Space. And other such reveries. The Gobi desert. The American West. The Sahara slipping towards the rainforest, but never quite making it. Thoughts about the room available somewhere, anywhere, just ballooned in Dom’s mind until they pushed against the inside of his skull and he’d feel the weak sutures between bone plates creak, and then he had to go. It happened every now and then. Happened tonight.
He walked outwards, from the city centre, and soon passed by all the bourgeois houses built on slave-shipping money, then the bland little rich suburbs of old houses, the more middle-class ones recently made.
The last time he’d tried he’d failed, reaching the maze-like streetlets of the business park belt, and he’d got lost in it, lost his bearings, lost touch with the strong instinct he’d had that fields were to be found near, that no matter where you were the country was within reach, if only you were strong enough, willed one foot in front of the other and repeated enough times. But that time the city had won. Sent him back into its maze, to his life of getting by.
He had been weak, let his mind wander, stopped and stared at the prefab cubes sitting dead, cold. Lunar bases in the dark. He’d stared and thought of other lives, not his, not previous, but the lives of the people who worked there, confined neon-lit lives, employees driving through winter mornings, parking as close as possible and rushing in. How could they not be scared of the scant atmosphere? Inside they’d pretend they were home, that the sharp angles and carpeted partitions were comfortable. Dom had seen a few bus stops, but he couldn’t believe anyone used them, that anyone would dare to stand there looking in, like he was, from the outside, hoping for a way out. The stops had to be part of the pretence, the act of appearing normal.
A police car had driven by, and they had surprised him like this, standing there, looking into the window of a cube from the roadside. They’d checked his ID, asked him what he was doing. All he could say was that he’d come out for a walk, yes, at two in the morning, through the desert acres of the business park. He didn’t tell them he wanted to reach the fields. They’d told him to go home, and watched him start inwards from the stuffy heat of their car, back to the centre.
He knew it had to be possible, though. In another place, another country, he’d done it, reached fields up on the hills that overlooked the city, and he’d looked at it laying there, cosy in mist, like some magical baby one starts a religion with. He’d stood there, breathing in the morning fumes of the city, neutralised by the filter of trees and grass and cow shit, and he’d called it town, then, tenderly, town and not city like everyone down there took pride in calling it, city this and city that, and not a glance above the skyline towards the greenery clear days conjured.
He understood he’d been weak on his first attempt, had let his mind wander when all the wandering required was his legs’. That second time he prepared more, spent the first few hours of the night up on a bar stool, neutering doubt and even thought, and it seemed to work at first when he started walking. He had a raging spring for a step. He got over the ring road fast, but as he entered the business park he tired, felt his strength falter. The roads here winded around in waves, for no good reason. The planners of such limbos had no doubt thought it dulled the wounds office cubes stabbed in one’s mind. Dom kept walking, but now and then he found himself back to the same pointless roundabout he thought he’d just left behind. Or was it yet another perfectly identical roundabout? He couldn’t bear the idea. He had a drink from the naggin he’d brought with him. His feet hurt, the blisters from his previous walkabout having had no time to heal.
He couldn’t just give up this time. He passed a bus stop. The bench called out to him, the sanitized promise of rest. He tried it, but it was one of the narrow, inclined kind, and it didn’t relieve his legs any. He let his body slide down the glass pane and sat crouched in the corner of the manufactured shelter.
He couldn’t give up. He saw up ahead a cube smaller than most, with letterings he couldn’t decipher, and a tall plastic baguette outlined in the moonlight like a raised arm. It would be opening in a few hours, Dom thought. If he could find two coins to rub together, just enough to give the impression of solvency, he might be able to get some breakfast in that counterfeit boulangerie. It wasn’t believable, too clean for the business of baking, the flour clouds, the shrapnel of dough and chocolate. Had to be a front for some accountancy sweatshop, Dom thought, falling asleep to rows of dusty men typing away, half sucked into oversized grey monitors.
He woke up blind in headlights. It might or might not have been the same cops as before, but this time they took him in. He’d failed again. Got put in a tight concrete cell. Square one. Dom zero.
Armel Dagorn is now back in his native France after living in Ireland for seven years. His writing has appeared in magazines such as Tin House online, The Stinging Fly, The Penny Dreadful and Popshot. He has a little place at armeldagorn.wordpress.com