The gym. A place of virtual impossibility.
George Findlay took each lever in hand and braced himself for the lift. He took a deep breath and pushed outward with his arms watching the weights move smoothly upward. When they could go no further he paused and let his arms drop down. The weights gave a satisfying clink and he relaxed. Then he did the same thing a total of ten times.
He stood up and collected himself. All about him he could hear the artificial sing song of the gym and everything else that came with it. Men grunted as they dead lifted iron and screamed out in what only sounded like desperation.
George checked his watch. It was 950 am. He had enough time for a quick shower and a coffee at the canteen and then he needed to be out of there and off to work.
As he walked back through the gym towards the changing rooms he could smell sweat and the artificial hum of cleaning products. Music blared out constantly from the overhead speakers and he had to ask himself mentally, why on earth did he come here? There was no easy answer.
In the changing room he realised he’d forgotton his towel but only after he had finished his shower and so he cursed to himself. Fucking idiot he said. The changing room was empty so he went over to the mirror and found the hair dryer before switching it on. It took some time to dry himself and once an old Jamaican guy walked past and gave him a look but he didn’t really care. He was more pissed off with himself. Because he saw himself as a forgetful fuckwit, which he was, he made a point of giving himself a hard time so he wouldn’t do it again. It was the way he worked.
After an overpriced cappuccino in the adjoining canteen George shouldered his rucksack and headed back across the park towards home. It was a clear crisp day and several people passed him walking their dogs and taking their daily runs. There were certainly worse places to be.
When he got in he chucked his gym kit straight in the wash. Then he undressed and got into his uniform. He took a shave with his electric razor, brushed his teeth and found the keys to his car. Five minutes later he left carefully locking the door behind him.
The bus depot was a large looming building cut into the side of a hill where two main roads met. Whenever he drove up to it George wondered how long he’d have to keep coming here, when it was he could finally pack it all in and never come back. The truth was the place was like a second home to him. He had friends here. They sorted his tax for him. He had a pension, admittedly it was small but he had one. George remembered the old days when he had no work and when he’d been unable to get work despite the fact he had bloody qualifications. It made no sense at all. All that money he’d wasted could have been used as a down payment on a house or something.
He parked up his car and turned off the ignition. He looked through the windshield and he could see his bus waiting there patiently. The no 59 in all it’s glory.
He stepped out of the car and walked over to the office.
When he walked in the supervisor looked up. George, he said, you’re not late. Well done.
George stood by the table looking at the supervisor’s glasses. They were something from the 80s, a bit Sweeney like. The sort of glasses the screws would wear in a borstal or something. The room was pretty much bare except for a clock on the wall and a large map which said London Bus Connections.
It’s over there said the supervisor and he tossed the keys over the table to him. Then he looked up.
What? he said.
George said nothing. He took the keys and walked out of the office and over to the no 59 parked in the corner of the depot.
He stepped into the cab and started the engine letting it idle for a moment. Then he adjusted the seat and checked his mirrors. It could be worse be thought. I could be a freaking lorry driver. He edged the vehicle forward and drove out through the great double doors of the depot and onto the main road. He could see the traffic weaving in front of him but it wasn’t particularly heavy for this time of day. George hated traffic. Suddenly it occurred to him that this made his job even more ludicrous than it already was.
One of the reasons George chose to do the job was that it gave him time to think. In between all the stopping and starting and endless encounters with the general public he was allowed a small space and a steady stream of consciousness that literally could not be broken simply because he had to deliver a bus from A to B. He was confined to a small space but he was constantly on the move. It was a study in form. This kind of thing also happened on aeroplanes and trains he thought. Train rides! How he loved train rides! Not the underground. No not that. But the overground yes! He loved overground train journeys and he didn’t quite know why. Yes it was an old fashioned method of transport and yes it seemed to hark back to another era, an era when perhaps people had been free from the stress and strains of modern existence.
As he pressed on through Brixton and Stockwell he made good progress and if anything he was slightly ahead of his schedule. The automated voice system chimed along with his every start and stop and George suddenly felt very in control of his life. He stopped outside Kennington station and the front double doors shut for the fourteenth or fifteenth time and it was then that he heard the noise, a noise he didn’t particularly like the sound of. The diesel engine of the bus was giving off a strange rattle, not something he’d heard before and something he hoped wasn’t anything serious. As he depressed the throttle it seemed to rise in tone and anxiety. George considered this.
