in his life. ‘Well, stop grinning’, the driver orders, while he straightens out his coat. Busying himself by looking through the pockets, ‘I feel like the entertainment’. ‘You are the entertainment’, the passenger replies. The routine playing out beautifully.
The driver finds a biro with no lid, three scraps of paper, (that he carefully unfolds, examines, refolds and puts back in the same pocket he took them from, a sweet wrapper and an unidentifiable piece of thin metal, which he looks at for a minute, before showing it to the passenger to help identify it. ‘What’s that then?’ he asks, holding it up between them, with his left hand. ‘Hmm, I don’t know’, admits the passenger, ‘let’s have a look’. He pulls the metal from the drivers hand. ‘Careful’, the driver snaps, ‘it’s sharp’. The passenger doesn’t respond, scrutinising, with a furrowed brow, the item, now held up between his fingers.
The driver watches the passenger. Trying to read his face for any clues to the answer. Then, impatiently asks, ‘So, what is it? ’ The passenger, without removing his gaze from the mystery trinket, that he is now turning in his fingers, thoughtfully replies, ‘ I’ve no idea’. He stretches the words out as if he’s a detective examining a new piece of evidence. Then turns to face the driver. Pouting slightly.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that’. The driver replied, blinking his eyes and shaking his head. ‘You don’t know what it is?’ The drivers voice climbing in pitch as sarcasm is engaged. ‘You, the man who has an answer for everything, does not know what it is?’ He reaches forwards to lift his phone from the dash board in front of him. ‘I better post this, so I can look back and remember the moment. He lifts his phone and takes a photo of the passenger who scowls at the camera and launches the small piece of metal at the driver, who swerves to miss it while his thumbs work at speed to complete the post. In no more than a couple of seconds the job is complete and the phone gets thrown back on the dashboard.
‘You think you’re so funny’, the passenger says pulling his body forward and lifting his bum, in order to retrieve something from his back pocket. ‘I wish we had a flask’, said the driver. ‘Why didn’t you bring a flask?’ The passenger looks at him in disbelief. ‘Why would I bring a flask? We’re only going three miles up the road. Why didn’t you bring a flask? Why is it always me that has to bring things?’ The driver turns away from the passenger’s accusing eyes to face the windscreen, watching the rain, as the flattened drops distort the outside world, before turning back and replying. ‘You’re better at it than me’. ‘Better at what?’ replied the passenger, knowing full well what the answer will be. ‘Better at bringing things, you know, thinking ahead. And, anyway, I haven’t got a flask’. The driver shuffles back in his seat, folding his arms. Content with his defence. ‘You could have borrowed mine’, the passenger suggests, winning the point.
The atmosphere in the car is close. There is a warm dampness to it. Condensation runs down the inside of the windows. For want of something to do, the driver turns on the fan. The sudden invasion of noise and moving air, startles the passenger who, without speaking reaches over and turns it off again. ‘oh, I see, its like that is it’, says the driver, mocking. ‘I hate that noise; you know I do’, the passenger says looking away from the driver. ‘It’s bad enough being stuck in here with you, without being insulted by that. If you want to clear the mist, why don’t you open your window’.
The driver tuts and raises an eyebrow, before turning the key in the ignition and making a big deal of pushing the button to lower the window, which comes down much too fast, letting in the pouring rain. The driver, suddenly drenched, becomes flustered and battles with the switch to raise the glass again, whilst simultaneously fending off the rain with his left hand and, unsuccessfully, dodging rain drops. Much to the hilarity of the passenger. ‘Stop bloody laughing. Its not funny’, snaps the driver, as he manages to coax the window to the top.
He turns, and sits back in his seat. Water dripping off his hair, down on to his forehead. He shakes his hands, sending water across the front of the car, which hits the passenger. ‘Watch out’, the passenger says, trying to avoid it, still laughing. ‘Look at me’, says the driver, ‘I’m bloody soaking. You did that on purpose. You knew that would happen. That’s just like you that is. For goodness’ sake’. He raises himself up, twisting round, to look in the back for something to dry himself with. ‘And stop bloody laughing’, he adds, laughing slightly himself. Cuffing the passenger on the head with his wet sleeve. ‘You think you’re so funny’.
The tea towel I used to dry your sister’s dog off last week is there somewhere’. The passenger laughs at his own joke. ‘Will you just stop it. I’m having a bloody crisis here. You just wait until you’re next needing some help. It’ll be all fun and games then, I can tell you’.
