Love and Mayhem, from Ch. 3
The bus he gets on is packed. He scans the bottom deck for an empty seat, then goes upstairs. As he reaches the top, he glances round and spots a vacant aisle seat two from the back. He sits down and almost immediately finds himself drifting into warm reflections about his time with Catherine in Morocco. The passenger sitting next to him suddenly grasps the seat rail in front with both hands and begins to rock to and fro in his seat. This action is accompanied by a hypnotic hum, as if it is some kind of alcoholic’s mantra; Jack smells the stale stench of beer coming from his mouth. The man is in his mid-fifties, with a mass of wild grey hair and a thick black beard with streaks of grey. He is stocky, thick set, big. He has a rugged, pock-marked and leathery complexion, which looks like it has suffered years of abuse and neglect as a result of heavy drinking and exposure to the winter elements. He wears an old threadbare tweed jacket, a check shirt and a grubby pair of trousers. There is a plastic bag full of books and newspaper cuttings between his legs.
Jack has encountered this man a few times before; he is difficult to miss. The last time was a few months ago, in Notting Hill not Shepherd’s Bush: Jack was getting off the bus as he was getting on. He remembers this because the man almost knocked him over. Jack had to grab hold of his shoulder to stop himself falling. The man clasped his arm, he had big hands, wore an old gold wedding ring. Jack looked at him closely then, searchingly, but the man did not reciprocate his observation. He just hurried away, as if fleeing the scene of a crime, and Jack was left to wonder how he might have ended up this way, so broken and destitute. He recalled that he talked to Sam about him the night it happened, who typically ridiculed him for his fascination with desperate strangers. It is his ‘little idiosyncrasy’: this is how Sam referred to it. Now, seated next to the man, Jack begins to speculate again about his fate. He finds himself, rather uncomfortably, staring at the man in the frankly curious manner of a small child observing a strange spectacle – an exposure of the tragic side of life, someone condemned to a life of eccentric pursuits and painful neuroses – something he must fathom. The man does not seem conscious of his inquiry as he continues to rock and hum…
Love and Mayhem, from Ch. 34
The last few days, Catherine has felt like she is flying: she is happy all the time. And she feels like this now as she squints her eyes, peering through the branches at the blue above her, flying through the sky, over a lush landscape and towards a big city. And suddenly she is in the city, gliding above streets and people. She dives down and then swoops up again, up the side of a very tall building … yes, a skyscraper. Up and up like a bird.
Oh … she, Catherine, can do anything, absolutely anything. The whole world is hers. Everyone is beautiful. She loves them all. She wants to help everyone in need, care for them all. Life has become a daydream, a carnival of magical colours, everything so bright and clear, wherever she looks. Catherine does not know why she feels so elated, so wonderful, powerful: it does not make sense. But she does know she must savour this high while it lasts: she has secretly been longing for it for some time. She stared at herself in the mirror when she got up this morning and did not quite know who she was.
Catherine puts on her headphones now as she looks at the sky again, blue, so blue. She feels like she is going inside the music, feels it so closely she becomes it. Personal identity gone. She is a soprano’s voice. The pluck of a guitar string. She is so free. It feels like an orgasm; it is unstoppable. She is higher than she has ever been before, Catherine thinks. She knows she is flying too high, like Icarus she is too close to the sun. Her fall is inevitable, but she does not care. While she feels this good, may it last as long as it can…