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Andy’s been smoking all day. He sits there with his sunnies on, not saying anything, slowly working his way through the packs. He smokes each cigarette the same way: lights it, takes a drag and blows three smoke rings. Always three. He lets the wind take the ash and flicks the butt out of the window. He’s waiting for me to say something about it but there’s no point. It’s all been said before.

So we sit in silence. We were never big talkers anyway. Back then we were always too busy playing games. Andy loved to feel that he was being followed, always checking in his rear view mirror to see if anybody was tailing him, and if he caught sight of someone, he’d drive real carefully so they wouldn’t know they’d been spotted. There were other things as well – lamp posts he liked to scrape, roundabouts he clipped and curbs he loved to mount. He liked to see how close he could get to things without causing serious damage. It wasn’t long before his new car was in a real state – paint scraped off the bodywork, bumpers bent, puckered metal in every crumple zone – but I loved it. It was a total wreck.

All of which makes me wonder why he no longer drives. I suppose I should ask him but even if he answers me, I know it won’t be the truth. He was such a good driver too – quick on the inside, late on the brakes and a beautiful lane jumper. I loved the way he took a right-hand turn, spotting the smallest of gaps in the on-coming cavalry charge of traffic and timing his move to perfection. Sometimes it felt as if we’d never make it but we always did, leaving everybody else stranded as we disappeared over the hill and into the sunset. I dunno. Maybe he got so good, he didn’t care. He doesn’t need to do it any more. It was all too easy.

Anyway that’s all finished now. I think about it sometimes but it doesn’t seem real, like somebody made it all up. Perhaps it was me. This is real now – the road and the sound of the engine and all the scenery and stuff that always looks the same. And every day is the same too. We drive and sometimes we stop and it doesn’t make much difference what we do. There was a reason for it once, maybe. Something Andy did used to really annoy me but I can’t remember what it was now except that it got to me. Perhaps I need a break. I need to get away and begin again, like when you come back from an ad break and start with something new and you can’t remember what came before. And it doesn’t really matter anyway.

One day the woman wakes up – but has she really been asleep? She feels as if she has been lying awake for hours, days, but maybe she only dreamt it. Perhaps she was dreaming about trying to get to sleep. Was there a difference between being awake and dreaming about it? It was disturbing to think she might be dreaming her life away while she slept.

Suddenly she realises what it was that woke her. The telephone is ringing. She didn’t recognise it at first. Nobody ever calls them. How long had it been ringing? And why didn’t somebody answer it? Quickly she gets off the bed and goes downstairs but when she reaches the phone, it goes dead. She stands in the hallway holding the receiver, trying to work out why anybody would want to speak to them. Then she goes into the sitting room where the man is lying on the settee watching television.

‘Why didn’t you answer the phone?’ says the woman.
‘What phone?’ says the man, ‘I didn’t hear the phone. There was no phone. You must have been dreaming.’
‘Come to bed,’ says the woman.

The man continues to stare at the screen. There is a woman lying on a settee, smiling at him and shaking her head slightly as if reassuring a small child. She says: I feel nothing but protected.

The man is trying to see how far he can go without knowing what he is watching, searching for a totally new televisual experience. Most of the time he suffers from split-second recognition, an instant understanding of what he is being shown, but that doesn’t deter him in his quest nor undermine his viewing pleasure.

Slow motion whales are frolicking in the sea. Perhaps it is our sea. A voice says: We’ve got the support. The time is right. We believe the sanctuary is winnable.

The best moments come when the man realises that he has been staring at the screen for a long time but cannot remember a single thing that he has seen; his mind is a complete blank. Of course such a state cannot be deliberately induced – it requires the right combination of hypnotic images, a soothing voice-over and a non-specific soundtrack – but with practice it can be achieved with satisfying regularity. It helps not to think about it.

A man wearing a neo-expressionist tie says: A massive police search is underway for a man and a woman believed to be...

Two podgy men in uniform are looking at a large map spread over the bonnet of a white car. They have difficulty keeping the map flat. The wind is light to moderate becoming gusty from the south west. There will be further details on this story in the main bulletin with regular updates throughout the evening. In the meantime, there will be more after the break, including...

...familiar scenes of famine and disease, thousands of bodies seen either from a distance like the aftermath of a battle, or else close up, lying down or staring into space. Nobody has a name, except a few people who wear different clothes and are allowed to speak. They are either French or Irish. The world is finally waking up to the plight of these people. The crisis is entering a new phase. Our personnel are on the ground and counsellors are standing by to help them cope. Trading on the stock market was slow today and our dollar is down slightly after early gains.

The man is now incapable of leaving the settee. He doesn’t seem to eat or shit and he never really sleeps. His body appears to be collapsing, losing any fixed shape or purpose, like an old termite mound which slowly reverts to its most basic state – a pile of mud and debris. As the days pass, the woman starts to realise that the man is becoming immovable, just dead weight. If they are to survive, she has to act now and take matters into her own hands. She must begin again, seek out a new life and make a fresh start. She must show the world what she is made of, stand on her own two feet.