After some rummaging, the driver pulls a shirt in to the front, sits back in his seat and dries his hair with it. Throwing it back between the two front seats once he has rubbed his face and hands. ‘All better?’ the passenger asks. ‘Get lost’, replies the driver. ‘Don’t get in a sulk’, says the passenger, ‘it was good comedy’. ‘Ha bloody ha’, the driver mocks annoyance, folding his arms across his chest. ’I’ve, got something to cheer you up’, the passenger waves his piece of paper in the air. ‘What is that, peace in our time?’ the driver asks, unimpressed. ‘What? ‘, the passenger gives him a quizzical look. ‘Nothing’, says the driver. ‘I can’t be bothered to explain. And stop waving that bit of paper about. You’re annoying me’. He lifts a hand to the passenger’s wrist, and tuts.
The passenger adjusts his position, holding the piece of paper with both hands, in front of him, announcing: ‘This my new comedy routine’. The driver, predictably, rolls his eyes, laughs, lowers his face in to his hands and shakes his head. ‘Oh god save us’; he mutters in to his hands. ‘Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse. You send me a comedy routine. Why? Why?’ Sitting quietly, watching, the passenger let’s the driver have his moment. Then, when the driver lifts his head, carries on. ‘I’ve been writing a comedy routine, and waiting for the right time to try it out. It might as well be now. Seeing as we’re on our own, together for a change’.
The driver turns towards the passenger with raised eyebrows. ‘I can think of other entertainments’, he suggests, reaching over to touch the passenger’s thigh, who brushes away the hand. ‘No, we can do that any time’. This is a red rag to a bull. ‘Any time, like when time?’, the driver becomes animated, straightening his back. ‘You’re always doing something. Writing this, making that. Chatting with this lot or visiting them lot. I never bloody see you’. The well rehearsed tirade pours out of his mouth. ‘I’m up for work and out the door first thing, back late a lot of the time. Our weekends are taken up with one family or the other, and here we are with a little bit of surprise time together and you want me to listen to a bloody comedy routine. Honestly’.
The driver receives a text notification. He lifts his phone to read the incoming message, before throwing it back on to the dash. ‘The recovery truck will be another forty-five minutes ’. ‘Perfect’, says the passenger. He begins to read. ‘It seems to me, that life is going to happen, no matter what’. The driver stops him by raising his hand. ‘Do we have to do this? I’m really not in the mood’. The passenger reaches out a hand, tenderly cupping the driver’s cheek. ‘Please’, he says, ‘let me do this. It means a lot to me. I’ve been working on it for ages. Like you said, we rarely see each other these days’. The unexpected tenderness disarms the driver, who takes a moment to look in to the passenger’s eyes. Seeing that all the passenger’s love is there, as it always is. The driver thinks, how rarely he looks for it in the passing of the days. Making a pact with himself, then and there, to make a point of looking more often. ‘Daily if possible, no, that’s too often, once a week would probably do, you wouldn’t want to over do it…’. He catches his over active brain mid flow and comes back to the moment.
The passenger has removed his hand from the driver’s face, and sits with the piece of paper in his lap. ‘OK’, says the driver, and settles himself in his seat. The passenger exhales loudly, as if he’s been holding his breath. Turns to smile at the driver, bringing the paper up to eye height, clearing his throat. ‘I’ll start again’, he says, like an apology. ‘Good idea’, agrees the driver. ‘From the top’.
A beautifully content pause fills the car. Torrential rain pelts the roof. A river runs down the windscreen and over the bonnet. The couple sit, as under a waterfall. A subconscious, cellular familiarity is stirred by the charged ions flowing around them. It vibrates through their bodies, before permeating as joy through the skin. They don’t notice, of course. To them, it is just a feeling. Later in life they will remember this moment when asked to return, in their minds, to a happy place.
Breaking the silence, they both speak at exactly the same time, then laugh. ‘What?’ asks the passenger, ‘I haven’t even started yet. This should be great, if its got you laughing already’. ‘I’m sorry’, said the driver, ‘I was just thinking. Remembering something’. The passenger replaces his piece of paper in his lap, shrugging his shoulders and sighing. ‘No, no’, says the driver, ‘it’s fine, I’ll tell you later’. He pats the passenger on the leg. ‘Honestly, please, carry on’. The passenger knots his brow. ‘Sure?’, he asks. ‘Yes, absolutely’, the driver replies, nodding his head ‘Please, carry on’.