At Waterloo station most of the bus seemed to get off and an old man made some comment about how noisy the journey had been. Bus driver he said, I can’t hear myself think. George drove up the ramp and instead of stopping at his usual post drove on to the end of the line and parked the bus up. He stuck it in neutral and revved the throttle a couple of times. The noise was still there and even more prominent now. His eyes moved down to the temperature gauge and sure enough he was in the red. There was a problem.
George switched off the engine and considered his options. Then he got out of the cab and walked up to the office.
The supervisor was sat at his desk. He looked up from his paperwork and nodded as George walked in.
Looks like she’s got a bit of trouble said George and he pointed out the window towards the bus. She’s over heating and it sounds like there’s trouble with the engine.
Ok said the supervisor and he rolled his chair back and put the lid on his pen.
Let’s have a look he said.
They stepped out of the office and walked along to to where the bus stood, the interior lights still on, the front plaque saying ‘Waterloo.’
Jump in and get her going, said the supervisor.
George climbed back up into the cab and started her up. The noise was still there but the engine seemed to have cooled down.
George looked on the mirror and saw the supervisor walking down to the rear of the bus. He could hear the uncanny whine coming from the back and he saw the supervisor standing there looking and listening. He heard him shout ‘rev it!’ so he did so several times listening the engine struggling under the throttle.
OK shouted the supervisor and he began walking up towards the front of the bus.
You’ve got problems he said.
Sure, thought George.
Come inside and we’ll write a report said the supervisor.
George got out of the cab and followed him back into the office.
The supervisor reached down and opened a draw in his desk. He took out a form, looked at it then pushed it towards George.
Here, he said, fill this out.
George looked at the form. Form no. 379R it said. There were a lot of empty boxes.
You got a pen? said George.
The supervisor handed him a biro. Then he leaned over his shoulder. Jill? he said.
There was a pause and then a girl appeared in the doorway behind him.
Problem? She said.
George looked up at the girl.
She looked at him and then over at the bus sitting outside.
That yours? she said.
Yup he said. I mean it’s not mine.
Yes, he said.
He began filling out the form. The supervisor looked up at him and then looked at her. Engine problem, he said. It’s not going anywhere.
George filled in the boxes then he signed the bottom of the form. He got up and gave it to the girl. She was good looking. She had large hoop earrings on like a gypsy George thought to himself and she had a good slim body. She was dark, if anything a little severe looking but he didn’t mind that.
Thanks very much she said. Then she walked out of the room clip clop clip clop on her high heels.
You might as well go said the clerk. We’ll take care of it.
George got up and placed the pen on the table. Then he turned and left the office the way he’d come in.
After he’d called the depot and told them what had happened he started to think about his next move. He wasn’t obliged to continue the shift but they’d expect him back at base. He wondered how to get there? Not the bus surely?! George reflected that overall, he disliked buses. Why he drove one he didn’t know. He’d heard all kinds of horror stories about incidents on buses, drivers getting attacked and so forth. That had yet to happen to him but he’d seen other things. People fighting in the downstairs aisles. Ridiculous scenes breaking out between commuters. Once a bunch of black youths had been throwing fried chicken at a man sitting at the front. George had watched it for several minutes before the man had quietly stood up, walked to the back of the bus and began beating one of them senseless with little or no remorse. It retrospect it had been quite impressive and George let him do it although he’d stopped the bus while all the other passengers screamed at him. That was a while ago now.
He walked to the underground at Waterloo and found himself back at base within twenty minutes. He drank tea for an hour, did some paperwork and then slipped away. He knew he should have stayed longer but it was a friday and they could have done without him. He’d been there log enough to get away with such things.
When he got in he phoned his friend Jon. He stood in the hallway listening to the mobile ring.
The phone picked up.
Hello mate you still on for tonight said the voice at the other end.
Yeah for sure said George. What time we meeting?
8 30 in the Albion Castle said Jon. Party’s round the corner he said. Only five minutes away.
Ok Good said George I’ll be there.
He put the phone down and then went through to the kitchen to make some tea. Then he sat down and watched some afternoon TV. He wasn’t used to spending time alone on a day like this. Usually he was sitting in bus cab surrounded by strangers. Today he was relieved not to be.
