HELEN GORDON

  

Driving

It was the strange dead days that lie between Christmas and New Year's. The car sped out of the suburbs and then across the icy winter fields, cutting sharply through the weak rays of daylight. A cold white frosting had covered the little piles of refuse dumped by the hedgerows and now only the bulky shapes of cookers and refrigerators were clearly visible, dead rubbish of a hundred families laid like small wayside shrines. The radio counted down the top 500 songs of all time (ever) and the wind blew through the gap in the body of the car. We stopped near the orange grey skeleton of a burnt out '37 Ford Sedan, dried pools of congealed blackness where the seats and engine had once been.

Waiting by the car, Lou was dressed in three layers of white, cream polyester petticoats, the lacy hem of the longest trailing in the mud. Her feet were stuck in dirty battered plimsolls and she huddled into her old suede coat, hiding behind the huge fluffy collar as she pulled on a crumpled rollie. She'd done her hair like Marilyn Monroe and kohled her eyes. Dean's lips began to tremble in the freezing air and the fingers on my right hand had turned waxy white. I'd spent the summer up here lying on the grass and watching the lights on the motorway, but it was far too cold now and we wanted to drink. Dean was pissing by the hedge, a steaming line of liquid, meandering back from between his legs. I pulled Lou into the car and started kissing her, tugging down her top and working the bra around her waist. The bluey white of her skin was bruised where the under wiring had cut in and red strap marks branded her shoulders. Dean opened the door and she shivered in the sharpened air, the orangey tips of her breasts stiffening small and hard. He climbed into the backseat and grinned as our eyes met in the mirror above the dashboard. Dean's older than me, I've just turned twenty, and it seems like all my life I've been running to keep up with him. He has the sort of blond good looks that will remain boyish until he starts to go bald. People always fall into bed with him. The funny thing is when you get up close you realise he has the teeth of a sixty year old, his smile in the mirror a few remnant yellow stumps and blackened husks. His face is a riddle.

In town it was almost chucking out time and the streets were littered with boisterous shouting figures. The boys in Ben Shermans and shiny black shoes, had greased back their hair and drunk enough lager to make advances to the girls who supported each other as they tottered on spindly heels. No one wore coats and most had eschewed jumpers as well in favour of chicken flesh and fake orange tans. The girls laughed and adjusted their wonderbras and the boys pretended to push each other into the on-coming traffic. The soft golden glow from the pubs and bars mingled with the acid orange from the street lamps and the silver of the icy streets.

After eleven the only place open was The Love Rocket, a seventies themed bar in which the fun was relentless and the only thing to do was get drunk. All the colours had been turned up to bludgeon you into believing the authenticity of the experience. On the raised stage four people who were supposed to look like Abba bounced enthusiastically to the strains of Waterloo. Dean had an Afro wig perched on his shoulder like a parrot and a 'comedy' retro moustache nestled in Lou's cleavage. Someone had put a sparkly hat on my head and it kept slipping rakishly over my right eye. I concentrated very hard on the bottle in front of me and slugged back the sickly sweet alco pops that were on special offer. Then there was a shout, which may have been going on for some time but had only just reached my head through the candyfloss. Dean shook my shoulder with one hand whilst using the 'fro to staunch the flow of blood from his nose. Half the bar was engaged in a dance contest and half watched Lou and a girl in a tight black one shoulder dress rolling amongst the broken glass and cigarette butts on the floor. Dean indicated with his head that he wanted to leave. As the warm blood from his nose dripped onto my face, I nodded; we pulled Lou off the girl and ran outside. She collapsed on Dean's shoulder and quietly vomited over his green army coat.

We installed Lou across the back seat of the car with her head hanging out the door in case she spewed again.

"Have you noticed anything different," asked Dean, "anything about Lou I mean? Doesn't she seem like, well, sort of bruisable recently?"

I nodded.

"She said, uh, that she was experimenting with archetypes but she's doing Mae West after this."

Dean frowned.

"Remember what we said about Mexico? Let's go soon, eh? This place is too much."

When I was younger I thought these claustrophobic suburban blues could be cured by going to London or something, but when I went, I found that it wasn't really much different. I thought maybe I'd been lied to somewhere along the way and that the idea in my head was a fake. Dean thinks that going to Mexico will help, but I'm not so sure.

He scratched his neck speculatively.

"Hey Jack"

He always calls me Jack when he wants something but my real name is Jean-Louis. My mother liked the French sound of it.

"Hey Jack, lets drive somewhere, shall we, but will you give me a blow job first?"

Lou woke up half way through and put me off by asking Dean who was better.

I drove back out of the town centre. We really did want to go somewhere but once over the crest of the hill only the motorway roared below us. Beyond that the downs spread out and if we could have seen that far, we knew that the sea crashed on the pebbled beaches of the south coast; seeing as we knew what was there, there didn't seem to be any point in going on. We'd been born too late, and maybe in the wrong country; we'd missed the revolution. Every time the high street stores brought out a new range of sixties mini-skirts, seventies tie-dyed flares or punk bondage trousers, we sank a little more under the weight of the past. Born too late even for generation X, we had no sunset to drive into and nowhere much to go any way so I turned the car back through the lanes.