The engine is ticking over gently as my best friend struggles his way into the passenger seat of my car. I’m stopped at a red light, he’ll need to get a move on.
Hey mate, thanks for picking me up! he offers as he settles himself noisily into his seat.
Hey man, how’s it going? I reply as I reach across him to pull the door closed. The light changes to green and I quickly grab his seat belt and secure him into place. Normally I’d let him do this himself, but this evening he seems to be secured entirely inside a large sack. A six foot long, hessian sack to be precise, gathered at the top and secured with padlocks.
I have known iDifficult since we started working together twenty years ago; these things happen.
I’m cool with it, and figure he’ll tell me later.
Fancy listening to anything? I ask as we pull away from the lights, breaking the ice.
Sure, anything, I don’t mind, he replies absently, fidgeting with something inside the sack. There is clinking.
I was just listening to an audio book, I tell him, some old ghost stories by M. R. James. The next one is Whistle And I’ll Come To You, My Lad. They did it on TV a few years back?
Cool, why not. I didn’t know you liked audio books! he says, surprised. I’ve probably not mentioned it, as it’s a relatively new hobby. He adds absently, I tried one of the abridged ones a while back, but… and leaves the sentence hanging. I think he shrugs dismissively inside the sack.
I’m not a fan of the short versions either, I agree, but I’ve been listening to unabridged ones. Much better, having the entire text. Sometimes they do multi-voice recordings too, more like a spoken play. The Illuminatus trilogy was like that.
Nice, he grunts, distracted. Then suddenly, Dammit, almost had it!
Yeah. I do a lot of driving every week, and I have bad reading habits these days. I love buying books, and love reading them, but I fall asleep soon as I pick one up. Time of day doesn’t matter. Page one, fresh as a daisy. Page two, heavy eyelids. Page three, dreamland. I haven’t read much in years.
But you have tons of books at your new place!
Yes, I counted them up one day and found I have twenty six new-ish books on my shelf, of which I’d read two. I take a deep breath, disappointed at the memory. I was about to buy yet more books I fancied, and decided that audio books might make more sense.
I do all my reading on the train, he says, through clenched teeth. I imagine he has a lockpick between his lips. It passes the time nicely. And it’s a shame, you used to read all the time. I've borrowed loads off you over the years.
Yeah, true. Did little else as a kid. Comics, Asterix books, lightweight science fiction. Happy times. So, you carry a paperback in your pocket when you travel?
He shifts in his seat, bringing his feet up. His breathing and chat become more laboured, hoarse almost.
Sometimes, he says. I read an old Dan Brown last month, and one of Kathy Reich’s new ones. But I’ve also read a few as e-Books on my organiser and on the iPod. Methuselah’s Virus by Raspal Chima most recently. Can you hold this for a moment?
Something that looks like a finger points outwards from the sack. I reach sideways, one hand on the wheel, to grasp it through the rough material. It’s soft, like PlayDoh. I continue, unphased.
You like reading electronically? I’ve never really thought about it. It wouldn’t help me, as I only find time and focus while I’m driving. I picture the attempt. Couldn't really balance a Kindle on the steering wheel.
Yeah, it’s ok. Though I don’t read as much as I used to. I tend to listen to music these days. Have you read any real books of late?
I consider this for a moment. I did read something recently.
Well, a friend sent me a paperback copy of Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis as a present. I somehow sat and devoured it in a single session. Not done that since I was ten. I ponder this surprising fact for a moment and add, Must have been a damned good book, all things considered.
You bought a real old book though, didn’t you? he asks, replacing his feet on the floor with a sigh of relief.
Well, I have a first edition of The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers from 1895, but I’ve not read that for a couple of years. Great book, mind.
So everything else you’ve read lately has been…? he asks, letting me fill the void as he renews his escape efforts.
Yeah, audio books. I’ve listened to all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, fourteen of the buggers. Then the Illuminatus trilogy I mentioned earlier, and almost all of these M. R. James. Plus the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe. Oh, and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
All unabridged? You do way too much driving matey. Still, better to be enjoying a book than not, however you do it. Then, seconds later, a triumphant, AHA! GOT IT!
Slowly, elegantly, the seat belt slides back up into its holder.
Bugger, he mutters. I laugh as I slow the car to a stop; we’ve known each other for years, its cool. He manages a chuckle, too. I replace the seatbelt, and set off again.
Anyway, that’s over twenty books more than I read in the previous five years. And I’m surprised how well they work as audio. It’s nice to be finally enjoying books again. I glance sideways at him, grinning to myself. I enjoy the escapism.
He doesn’t reply. His head is down, as if he is concentrating intently on a piece of the puzzle. Silence falls over the car, apart from an occasional squeaking of a badly oiled lock and the creak of rope. I notice we’re almost in the town centre.
So, how’s it going in there? I ask, my curiosity finally getting the better of me.
Hmm? Yeah, sorry about this. The night school Escapology class started late. Then the teacher had to run. I figured I’d sort something, knew you’d get me home. But I’ve dropped the lockpick and forgot to tense my muscles to bulk up when he Tied. These. Knots.
I slow the car at the next set of lights. Straight on to town, left to take him back home.
So, we still going for pizza?
Deep inside the bag, he sighs. I hear the terminal, defeated click on a stop watch.
You got any bolt cutters?
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2009