The pub was set back from the street and as he walked towards the entrance George caught sight of the others sitting in the window. Jon was gesticulating wildly obviously telling some kind of story while the others listened attentively. They all had pints which looked half drunk and the evening looked to be in full swing.
He walked through the double doors and turned to face them.
Lads he said. How’s it going?
Reaaaayyyyy! Jon stood up to give him a pat on the back. Good to see you big man he said what you having?
Lager said George and he sat down and said hello to the others.
So, you up for it? said Alan.
Yeah I guess so he replied. Who’s party is it anyway? said George.
Some Chick called Alice said Alan. Dave knows her through his missus. She’s alright. Arty type. She has these parties once a year down on the canal. She’s got a studio he said.
Sounds good said George and he looked up to see Jon coming back with the drinks.
So you back on the horse yet? said Jon.
The others laughed.
I’m getting there said George.
That’s my boy said Jon. Get back on the horse, that’s what I say.
George had just come out of an eight year relationship. The breakup had been sudden and for all intensive purposes, acrimonious. One minute they were getting on ok, albeit having the odd argument then after he got back from Scotland she told him just like that, she was moving out. They were sitting in a restaurant when she broke the news. He didn’t really hear her at first he just looked for the salt and pepper, put some on his spaghetti and drank a mouthful of wine. Inside something happened though. He couldn’t really feel what it was that was happening but something had changed. He looked at her. You’re what? he said.
I’m moving out. I decided while you were away, I’m sorry, she said.
Since the break up things had moved along very quickly indeed. One minute he was self employed and working for himself and then next minute he was up sticks and out, new house then no work no one would bloody hire him. He waited for 6 months drinking and watching television sometimes going to the gym then finally something in him panicked and he applied to drive buses.
George took a sip of his pint.
I could really do with some action he thought to himself.
Alan leaned over and patted him on the back. Then he produced a wrap of coke from his pocket and tucked it into George’s hand.
There you go pal, he said.
He looked down at the wrap and turned it over with his index finger. Then he put it in his pocket.
They sat drinking and laughing for the next hour while gradually the pub filled up with a new strain of the white middle class that had recently started populating the local area. It was a good spot George thought to himself and it made him think about his failed relationship again, about how he had once had some of this and that now it had all gone. But where had it gone? How did it just go? He drank more beer and tried not to think about it.
Near ten o’clock they left the pub and began the walk down towards the canal. It was a clear crisp night and George felt good now miles away from the bus depot and everything that it represented. He thought about the supervisor and the girl down at Waterloo. Who were these people, where did they come from? He thought about the clerk’s wiry greasy hair and the empty form. ‘Here sign this..’
Soon they arrived at the studio and George could see down the side of the building to the canal. He could see a number of small boats and the water was dimly lit from above in a sodium light. They could hear the deep rumble of music from inside and upstairs coloured flashing lights sprang through the windows. A guy on the door who looked mildly security like let them in and they walked up a staircase to the top level.
The warehouse was big enough, a makeshift bar in the middle of the room and the music was louder than he initially thought. People stood in groups here and there drinking from cans of red stripe and talking amongst themselves. There didn’t seem to be a hell of a lot of people there but the place certainly had a vibe of it’s own. It felt like anything could happen there. The DJ stood alone in the corner weaving breaks and other tunes from a pair CD decks. He had a strange quiff and every so often he took a drag from a joint lying by his side.
Let’s get a drink, said Jon and they walked over closer to the bar. They ordered cans of beer and George thought about the wrap of coke in his pocket. The truth was he didn’t actually like coke much bit it was good to know it was there for some reason. He fingered it carefully with his right hand and looked over at a group of people nearby. There was a tall dark girl with a bob and a guy wearing a baseball jacket. Baseball jackets? thought George. Was this the new thing ?
Jon handed him a can of beer.
How you been G man? he said.
Ok said George. Fucking work, he said.
Yeah man said Jon.
Who’s party is this again ? said George. He didn’t really care but for some reason he decided to ask.
Some girl called Alice, said Jon. I’ll introduce you if I can find her, he said.
Cool said George.
Alice he thought. Kind of arty he thought to himself. Also a potential name for a mad woman. Like the girl out of that movie with Jim Carrey where he tries to erase his memory thought George.
