Peter Graham

Attending your demise, repeatedly, forever

I woke up in bed, surprised by the familiar walls of the room. The sheets were wet and heavy. I must have shouted as I swam up from sleep because the sound of my own voice was ringing in my ears

Outside, walking through the city, it must have been the next day. I was dismally cold when I came to, waking to find myself already walking. I may have been stumbling through the streets in my sleep. Thunder rolled in my skull, fat clouds hung up high above and I knew: this routine will kill me.
The sky was dark over me but it was still daylight. My clothes flapped around limbs white as bone, peeking out.
Somewhere upon me, some part of my person, I noticed, stunk of piss, either my own or someone else’s. Either way, not good.
Then there I was, blinking into the wind, struggling to understand this sudden onslaught of consciousness while the city swarmed around me and I there in the centre of the hive, pedestrians, drones and motorists, buzzing past. Their flight patterns criss-crossed in dotted lines all over the pavement and the sound of a hundred voices murmured through the air. Automatically my feet were moving me on, toward my destination, toward my destiny, my demise, as it would turn out, as everything would turn out, to turn against me, in the end...
This time around I was aware of almost everybody, all at once, all those hands and minds and eyes, feeling and thinking and seeing...

A siren wailed and wept and a child stepped on my foot, chasing a balloon, its tail of string trailing just out of his reach. And an old dog wobbled past me looking worried, white patches in his fur.
I checked my pockets. I still had everything I could remember having: wallet, keys, cash. I needed to get out of this scene, as soon as I discover where I am; I should go and see Denny; Denny would sort me out, point me to the next delivery. He always had them waiting, those deliveries. They were always there to be made, there was always a demand for them. And I’ll take enough from each run to get me out there and on to the next

I stood at the bus-stop watching the empty street. The wind whistled. I whistled. The wind blew down from the clouds and shivered coldly through the hollow of my soul. Oh dear, I said to myself, my eyes closed and I thought for a moment about a boy I’d known in school. His name was Cameron. He had blonde hair and a lot of board games. I’d fought him once, one lunchtime but I couldn’t remember why; I just saw the red heat of anger all over me, clutching his clothing and falling with him onto the ground.
I kept my eyes closed as I heard the bus coming along the road. It roared up and stopped, the doors opened, I opened my eyes to the driver. This time I understood him at once, the shadow of a bus route fell like a veil across his face.
He scowled at me. He looked like Anger. Impatience. There was trouble boiling, trouble brewing, somewhere inside of him. Maybe he’d want to chase after me and drag me to the ground, like I did with Cameron, for no reason. I had my coins out, the correct change. I climbed on board

He’s hard nosed but he has the look of a hand puppet, all that loose skin at the neck, swinging from his chin. The sharp line of his nose reminded me of a character from television, counting different things up to twelve, always to twelve.
The eyes, they don’t both look in the same direction, at the same time. They were over-interested; they bulged with attention. I thought he had a secret beneath his skin, some kind of joke that made him smile every single time it came to mind.
He was sitting there smirking at me and he talked on and on while I smiled.
And waited. Waiting.
Dust caught in the light falling into that little room, tumbling within it and for a moment, now, I saw, everything was made of everything else. So simple, so clear, all of it as small as that dust, all moving, tumbling, changing, everything moving into everything else with great, unending serenity...
“But never mind that,” Denny continued and I had to keep up or I’d miss the point of what he was saying and what he was saying might be important. Soon he coughed, and shifted in his chair and then there it was, dangling in front of me, a piece of information, like red meat held before a dog.
And he kept it and held onto it, watching my eyes watching it keenly while he talked more, now about his failing health, touching my knee with an old weathered hand from time to time and it fell upon me like a hammer.
And he was worried, he said, now staring me deeply in the face. For me.
I smiled a little to reassure him I was alright but there was something, glass, grinding in my joints each time I moved, even a little bit and so I was sitting there barely able to move, not even to nod if I didn’t have to.
Still, his skin swung from his neck and his eyes burst with the meat still hung in the air, his mouth twitched and he cackled and hacked and leered, pounding my knee with his palm now as his voice swelled up and up and Eventually released and he threw the meat across the room, out the door and I chased it out into the suburbs

