Saturday, August 11, 2007

On the road, 1

Thursday, 8PM

We're at the hotel. Pluvialis is making some temporary jesses, which she doesn't actually need, but we don't know that yet. She's forgotten her ruler, so she's cannibalised the frosted glass bedside tabletop for a cutting guide. An episode of a cop drama that we've seen before is on the itty TV, and we snicker about our previous predictions about the solution to the lame-duck mystery aspects of the story while calfskin moves between her hands.

The room smells of leather and sweet-and-sour pork we got from the guy down at the Cantonese takeaway with the growly, mellifluous Scottish accent and skater t-shirt. Pluvialis sits at the horrible frosted glass computer table, which matches the hysterical flock of frosted glass everywhere, looking hugely out of place and mismatched by desperate dint of matchiness. She handles leather and grease and scalpels with the thoughtlessly close attention of long familiarity. It is precise like watchmaking but bodily like painting something six feet across -- her arms make semaphore in tiny bursts between fingertipping some small crafty goal which I can't decipher. She uses her teeth. The leather is curled and pulled like ropes of sugar or plaited bread. Expertise and old, old knowings-how condense on the wall and run down the chipped wallpaper.

When she has cut them out, she lets me have one to grease for her, with a delicious-smelling stuff called Ko Cho Line which reminds me of getting new school shoes. I am five years old and allowed to stir the cupcake batter. It is over too quickly. I put furry bright pink dabs onto the skinny damp strip of leather and pull it between my hands over and over. Suddenly it is buttery and springy and I think again of breadmaking, of elastic, yeasty dough. She knots and folds. Holds them up in her new glove, pale yellow like sugar creamed with butter, a gift I bought her at the falconer's fair, the one where the parachutist fell out of the sky.

The light is terrible -- a tiny 40w bulb above our heads in a ludicrous cup-shaped frosted glass shade casting tea-coloured shadows everywhere you need to see. Pluvialis purses and frowns and cocks her head this way and that. I'd say she pushes her hair out of her eyes, but she doesn't -- it falls into her face and she looks right through it. She lines the jesses up next to the leash and the titanium swivel which came in the smallest ziploc bag I'd ever seen.

I go to take a bath, because I am hugely unsettled. Stranraer. I want to leave right away. It may have been the wrong time of day, because the epiphanic golden stain that illuminated our first glimpses of the ocean west of Dumfries is gone, and everything is grey and somehow both faded and bloated. The shop windows are covered with riot-proof steel shutters. The town is like a giant dead fish.

We have been on the road for nearly 400 miles. Just over the border into Scotland I see a raven on the soft verge. I cannot believe it is so big, and then I cannot believe that I cannot believe it, because it was that particular incredulity which made me want to see one at all. For a split-second I am comforted by the fact that knowing I'd be surprised had no impact on the surprise. I worry that I can think myself out of experiences, but I cannot. Not with a raven. It is clockworked like a giant rook, slowed down, stepping the gravel with majesterially impressive black pantaloons.

Everywhere is caterpillared with stone walls which I long to touch, and then long to build, and then long to pilfer a stone from, over and over again. Blackfaced sheep and whitewashed houses and scribbly AM radio as Tandulkar is caught behind in the second test. That won't happen until tomorrow, but time is squashed like a raisin. The motorway services are all the same, which I knew already, but the sameness bears down on me like loss of bloodflow in my toes, tingle-pain and fatigue. We stop at a Little Chef. It is a waiting room in Hell. A Hotel California--Groundhog Day temporal disturbance zings the air over the miasma of sublimed Heinz baked beans and bacon grease. Pluvialis and I hold the wipe-clean menus in front of ourselves like shields for an interminable minute, exchange glances and abandon the table.

The tub in the hotel is hugely long and sunken, and my puffy long-distance-drive toes don't touch the end. The bathroom is an extravaganza of clash. Bubblegum pink shower curtain. Gappy brick-red wannabe-axminster with egg-yolk accents, upon which rests a shaggy baby blue and navy bath mat and matching pedestal mat. The basin side tiled in deco-ish black and white, the recess tiled in mesmerising cream 1" mosaic with a gilding effect. There is pine-scented shower gel in forest green sachets.

There is a faux black marble false wall in the walk-in robe, and a nine-foot padded chocolate brown suedette headboard above the twin beds. To match the chocolate brown suedette roman blind, you understand.

The water is faintly coloured, as though someone dipped a teabag in it for half a minute. Or like the water in the glass where the jesses were soaked. Tannins. Peat water, says Pluvialis.
A bath in your basic whisky ingredients, she adds.

I don't sleep a wink.


joshua said...

galloway! that's where i come from, someplace in the past. that's my name, spelled wrong of course, symbolizing the psychological conundrum of the american, that worldwide child of divorced parents. as you know all americans are two things--yes yes, i'm american, and i'm scottish. never been to scotland, mind you, but between galloway, grey weather, and the jesus and mary chain, i believe it will suffice for a goal, a wish, a hang-up.

MB said...

I'm mad for you & Pluvialis, & grateful to have stumbled upon your writing.

Xtin said...

Joshua, as an Australian I understand the conundrum well. I'm Australian, and I'm EnglishIrishScottish. Mostly English. When I was annoying my grandmother would say, that's your father's celtic blood in you.

MB, glad you've found me and Pluvi. Welcome!

Heidi the Hick said...

Gah! The road trip! The awful motels! The roadside stop "food"!

I hate it!

I love it!!

(and the thing with the leather...some of my favourite memories of all time are accompanied by the smell of leather. Only for me it was mixed with horse sweat and dust.)

Ok off to read part 2!