The music stopped for a second and the crowd seemed to register this and look up. Then nothing happened. Then the Dj shouted sorry and the music started again. People went back to drinking and talking.
We need some pills, said Alan.
Or some Mandy said Jon. You know it makes sense.
They went over and stood by the window. George looked out at the canal and looked at the little boats. Further up he could see some old fashioned barges that looked like they had people living on them. He thought about this and wondered what it would be like? Then he thought about his ex and wondered where she was living? She’d moved to Scotland but that was all she’d told him. She could be living on the street for all he knew. The chances of that were pretty rare though to be honest. He knew she was shacked up with someone because a mutual friend had told him. When he found out he took it in and he said to his friend ‘It doesn’t surprise me’. That’s what he’d said. He didn’t know what else to say.
Just then he heard a voice and he turned and there were three girls standing behind them.
One of them said ‘Hi guys.’
George looked at her. She had a fringe and slightly gappy front teeth and what seemed to be quite a wild look in her eye. She was not tall by any standards but she had a good figure. Well dressed in an eccentric kind of way George thought to himself.
Jon introduced them. Guys he said this is Alice, it’s Alice’s party, this is her place, he said.
Hi guys she said, I’m Alice and she waved at them. This is Rosie and Sarah, she said. Then she turned to George.
Please to me meet you, she said.
And you, he said.
George took a gulp from his beer and looked at Alice. He liked the look of what he saw.
She looked at him.
So what is it that you do? she said.
I drive buses, he said.
What? she said.
The music was loud but inside George’s head things were very quite.
I drive buses, he said. You know, double decker buses.
You’re a bus driver? she said. Oh my God how cool. I don’t know any bus drivers.
Yeah, I guess it’s a novelty he said. At least it is to me, I haven’t been doing it for very long he said.
Which bus do you drive?
She seemed genuinely interested.
The Number 59, he said. Yeah the number 59. I mean they’re all the same in some ways. They all do the same thing, he said. They get you from A to B. You know.
Ha ha she laughed. A ha ha ..!
Whys that funny? he said.
I dunno, it just is. Rosie he’s a bus driver. Isn’t that crazy? I don’t know any bus drivers.
George looked at Rosie. She wore rimmed glasses and had too much lipstick on. She was Alice’s side kick. Cool, she said dryly.
How about you? he said to her.
Im an artist she said. This is my studio. I have a party he every year.
Right ok said George. He already knew this but he pretended he didn’t.
Suddenly she seemed to get bored. We’re going to go and say hi to the others, she said but we’ll see you later.
Ok, said George.
The girls walked off towards the bar. He turned to the others.
She likes you, said Jon. I know she does.
An hour later the party had really started to heat up and more people were arriving in great numbers. George was slightly amazed at how a place could attract so many people in such a short space of time. It was like a double decker bus he thought. One minute it was half empty, the next minute it was packed to the gunnels and the potential for chaos was there. It was a chaotic universe after all. Sometimes the best thing to do was to embrace the chaos if you had the stomach for it. Then there was order. George liked order but he felt that order was slightly futile. It was futile for the human race to assume that as a speck in the every fabric of existence order would or could prevail. George was drunk and he knew he’d get drunker. He tried not to think about the potential hangover. It wasn’t potential however. At this stage it was a certainty.
While he was standing at the bar he caught sight of Alice opposite and she waved at him. He waved back. Maybe she was keen? He couldn’t be sure. He ordered another drink. He was sure he needed another drink. Then suddenly she was there next to him.
Hello she said.
Hello back he said and he turned to her. They were very close to each other and he could feel her breasts against him.
You don’t look too great, she said. Why don’t you have one of these, she said and she lifted up her hand outstretched, a small white pill at the centre.
Ecstacy, she said. It’s good, she said. I can vouch for it.
George looked at the pill. He’d been there a long time ago. A few times in fact. He took the pill and looked it. Then he broke it in half and put a half in his mouth and took a drink from his glass.
Thats the spirit she said. Come over her and and dance she said and she led him over to the dance floor where there were others. George dropped the other half of the pill in his pocket and prepared himself for the bloke dances with girl for the first time experience. He didn’t feel overly comfortable dancing but it seemed like the right thing to do. She led the way and stepped towards him and then back again. She had the moves.
You’re good she said. And she looked intently at him.
He felt like a fool.
