The Mundane Adventures of Calvin H. Spiegelmann, Agency Driver
‘Wait here’, he’d said. So I wait. You get used to waiting in this job; more of my time is spent waiting that driving even on a busy day, so I wait. I pass the time aimlessly having long given up on using these dead moments constructively, the correspondence course notes remains locked in the trunk and the textbook is shut away in the glove-box undisturbed for several months now. A newspaper lays discarded on the seat beside me, for even in the age of instant reporting I still buy a printed copy of the newspaper each day to occupy the idle hours between short journeys through the city from pickup to destination, but today it is less distracting than usual. I’ve gleaned from it all the news I need, all the political comment I can tolerate and all the results of whatever sporting fixtures took place yesterday. Should such conversational information ever be required. Even the cryptic crossword cannot capture my attention so remains indifferently unanswered, the first clue was just too easy and that did not bode well for the rest, when it’s not a challenge it’s just a chore. Instead I stare out of the car’s windshield as blankly as the empty crossword grid, devoid of thought and unfocussed; at the edge of my field of vision I can see the doorway with its freshly painted paintwork and brightly polished brass nameplate, it’s too far away to read the inscription but I know what it says, and I know that staring directly at it will not bring my passenger out of the building any quicker. So I monitor it unconsciously from the corner of my eye as I take in the view down the street, of shoppers and business people as they move with undisclosed purpose along the crowded pavement. Of course ever watchful for the parking attendant as he follows his regular route, perfunctorily tapping the glass of the occasional meter with the end of his pen as he passes, making notes in his book as he does so. A curious man, he smiles at me as he walks past the car and nods, we’ve observed each other so often over the past months to be on nodding-terms (as they say) now. In the past hour I’ve seen him issue a ticket to a pristine executive car that looked as if it had just been driven from the car dealer’s showroom to outstay its welcome by this busy road. With a look of determined gratification he pealed back the self-adhesive ticket from its backing and slapped it on the windshield with more vigour and enthusiasm than was necessary, forcefully smoothing out the wrinkles in the yellow and black penalty notice and then stepped back on to the sidewalk to admire his handiwork with self-assured pride. As he passes by I watch him in the side mirror as he taps the parking meter by the car behind and pulls out his black notebook from his shoulder bag and scribbles a note. He looks over the car, a small compact car of uncertain age that is showing signs of wear and tear, and makes another note in his book before slipping the pen into his top pocket and the book into his shoulder bag. Walking back to the meter he reaches into his coat pocket and deposits a coin in the meter before continuing on his route. I smile, wondering which of his judgemental categories I fall into before returning my gaze to the street ahead, only pausing briefly to check the freshly painted doorway that remains resolutely closed.
The car radio is on, tuned to a news station for the traffic reports that I never listen to, it’s just there in the background, the volume is set low enough to be unintrusive and just loud enough to mask the metallic creeks and ticks of the engine as it cools and the wind-buffeting of the passing traffic. I can barely hear the announcer, a familiar female voice constantly babbling away, reassuringly ambient and undistracting, yet I know she is there, subconsciously cramming my head with seemingly unimportant information on traffic flow and hold ups, diversions and accidents. When there is nothing to report she will update the airways with snippets of local news and weather, never seeming to pause for a break or to catch a breath, she draws upon an inexhaustible supply of chatter as if allowing a moments silence would shatter her raison d’être and cause her presence to evaporate into the static. So when the rain begins, which it most surely will because she is seldom wrong, it will not come as any surprise to me, but at present the overcast skies are refusing to yield to atmospheric pressure. Yet soon they will and the pedestrians will scurry for cover, fighting to retrieve umbrellas buried deep in their shopping bags and briefcases as the grey pavements pock with dark stains of rain.
As my mind wanders I realise that I am listening to the announcer, not hanging on her every word or paying any particular attention to what she is saying, but listening to her voice. She reminds me of my grandmother, albeit a younger version without the frail and tremulous shake in her voice, her younger, more confident, matronly tones are filling the silence with a stream of chatter reminding me of home and of the past. Bringing back memories of my grandmother’s eternal fascination with the view from her window and of the everyday soap opera that is enacted behind lace curtains by the people who live in her small terraced row. Of Mrs Abernathy and her hip operation, of the Kochanski’s and their marital turmoil, of little Johnny whatshisname and the trouble he causes to the other residents and his long suffering mother and a whole cast of other people whose names I cannot recall and probably never knew. Sometimes she calls me by my father’s name, sometimes she’s not sure who I am, but I nod and make comforting noises in all the right places and she pats me on the knee and asks me how I’m doing at school and whether I have a girlfriend, both of which were long past to me then and even more distant now.
I resist the temptation to sigh as small splashes of rain drop onto the glass before me dragging me from my reverie. The rain is light at first then growing more steady as the shower takes hold, leaving splatters of rainwater like small paw-prints as each drop stots onto the screen before collecting into rivulets of water that flow slowly as gravity overcomes the friction that holds them to the glass. As expected, the pedestrians have increased their pace without actually breaking into a scurry, some have stopped to remove umbrellas though none have decided that the rain warrants opening them as yet and several have darted into shops they probably didn’t intend to visit and have no intention of buying from. In the mirror I can see the parking attendant has removed a polythene cover from his bag and is stretching it over his peaked cap. His hair is thinning on top like the tonsured pate of a greying monk that he wipes dry with a gloved hand before placing the now protected cap back on his head. As I watch the weather induced drama unfold the rear driver-side door opens and my passenger slides onto the rear seat, the shoulders of his pale russet-brown overcoat darkened by the rain.
‘Where to Mr Mallow?’ I ask, checking the time on the dashboard clock as I start the engine.
‘The Athenaeum Club if you will C.H.’, he replies looking directly at my reflection in the rear-view mirror rather than the back of my head as he shrugs off the damp overcoat and, balling it unceremoniously into a loose bundle, deposits it on the seat beside him.
‘Ah, a little light lunch,’ I nod, ‘right you are sir’. Computing the route across town to the club from the internal street plan I carry in my head, taking note of the congestion on Main and the closure of the East bridge gained from listening to the radio traffic reports, I pull out into the run of traffic as it negotiates the rain-soaked roads and head off in the direction of down-town. Mallow laughs quietly, almost to himself than me.
‘Business.’ He grins with a hint of satisfied pleasure in his voice, fastening the seatbelt and reclining into the seat, ‘Well, a working lunch I think.’