It was nearly the weekend. Dan and I stood in the usual spot, in an alleyway just down the road where the building was almost, but not entirely, out of sight. Between an industrial bin and a parking garage. Dan leaned against the wall smoking.
“Smell that. Doesn’t that remind you of last year?”
Dan didn’t even sniff the air. Instead he gave a short laugh and raised an eyebrow. “That’s just cigarettes and filth. And I didn’t even know you last year. What were you doing for a smell like that to bring you back there?” Dan nudged me with his elbow, then pulled his phone out of his suit pocket. “Eight minutes left. Better make the most of it.” We fell into silence, puffing on our second cigarettes, getting them in before the break ended.
I thought back to the end of last year, when I’d started this crazy experiment: I hadn’t worn a watch for three weeks, hoping that maybe this could help me get the better of time somehow. Delay it, or scare it off, or get it out of my head. It hadn’t really worked. How could it when smells and sounds moved time around so easily? I’d thought about time a lot. I don’t really feel like my life is rushing by, but I suspect that sometime soon it might. At least that’s what the movies say. The movies. Always messing things up. Nothing had ever really bothered me until I’d started watching the movies. I’d been content to fake my way through life, in a white shirt and a black suit. But the movies, they’re dreams turned to liquid and spewed onto the streets like gas.
Sometimes I thought I’d run away. Or maybe just live in a tree somewhere, one of those crazy big trees on St Kilda Road. I’d make a dash one morning at the exact moment my train would be leaving for work. I could go earlier, but I’d wait for the train… For poetic justice or whatever they called it. I’d sell my car and rent an old bomb, maybe even steal one, not too dilapidated, but one with that antique charm about it. One that would be difficult to find parts for if it broke down. Maybe with those draw-blinds on the back window. I’d drive across the country and write a book about my escapades. Half-drunk and with borrowed pens, of course. I’d keep the pages of it in an old shoebox under the empty passenger’s seat. I’d get deliberately lost until the car ran out of gas. This would happen in the desert, or up in the mountains, or in some little backwater town that had a bar and a jazz singer but no band. They’d packed up and left. And I’d leave soon too, when I’d figured something out with the car. I’d call my book On the Breeze or something like that. Because that’s how I’d feel, on the breeze, on the way. That’s how I liked to be. On the way where didn’t really matter. I’d be like this guy I saw in America, years ago, on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. This man that had been wearing this beautifully cut wine-red suit, with a white shirt and a black tie, and a cigarette in his hand. The suit had obviously been tailored just for him and the guy was as handsome as they come, with a carefully managed Beatles haircut that made him look like he’d just walked out of the movies. The goddam movies. He’d had this look on his face as he stood there, this melancholy as hell look as if something wasn’t up to scratch with the world and soon he was going to have to do something about it. How was that fair? To look that good and stare so sad? The bastard had even had a fountain pen sticking out of his pocket, as if he were a playwright or a novelist, and was deep in the middle of some big project.
Well it wasn’t fair, but that could be me, maybe in a less impressive suit and maybe not looking so melancholy. Maybe someone would walk past me and think to themselves, what a good-looking bastard, what’s he doing looking so bored? Surely he drives a Cadillac or something, to be so well-fitted in that suit?
On the way home from work I sat on the train between an elderly woman knitting and a young boy nodding off to the music in his headphones. I stared out of the window and studied the parked cars with envious eyes. How hard could it be to open one?
They did it with coat-hangers in the movies.