It was an old car, slow as literature. Wings muddy and bulbous; seats stitched and cold, of overlapped leather; the stick a clammy lollipop. The small wet rubber hoods on the foot-levers were smooth, although one of them had a rip, the brake naturally. The front passenger was a publisher.
His author asked, Where to, exactly?
The car lay inside a multi-storey house, facing the partition wall of a lounge. The wallpaper was beige, scented with Trugel, and there was a dark-framed print of a hollow bell-tower, mounted on cream.
Peem turned the key, the engine roared. He eased the rigid jaw of the handbrake, engaged a gear, and slewed off wildly backwards through the window and external wall, jutting through glass, cascades of stone – with a tremendous whuff of plaster – to leave one rear wheel spinning in air.
As his own door buckled and burst he was thrust out, to grab a granite window-ledge.
Brad B Athos had the mother wit to begin bawling. He started off with Au secours! then changed his tune to Fire brigade!
A dove alighted on the ledge, then flitted down to inspect Peem’s liver. His shirt was awry. A pale gray pigeon, he could not spare a hand to throttle it. The dove was pecking a communiqué across the small of his back. It was the week of climate talks, their faked climax, quinquennial bright summit amongst a shrouded range.
BB was lodged still in the passenger seat, flicking shards and dust imperiously from his jacket. Peem said, Come on, Brad, that’s unreal! BB readapted his handkerchief and limply waved it. There was no help, there was no fire brigade.
Athos said, This is murder if they go on like this. Nobody’s paying a blind bit of attention. At least if you had the decency to fall to the pavement, somebody might look up. I’m heading across to tramp on your hands.
Way out, said Peem. But why not wait for TV, get on the evening bulletins? Splatter me across some street, without a business plan, that’s not the Brad we know.
Agreed, said Athos. But the media are preoccupied: nobody has time to mope over the plight of an odd author. Okay, I’m coming over. I’m afraid it’s one of those ‘Sorry, pal’ moments.
Peem fell silent. It was hard enough gripping the ledge with his eight fingers. He had the strength, granted, and certainly the endurance. He’d earned his thousands with these finger-tips, hauling enmeshed stories from the deep. But there’d always be that famous writer’s cramp to dread, its spasms to consider.
Blast it! said Brad. He was attempting to exit by the passenger door. Yet, as soon as he poked a shoe on the splintery floor, the car began to steeply tilt. He drew his foot back into the car, smartish.
The auto had the decency to see-saw up again.
I’m going to phone out, said BB Athos.
Now you’re talking, said Peem.
If there’s a signal, said BB.
He could not get a single dot, it was like the lights were out. You needed two to even text.
Try the car radio, said Peem, relaxing various fingers – index, pinkie, middle, ring – as a precaution.
And what in hell’s name will that achieve? said his publisher.
I wouldn’t mind a weather forecast, said Peem. If there was chance of a biggish flood, I could splash down better into that. Never quite fancied hardened paving.
And what about me? said his publisher. If this car gets swept away, I’ll be trapped and drowned.
Them’s the breaks, said his author. Try that radio.
The radio cackled into life. It was a dance talent programme. Each woman clacked a pair of castanets, while her man went whirling at a wind-machine, to simulate the swish of evening dress.
Serious high pressure, said Peem, though I daresay that will slacken. We could be in a vortex in half-an-hour, deeper than deep, hurricane force and oceans of rain. Hey-ho, I’ll drop down safe and then swim free. Be quite a story.
Me, though? said his publisher. Without me at your back, how will you market it?
Word of mouth, said Peem. That’s all there will be soon. A tweet or two might still get through, or happy-tappy pigeon.
But if your ideal flood never arrives? What if they rescue me instead, the instant after you fall?
Rescue you? said Peem.
No call to build your hopes, Brad, on any rescue. I fall to my life, or death, they all look up, agreed? Naturally: security.
And here you are, said Peem, storeys above the world. You’ve wrecked a car, a house – and blown a violent hole in the wall of reality. Covered in all that off-white dust you could be anybody.
Using the blue-veined back of his hand, the publisher began again to brush, fierce, his jacket.