The End of the Road


Story number #0026 (1992)

This story began life in the mid 1980s as a radio play that I never completed. My main influence was Chekhov’s story ‘Romance with Double Bass’. The early Chekhov was a big influence on me back then. A few years later, I turned it into a short story just to get the idea off my back. It was eventually published in The Third Alternative (n.4) in 1994.
The Platinum Ass

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This is a long dark road for a weary music student to be trudging up. And this is a heavy instrument to be balancing on thin shoulders. If only I played the piccolo instead of the double bass! But now I am frozen in my tracks by a groan. A man is lying in a ditch by the side of the road. I am always polite, so I lower my burden to the ground and sit down to talk to him.
His name, he tells me, is Marcel; and he is in love. When I point out that love is scant reason for lying in a ditch, he replies that he was knocked there by a Porsche, a Porsche, furthermore, driven by the greatest beauty ever to swerve across a road. It was love at first strike. His bones are all broken, but it is his heart that aches. I am sympathetic. I offer him a cigarette. He declines on the grounds they are bad for your health.
What am I to make of this last statement? As a poor student, tobacco is frequently an alternative to a meal rather than an adjunct. I remark that suppertime in my draughty garret is often a damp cigarette in front of my faulty paraffin heater, with the single red head of a broken match to ignite both. At this, he adopts a dreamy tone. Redhead, yes, and her hair flowed out behind her like molten copper…
I have never seen copper, molten or otherwise, though once I had a brass monkey, so I ask if he managed to have a good look at her. Oh no! A glimpse is all he had; but it was enough. It seems to me that he is burning up with fancies. Love, of course, is an illusion. I decide to play him something to calm him down. I stand up, open my instrument case, take out my double bass and proceed to play a few notes of a dismal melody.
My hands are too cold to extract much worth. I apologise. Perhaps a cigarette will help to warm me? I fumble in my pockets. Five left: one every mile till my destination. My destination? The end of the road. I am to play my double bass there at a soirée attended by various aesthetes. Yes, perhaps the Porsche was repairing thither when it knocked you head over heels into love and this ditch. She wore a silk scarf of the palest pink? Then she certainly sounds like an aesthete.
Naturally, I do not envy him. He is in love, it is true, but it is unrequited. His girl ditched him, in a manner of speaking. If I feel anything at all, then it is pity; but he does not want to be pitied. He insists that, for the first time in his life, he is happy. I am astonished. For only the first time? Yes, he has had a loveless existence. Like some grey and sad whale he has always wallowed in the seven seas of depression. But all that has changed now. It changed when the Porsche struck him down.
I am contemptuous. How could it? The woman he loves was a bad driver and a glimpse of red hair and pink scarf. Nothing more. But he insists that there is always more. Seeing is not always believing. We have already worked out that she is an aesthete and can be found at the end of the road. Surely, with a little more effort, we should be capable of deducing exactly what she looks like, how the facets of her personality glitter, even what her name is? This is his argument.
As I said before, I am always polite. I wish to help him. I cannot turn back to summon help, nor can I carry him forwards to the end of the road. In the first case, I would lose sight of my destination; in the second, I would have to arrive without my double bass. Yet there is one thing I can do.
I tell him that philosophy, like bad poetry, should be reserved for the college paper, and not declaimed aloud from a ditch. I tell him that ideals exist only in the mind or the liver, and very possibly do not exist at all. I tell him that, fantasy aside, he can name not a single one of her attributes and therefore cannot possibly be in love with her.
As a musician, I am used to developing themes. I dismantle his picture for him, piece by piece. He is a poor deluded fool, and I wish to bring him to his senses. I hammer the final nail into her coffin. I tell him that she must have been exceptionally vacuous not to have realised that she had been the cause of an accident…
At this, he begins to laugh. I have obviously misunderstood. It was no accident. She drove into him deliberately. There can be no doubt about it. She altered her course as soon as she spotted him in the glare of her headlights!
I am astounded. I shake my head in bewilderment. I can do no more for him. How can I reason with such? My conscience is clear. I return my double bass to my long-suffering shoulders, bid him farewell and resume my journey towards the end of the road. As I walk, his final words ring in my ears. Deliberately?
My step is not so heavy now. I am eager to reach my destination. I begin to increase my pace. Although this is a long dark road for a weary music student to be trudging up, I am content. Although this is a heavy instrument to be balancing on thin shoulders, I am happy. My heart flutters like a trapped butterfly. His final words have had a profound effect on me. At the end of the road, if he has spoken truly, she will be waiting with pink scarf and molten copper hair. At the end of the road, I will find the woman I love.

The Platinum Ass (04.09.2011)


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