Buses are fine things, they serve the people, kindly ship them from their slavery to their shack then back... Home, to sleep, to dream of something that for a moment might seem to have great meaning but which is soon forgotten, on the bus again, on the way to work.
I remember the routes I took so many times, like bingo numbers: the number 25, the number legs 11, the number 13, unlucky for some; the number 5, unlucky for me...
And now all I think is about all the precious hours wasted in my impatience, as I sat there waiting to get where I was going, then impatient to turn around and come back again. Always looking ahead, or else behind, but never, never, never at where I actually was...
A long time ago, that seems, but these days I am always here. I have been ploughing this circle ever since. I am deep in the furrow of soil that buried me and dream of it, again and again, seeing new tiny details each time, deep under the loam where it’s presumed I lay buried.

Mostly, at the time, I was confused. I had been refused service, refused entry to the number 5 because of the state, the driver was saying, of my being.
That was how close I came to escaping, it was offered up to me on a plate!
But that doesn’t matter, you never know what else might have happened; I might have been run over by a truck instead, fallen into hell through an open man-hole. When you’ve got to go you’ve got to go...
Anyway, I resisted. I fought with all my will against that last opportunity to remain in Life.
I fought for my Pride. All for the way he looked at me, which brought my blood quickly to the rise, causing me to bristle and scowl and I wanted to kill that man for the way he looked at me! As if I was there to bring pain! As if I was here to cause trouble, to slice throats steal money menace the good and gentle public!
So No! I said, No no, not at all, all I want is to travel this bus line for twenty minutes and stare out the window at the houses and trees and wait with all the impatience of a modern man to get off! I said.
The driver sat with the face of the moon and carefully shifted the bus into neutral.
Then patiently he waited for me to go.

‘I have correct change,’ I told him, aware of the glare of the only passenger aboard, a thin and tiny senior, watching with mild interest.
‘Please, sir. Disembark from the vehicle.’
‘I know my rights,’ I declared but he just smiled back at me.
I turned to the old lady. She looked back at me then turned to look out the window.
‘I have every right,’ I began, then blinked into his eyes and I saw then that it was too late for him. He no longer lived here.

Each time I go through this I feel more and more sadness for him. He’d driven himself out of his mind, driving this bus, around and around and around the town, going somewhere but ending up nowhere, only back at the beginning, back to start again one more time and another after that then another after that then another until

Outside the window trees and houses began whizzing by in streaks of blurry colour. The old lady and her plastic bag shifted in her seat uneasily, rustling together.
The gears of the bus graunched while the excitement of the schoolboys behind me grew in a wave that turned slowly into a silent collective scream as the street curved in a corner ahead and everything inside the bus was amplified inside a bubble of silence

‘Let me on,’ I told the driver. ‘I’ll sit at the back. I’ll cause you no trouble.’
‘Two days ago you were sick in my bus,’ he said, shaking his head.
‘That was two days ago. I’m all better now.’
‘You look just the same.’
‘Honestly,’ I said, a flicker of pain entered my head, stabbing at me, somewhere in there. ‘I’m fine.’
‘I cannot carry you.’

He was worried, he said, staring deep in the face, for me, but by then I was grinding glass in my joints and behind the eyes so I was barely moving not even to nod if I didn’t have to. And his skin swung and eyes burst mouth twitched he cackled and leered and

‘I’ve already been sick. This morning. I have nothing left.’
I opened my mouth so that he could see, down my throat, into the empty shrivelled up stomach but his eyes slipped over my shoulder. I turned to see a queue of two behind me: a man in a suit and a man in a coat, both looking at us, both looking tired, both looking cold.
His eyes flickered down to my palm. He adjusted his bus driver’ tie.
Then he looked back up at me, spread a thin smile across the plains of the moon, pocked and pale, and reached out his hand toward mine.

