Heavy is the first chapter of Transpose -a self-styled revolution (March 2017) available here.
The car lurched forward and stalled on a patch of bare earth under the shade of a tree outside a prefabricated house in the Florida swamplands. The driver’s door opened and a body fell out. Then the passenger’s door opened, a second body hit the ground with a thud. There was no sign of blood, just the creaking and cranking noises when very hot metal starts to cool down.
A dark-haired man and a blond woman were standing on the porch of the house. He walked towards the car. She went back into the house to get a jug of water.
“The disadvantage….with this car is…” said the red-faced driver between gulps of cold water, “…is the engine overheats… and the only way to stop it… overheating… is to have the heater on full … which cools the engine down but heats up the car… a lot.”
Outside it was humid and thirty degrees. Inside the car, which was a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu Sport Sedan, it had been nearly treble that.
A few minutes later the driver had recovered enough to stand up and make some introductions.
“Hi Jake. It’s Ed. And this is Tracy.”
Jake looked blankly at the couple who had just arrived.
The driver tried again. “Jake?”
“Do you remember me now?”
“I’m Ed. From the Bahamas. You said to drop by if I ever came to Florida.”
“Oh. Ed. The Bahamas. Yeah. How are you? And Tracy was it?
“Yep that’s right. Ed – and Tracy.”
“Okay. Tracy and Ed. Hi. Yeah. Pleased to meet you.”
The blond woman was glaring at Jake. Jake got the message.
“Oh yeah. This is my… this is Jayne.”
Jake and Jayne’s relationship was on the rocks. They spoke to their guests, but they didn’t speak to each other.
While Jake was outside faking busyness Ed and Tracy were sitting at the kitchen table watching Jayne pop ice-cubes into a jug of Tang. Tracy was dressed in a fresh Metallica vest, with a combed mohican and freshly plaited goatee beard. Ed had tied his dreadlocks back, he was wearing his best shorts and one of Jake’s t-shirts – just until the washing was done.
Jayne had already decided the visitors were decent people, polite and with a sense of humour – quite different from the man she had married – and had asked them if they wanted to go into town for a meal and some wine.
“Eh, sorry, we can’t, we’re going for a beer with Jake’s softball team.”
“Ah well,” she said, “good luck with that. The bars round here are full of toothless folk covered in tattoos… Oh, I mean ugly tattoos, not body art.”
Tracy held up a hand as if to say no offence taken. Jayne had already paid compliment to the celtic designs covering his arms and legs, and admired most of his many piercings.
There was nothing soft about Jake’s softball team. Despite being thrown off the league two seasons ago they still met up for practice at Ronnie’s Bar two evenings a week, which was in preparation for ‘match days’ which lasted for most of most weekends. Jake was the last of them to get his divorce through.
That was all on a Sunday.
On Monday morning the boys had tropical hang-overs. Jake scraped them up and drove them to The Old Ponderosa Fish Camp. It was like a movie set; feathery vines hung from the cypress trees accentuating the stony silence. Jake wanted Tracy to help design and build a new jetty while Ed was teamed up with Ronald to demolish and remove the old toilet block.
Ronald was an ex-marine, a veteran of every conflict for which his country deemed him eligible, a career that had spanned the golden age of American warmongery. And when he retired from the marines he became a mercenary. Now he was properly retired. Helping Jake break things was just a hobby.
Ronald had sweet inked under one of his nipples and sour under the other. He told Ed that. Ed would never have dared to read it for himself.
Demolishing the toilet block was easy. Ronald reversed the truck into one wall and it collapsed like a pack of cards. Unfortunately Ed was inside the building doing a recce at the time. Fortunately he had been standing by a window, the glass long-gone, so when the walls collapsed inwards he jumped out of the window. He was unhurt but a little shaken, not too shaken to hide though.
Ronald circled the rubble calling for Ed a few times before shrugging his shoulders and setting off to tell Jake his new assistant had been killed in the line of duty. Which is when Ed came out from behind a tree.
“Hey Ronald, just taking a leak, now, what’s next?”
“Load this here truck,” said Ronald neither pleased nor relieved.