The woman gets herself a job. Every day she closes the front door behind her and walks down the street observing all the houses and cars. A few doors away, a new house is being built, an appropriate symbol, the woman believes, for her constructive approach to life. As she passes on her way to work, she observes the daily changes – the clearing of the land, the concrete slab being poured and becoming hard, the first concrete blocks giving shape to the rooms, the rapid spread of the brickwork and the final lofty geometry of the roof beams. The builders have already finished work for the day when the woman passes so she is free to enjoy the progress of the building by herself. She feels that it is significant somehow, the creation of a fresh domestic space which one day will hold real people living real lives. Nothing can undermine the actuality of this place; the fact that it is there gives the woman renewed confidence.

She walks along the street until she reaches a busy intersection. It is shaped like an X except the diagonals don’t quite match up. There is uncertainty here as to whether cars are turning or going straight on. There is doubt about the right of way. A moment of indecision and everything will be lost. The woman does not stop. She steps off the pavement in front of the oncoming traffic. She holds her hands out sideways, low down, as if suppressing a lively toddler. A car brakes firmly, allowing her to cross. ‘Loser,’ says the woman, without even looking at the car.

The woman works in an office. She is a cleaner. She has a magic cloth and a silver cylinder on her back like a personal rocket pack. There is a green plastic bag for paper and a black plastic bag for non-recyclable items. She is scrupulous in sorting the rubbish. Usually she is alone in the office – the lights are turned down low and the only sound is the hum of the air conditioning – but sometimes she comes across a body huddled in a cubicle, muttering into the telephone. They are surprised to see her. They weren’t expecting anybody at this hour.

‘Yep... Yep... OK... look, I’ve gotta go... Yep... me too... see ya...’

The woman roams about the office, choosing cubicles at random and sifting through the forgotten messages piled on the desks: Mike called – no message; Your mother called (again); Carla rang to remind you about Sunday; Hi there!

The woman looks at all the cartoons, clippings and family photographs on the partition walls, scrutinising them like remnants of an archaic language which she might yet understand. She noses in between piles of papers, pushes through gaps between cabinets and cupboards, tiptoes over cardboard boxes and files. Occasionally she looks up at the windows and sees her reflection superimposed on the twinkling lights of the city.

The purpose of the office is a mystery. It is filled with piles of leaflets and pamphlets, newsletters, bulletins, reports, circulars and information updates. Every day the piles grow and new piles emerge. They are combined and divided, distributed and collated. Sometimes a pile will be melted down, its contents condensed and distilled to create a summary or perhaps a memo which then re-enters circulation. In due course, another pile is created.

The woman knows that she mustn’t disturb the piles. Her role is to clean around the edges without upsetting the established order. Efficient waste management must not interfere with the day-to-day operation of the workplace. When the workers return tomorrow, everything will be exactly as they left it. The woman removes unwanted material from the acres of maze-like office without anybody knowing that she was even there.

Late at night, she leaves the office, making her way to the lobby where a security guard is watching TV. The woman and the guard nod and smile at each other like old acquaintances but nothing is ever said. When the security lock buzzes, the woman pushes open the heavy glass door and disappears into the night.

Hey Kate...

It’s Andy. His voice makes me jump, coming out of nowhere like that, the first real words I’ve heard in ages, longer than I can remember. It’s so strange to hear him speak, like that instant when you answer the phone and hear a voice, and you know who it is but you’re really not thinking, off with the fairies somewhere, drifting, and it takes a while to catch up. Pulling hard, I swing my attention around towards him, like turning a heavily-laden truck in a tight circle and, in the process, I’m ditching my load off the back – eggs maybe, or tomatoes, spilling out onto the road, mashed to a pulp. I feel as if I’ve lost something important but I don’t know what it is yet, and I’m yet to realise that I’m never going to get it back.

Andy’s asking me if I want a light. He takes out his lighter and flips open the silver lid. It makes a tiny rasping sound when he lights it, psst, like somebody trying to attract my attention. I can’t see the flame in this light but I can feel the heat when he holds it near my face. His hands are shaking slightly but it’s probably just the vibration of the car.

And now he starts to tell me stories...

Do you remember this lighter? It was always my favourite one. I couldn’t bear to be without it. I remember losing it once. For ages, I couldn’t find it anywhere. It nearly drove me insane. Then one day, I’m in this bar and I notice the barman is using my lighter. Straightaway I knew that it was mine.
That’s a nice lighter, I say, where did you get it?
It was a birthday present, says the barman.
No, really, tell me. Where did you get it?
The barman looks at me. He’s wearing a tight white shirt and a little bow tie that’s almost hidden beneath his chin. I can tell that he doesn’t think much of his customers but that’s OK. We’re not here to be friends. He’s sizing me up, trying to work out how far I’m going to take this, and I’m waiting for him to catch up, to reach the point where we both know what’s going to happen next.

A couple of weeks later, somebody rings up and tells me they’ve found my lighter down the back of the settee. I tell them to keep it. What do I need two lighters for?