The old lady looked up at me now with a frown as moved past her to take a seat to the side at the back where I sighed in relief and surveyed the grey of the street outside

She didn’t stop twitching her plastic shopping bag for one minute during the journey, was concerned only with taking things out of it then changing her mind and putting the things back in again, rustling the bag, rattling my nerves.
I should have enjoyed every one of those sweet last few moments on earth but I didn’t; instead I was choking down rage and I fumed and I boiled in my seat, overcooking. And I hated every passenger who climbed on board because they were making the bus stop every few metres, it seemed, and slowing my journey to an agonising crawl. Every schoolboy laughing an old man doddering and nameless, faceless persons all shuffling on board, who would all shuffle off with me well before their stops...
But I didn’t say anything.
I kept staring out the window and gave away nothing.

I mistook the great white light I felt somehow was hurtling towards me for that temporary relief I would get before too long, when I’d arrive at the address Denny had said and I’d get what I needed. I was totally distracted by desire, counting down the minutes to collect the delivery, how long it might be before I could get off and fix myself. So I didn’t see the end coming at all, though now of course I can see it was announcing itself quite openly all along, bellowing through a loudhailer all the way...

While I was busy wishing for freedom the bus topped the last long hill into town. There was more gear graunching then the sound of a great mechanical fart, which meant nothing to me at the time but brought a loud round of laughter and finger pointing from the schoolboys. Then the bus gathered speed, coming down the other side.
This hill was steeper than any other on the route. The bus rolled even faster, it felt like a snowball, getting fatter and fatter, faster and faster, rolling on down into town and outside the window trees and houses began whizzing by in streaks of blurry colour. The old lady and her plastic bag shifted in her seat uneasily, rustling.
The gears of the bus graunched while the excitement of the schoolboys behind me grew in a wave that turned slowly into a silent collective scream as the street curved in a corner ahead and everything inside the bus was amplified inside a bubble of silence.
And the moon-faced driver was either grinning insanely or had his teeth gritted in fear as the bus, too fast for the curve, tipped gradually up onto two wheels and slowly, slowly, began to lean one side down closer and closer to the road.
Passengers screamed and they yelled, now in shock and confusion, were thrown across the aisle and I found myself pressed against the window, face flattened on the cold pane and hands folded on my lap, contentedly watching it all happen.
‘Well, what do you expect?’ I would calmly ask my fellow passengers time and time again, though no one heard me speak, of course. No one paid attention and the whole thing leaned over too far now until it gently tipped the scales and fell onto its side
the road now biting and grinding the glass and steel beside me, rushing past only centimetres from my face but I couldn’t shift could not move myself away from it all the weight of the world was forcing me down, the screech and the spark of it burning holes in my eyes Holy shit, this is the end! Who else here has wasted their life?

And every single time nobody ever answers me in that tipped-up bus now sliding out into a busy intersection, spinning slowly around on its side as we went... And all of us laughing, laughing that this was happening to us, laughing at our understanding, knowing just why it was happening, laughing ourselves to death

I closed my eyes, standing up, and kept them closed to the grey until I heard the doors open and saw the shadow of his bus route like a veil over the face of the driver, anger and impatience boiling somewhere inside of him. I had my coins out. I climbed on board

I woke up in bed, surprised by the familiar walls of the room. The sheets were wet and heavy. I must have shouted as I swam up from sleep because the sound of my own voice was ringing in my ears



Peter Graham writes: “I am a writer, artist and part-time actor currently working in Wellington, New Zealand. Between short stories, art exhibitions, unglamourous acting jobs and essential cafe work I am feverishly working on the second draft of my debut novel, The Vine Fork. I have a partner, a cat and an outstanding debt to the government. I enjoy long forest walks and thinking seriously about archetypes.”