Each time the truck was full of debris Ronald drove them to the dump, hunched over the steering wheel and chain-smoking as they rumbled down the narrow tarmac alleyways that divided the swamp.
At lunchtime they went to the gas station at Molasses Junction for a filled roll and a can of coke. The proprietor was sitting on a rocking chair, knitting. She finished the row and set down her pipe before getting up to serve them.
At the end of the day on the way home, they nearly crashed into a crop-spraying bi-plane that was banking into a turn to start a new row. “That fuckin Frankie has inhaled too much DDT…”
Pulling up at Jake’s place Ronald spotted the car parked on the bare earth under the tree. “It’s a 350 V8, that dual exhaust would give it two hundred horsepower. We call ’em the Heavy Chevy, ” he said.
“It’s a micro-wave bloody oven that’s what it is!” said Ed. Just looking at it made him sweat. Instinctively his face went into the driving frown which had helped stop the perspiration running off his forehead and stinging his eyes. Ed explained the overheating issue to Ronald.
“Ronald, do you know anyone who wants to buy a Chevy-shaped micro-wave oven?”
“Mmmm. You might get something for it in winter. In Canada.”
“We’re not driving it to Canada. We’re scared of it. It’s like being in hell already…”
Ronald walked round the car sizing it up.
“What the fuck kind of license plate is that anyway man?”
“It’s a temporary tag. It was part of the deal.” Ed explained how they’d been talking with the car salesmen when a uniformed debt collector showed up, ushered the salesman into the sales office and berated him for ten minutes.
This had given Ed and Tracy time to think. The Heavy Chevy was already the cheapest car on the lot, but it was more than they could afford. And a license plate would cost more than the car.
When the salesman emerged looking a foot shorter Ed faked disinterest while Tracy pushed for half price – but including a temporary license tag written out till the end of the month which would give them a thirty day grace period to find the money for a real license plate.
Then Ed entered the negotiation saying he would only agree if they also received two more thirty day tags – blank ones – which they could fill in and slap on as needed. The car was sick, with a life-expectancy of much less than ninety days, but it would be a handy insurance to have just in case. Of course this was all against the law but the beleaguered salesman had to agree; he needed cash.
Ronald liked the story. “You guys are illeegaal!” he said exposing all of his gums. Suddenly they were family. “I’ll take a look at this car for you. If you send me a post-card from Canada.”
“Uh? No way! We’re not even going to Canada, that was your idea.”
“Have we got a deal or is this fucked up car of yours going to rot under this here tree?”
Jake had already warned Ed and Tracy that there was no god-damn way that this illeeegal wreck of a god-damn car was going to rot under his god-damn tree.
Ed had to think quickly. He couldn’t.
“It’s a deal. A postcard from Canada it is.”
Jake was an alcoholic. Jayne was taking night classes to better herself. That, in a nutshell, was their problem.
On Friday lunchtime Jake went missing. On Friday night Jayne took Ed and Tracy to a comedy club in the city. It was brilliant! In the bar afterwards they met the evening’s best comedian. He bit his finger nails continuously and wasn’t funny at all. They got back really late. Jayne looked at Tracy a moment longer than was necessary before announcing she was going to bed. It was Ed’s turn on the couch but Tracy got there first so Ed laid himself out on the floor. The house was quiet for a few minutes. Then Jake arrived home and somehow pulled the fridge down on top of himself while putting milk on his cornflakes.
On Saturday night all four of them sat on the long sofa. Jake was at one end, Jayne was at the other, the lads were in the middle. The beer was warm because the fridge was broken.
TV was mostly ads. Jayne was staring at a magazine until something worth watching came on.
Jake got Tracy to help him bring out a second TV from the bedroom, they put it next to the first one, wired up his Playstation and loaded the Formula 1 game. So on the left screen they had advertisements blaring and flashing at them, broken up by chat shows and soaps. And on the right screen they had Formula 1 with the settings on really hard so only Tracy and Jake could cope with it. Tracy had spent years on a sofa learning to cope in front of his Playstation. Jake had obviously wasted a lot of time getting really good at it too.
Inspired by a TV news item Ed attempted conversation.