They kept dancing but eventually he started to get bored. He looked over at the window and thought about the canal. For some reason wanted to go out and look at it.
Let’s go outside, he said.
Are you mad? she said. Its freezing out there.
I know but I want to see the canal, he said.
Ok just for a minute she said and again she took his hand and led him over to the staircase. As he walked he saw the lads standing by the DJ talking amongst themselves. Alan saw him and raised his can. ‘Go for it’ he mouthed as they walked past.
She led him down the stairs pass the security guy and then they were outside by some parked cars. She pulled him to her and kissed him on the mouth while she pushed her breasts up against him. He felt her cold tongue inside his mouth and he bit it very gently. He felt his cock rise and he held her firmly by the waist. Then he pushed her back against the bonnet of a car.
Easy tiger, she said. I thought you wanted to look at the canal?
I do he said.
She grabbed his hand again and led him round the side of the building towards the water. It was muddy underfoot but George didn’t care as he had boots on. There was a large gate they managed to get open and then they were there by the water. George looked at the black iridescent surface and saw their reflection in the moonlight. It was cold and there was a little wind in the air.
Sometimes I come down here when I run out of ideas, she said. It helps the creative process.
Let’s walk up here said George and he looked up the towpath towards the barges.
Ok, she said.
They walked up the towpath and saw a large black and white cat by the water. It turned to look at them in the moonlight and then ran into a nearby bush. George held by the waist and they kissed.
Mmmmm she said and she let her head fall back as he kissed her neck. I like this, she said.
Me too, he said.
He could feel the pill taking effect or at least he felt very warm and excited. He also felt slightly drowsy and his head was spinning a little. Jesus he said and he took a deep breath.
You ok ? she said
I think so. Shall we get back?
They staggered down to the gate and made it back to the entrance where the security guy was waiting. He let them past and they climbed back up to the first floor and headed towards the bar. George got there first and reached into his pockets looking for money. I know I’ve got some he said to himself and he dug round grabbing everything and placing it on the bar in front of him. A girl waited looking at him watching him empty his pockets. There were coins and keys and some receipts and the wrap of coke Alan had given him. He stared down blankly at the objects before him and then took the wrap of coke and out it back in his pocket. Christ he felt out of it, he couldn’t think straight.
Give me two Mohitos he said and then he finally found a ten pound note somewhere. He looked at it in the dim light but it seemed to be a strange colour. He looked around for her but she’d disappeared. Where was she he thought? He could really feel the pill now. He could hear the music more and it seemed to take on a new meaning. The girl at the bar brought the drinks and he gave her the ten and went off to look for Alice. After a minute he felt like he had to sit down so he found a space in the corner by the window.
‘I want to see the canal’ he said to himself as he sat down with the two drinks. He sucked at the straw of one and looked at the other. He couldn’t stop looking at the drinks. They seemed very beautiful to him but he didn’t know why. Suddenly he felt very very alone and for a second he panicked. Then he felt ok again. He shut his eyes and he could see the boats and the black and white cat by the bushes. He shook his head. Jesus he said.
Eventually he looked up and she was standing there in front of him rubbing his head in her hands. Is that for me? she said and she took one of the drinks from him.
I think so, he said. He wasn’t sure of anything now.
Let’s dance she said.
I don’t wanna dance.
No I don’t wanna I just wanna sit here he said.
Ok she said and she turned around and tried to sit on his lap. He leaned his head against her neck and breathed in her perfume. He thought about the canal again but suddenly it seemed like a bad thought and he wanted to think about something, anything else.
Can we get out of here? he said and he nuzzled his face further into her hair.
Already she said?
I feel so bad he said. I just feel very odd. He was laughing but he didn’t know why.
Are you ok?
I dunno, he said.
They sat there for a little while longer. Eventually she got up with her drink and turned to him.
Sweety I’m going to look for Rosie, she said. I’ll be back in a minute are you going to be ok for a sec?
He looked up and nodded dumbly at her. She squeezed his cheek and kissed him cooly on the lips before heading off into the crowd.
George looked at the dancefloor. He couldn’t see her and he couldn’t see his friends but suddenly he was feeling better, he was coming out of something, he didn’t quite know what but he got up from his seat and he knew he was going to be ok. He staggered towards the throng of people in front of him and hearing the beats snake wildly upwards he let out a loud cry of joy.