He closes his eyes and with a grinning face, sits back in his seat. The passenger, lifts the piece of paper again. Pauses. Looks over at the driver, who is quite clearly, holding back a laugh. ‘It’s no good’, the passenger says, lowering the paper again, ‘You’re thinking about something else. Come on tell me. What is it?’ At which point the driver bursts out laughing and turns towards the door with his head in his hands. His whole body shaking. ‘Oh, for goodness sake’, says the passenger, who now also begins to laugh, even though there is no joke, as far as he can tell. ‘Come on, tell me.’ He pokes the driver in the ribs. ‘What’s so bloody funny? Apart from you, obviously’.
The driver pulls himself together for a minute, turning to face the passenger. As soon as he sees the passengers face though, he’s off again. Tears roll down, and he holds his sides. The passenger sits, laughing. Staring at the spectacle. Feeling a little awkward at being the joke. He’d not seen the driver laugh like this for years. He was laughing like a teenager. He pokes him in the ribs again, just to have his fun. ‘Get off’, the driver manages to get out between gulps of air, swiping a hand at the passengers finger. Trying, for all his might to stop laughing.
The driver, turns round, sitting up to compose himself. Wiping away tears from his cheeks, with the back of his hands. ‘Feeling better?’, the passenger asks, smiling. ‘Yes, much better thank you’. The driver pushes out a breath, looking over at the passenger, who smiles back. ‘I’ve not laughed like that in ages’, he breathes again and fans his hand in front of his mouth ‘Oh, that feels good’. He breathes again. ‘You are ever so funny’, he holds his right palm, flat on his chest, trying to catch his breath.
‘I was remembering the time’, he continues, ‘on that city break. You know, when we’d just met’. ‘In London’, the passenger reminds him. ‘Yes, in London’. ‘Oh god’, says the passenger putting his hand to his mouth. ‘Not the naked weekend?’ Now its the passengers turn to laugh. It bursts out of him, mingling with the crashing of the rain. Setting off the driver again. The outburst lasts a few seconds. Another lorry speeds past, encouraging more laughter in the rocking car.
After a minute or so, the passenger shakes his head, bringing his laughter to and end. ‘I’d forgotten all about that. What on earth made you think of it’ The driver exhales again and straightens his back, as if a better posture will ground him enough to be able to regain his speech. He swallows before saying, ‘ I just had an image…. ‘, he descends in to a fit of giggles again, trying to carry on speaking through it. ‘An image of you and…. and…. and the room service manager’s face’. An eruption of laughter explodes from both of them.
On the weekend in question, the two of them, on the passenger’s suggestion, had decided, while staying in an expensive hotel in London, to be naked every time someone came to their room. It made for an interesting sub plot to a long weekend of little sleep and lots of sex.
The first time the room service waiter brought them drinks, the passenger greeted him, naked at the door, whilst the driver lounged on the bed. To give him his dues, the young waiter was seemingly unimpressed. Mechanically, going through the motions of the transaction, as if every thing, (including their clothes), was in place. Spurred on by his nonchalance, the couple preceded over the weekend to elaborate on the joke.
The second time the waiter arrived, he was ushered in to the room, by the naked driver, whilst the passenger adopted the form of a table to put the tray on. Naked, of course. When the chamber maid came to change the bedding. One was the standard lamp, the other, a rug. At breakfast, a living replica of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, occupied the centre of the room. At lunch, it was Michael Angelo’s ‘David’. The ruse peaked on Sunday afternoon, when the young waiter was greeted by the passenger dressed only in a nun’s wimple and a levitating flannel. It was, according to the, very embarrassed, room service manager, who came to have words with them on Monday morning, the state of arousal required to achieve the levitating flannel, that tipped the young waiter over the edge. ‘We have all enjoyed the joke this weekend gentleman’, the manager had, very sternly said, ‘but’, he continued, ‘there is nothing funny about erections’. Which had the pair of them laughing, all the way home.
The unexpected in the usual, or the unusual in the expected. A glitch in the predictive, controlled hallucination. The laughter switch.
The shared memory of the room service manager juggling his conflicting emotions of embarrassment and anger, now had the couple roaring with laughter once more. That, and the empowering sense within themselves, having over come societal expectations and pressures, to live an experience they, alone imagined, filled the car with joy.
The driver responds to a text alert and the laughing subsides, ‘The truck will be here in a minute. That was quick’. The driver ruffles his hair and looks in the mirror. The passenger folds his piece of paper away, still chuckling. ‘You know what they say’, comes the predictable response, ‘time flies, when your having fun’.
‘You’, says the driver, leaning over and kissing the passenger on the cheek, ‘you’, tracing the line of his chin with his finger, ‘are such a cliché’.