“America is crazy.” he said. “I don’t mean crazy, I mean y’know mad. You can’t drink alcohol in public but anyone can own an automatic weapon.”
“Some people can do more damage drinking.” said Jayne.
Oh. They went back to silence.
That was Saturday night. On Sunday morning Jake announced he was going to Bobby the Dinosaur’s 50th birthday party. He looked at Ed and Tracy. Jayne was looking at Ed and Tracy. Ed and Tracy looked at the floor. They knew this was a test – one they couldn’t pass.
Out on the road a car horn sounded. Everyone looked at Jake. Nothing he said now could make any difference. He said nothing. He closed the door behind himself and skipped off down the dusty path to play with his friends.
At five that afternoon there was a phone call. Jayne picked it up and listened for thirty seconds while her head inflated and reddened, then she slammed the handset down without having said a word.
She disappeared into the bedroom and crashed around for half a minute before emerging with a small suitcase.
“I’m sorry you had to see this. I’m leaving. Goodbye.”
The little house shook as she slammed the door. Ed spilled his can of warm beer. Tracy was winning the Australian Grand Prix at the Adelaide Street Circuit but the commotion had punctured his concentration – he hit a barrier on the Dequetteville Hairpin losing his front wing.
“Shit! What just happened?” he said twitching on the sofa (lowering a shoulder as he took each bend and flicking his right foot when he changed gear).
A minute later the phone rang again. Tracy crashed again. “Shiiiit!”
He threw the console to the ground. His race was over.
Ed picked up the telephone handset and nervously put it to his ear. The caller sounded a bit like Jake. It was Jake. What was left of him. He was on a pay-phone, he needed to be collected from Papa Joe’s Bar, he started giving directions while Ed was looking for a pen, Ed got some of it down but then Jake must have run out of change and the phone cut off.
Ed and Tracy drove Jake’s pick-up deep into the swamp-jungle looking for Papa Joe’s. All the cross-roads looked the same – they went straight over some, turned left at others, sometimes they turned right, until they gave up looking for the bar and decided their goal was to make it out of there while there was still gas in the tank. Which is when they found Papa Joe’s.
As they walked towards the shack the night-time jungle noises were overtaken by the sound of a jukebox. On the porch an empty rocking-chair was gently rocking. There was a sprinkling of blood on the wooden step. The door was wedged open with a flattened Budweiser can.
Ed was unshaven, had dreadlocks and was wearing board shorts. He looked like most of the other women in there.
Tracy had Celtic tattoos, face and body-piercing, a mohican, goatee and a sunburned neck. There was a triangle of ‘females’ buzzing around him in seconds.
“Woo wee ain’t he pretty.” said the first.
“Ooh there’s one hell of an accent you got there.” said the second who was six-feet-two not including her floppy straw hat. She flashed her gums at Tracy. “You know how to handle yourself, don’t you boy?”
Jake was nowhere to be seen.
There was a sign over the bar saying Tequila Sam’s.
A slow song came on. The ladies started fighting over who was going to dance with Tracy while their mothers were focussed on Ed.
Ed and Tracy got home a little before daybreak. Jake was asleep next to the Heavy Chevy on the patch of bare earth under the tree outside his prefabricated house.
You know things are serious when there is no humour.
At lunchtime Jake and Ed and Tracy congregated in the kitchen around a cereal box, taking a handful and passing it on. Ed looked up from a Reader’s Digest magazine; “You know that famous conundrum If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?…”
“For Christ’s sake Scrambles pack it in. Have you no respect for a decent hangover! Sorry Jake, he does this sometimes. Often in fact.”
“I don’t get it.” said Jake. Poor Jake. The story of how the lads escaped from Tequila Sam’s had momentarily cheered him but now, again, he looked like a fallen tree, broken and alone in the forest of his fucked up life.
“Well,” said Tracy, “what he said, said in a different way is, if a man speaks and there isn’t a woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?”
“Ah, it’s a tongue twister, I get it.”
In the afternoon of that day Jake phoned Jayne at her mother’s place. Jayne asked him why he wasn’t working. Jake said he wasn’t at work because he had a head-ache and a fever, because yesterday, at the party, he’d been bitten by a spider.