Songs of Bliss
You’re Breaking My Heart
The motorway streams by. The Archers are in full rural swing, the omnibus edition
rambling through the private tensions of country life. Wind noise. Billy indicates and
overtakes. He glares at the driver of a Korean economy hatchback, who is steadfast in his
blinkered, sixty-five miles per hour, middle lane certainty. As soon as Billy is clear of the
hatchback he indicates again and swings right across all three lanes, making his point. In
his rear view mirror he sees the man, the object of his immediate, irrational road rage, turn
to his wife and mutter something about impatient road hogs. Billy is tempted to slam on the
brakes and beat the dim- witted moron to a pulp. He vents, letting out a stream of oaths and
curses, and, feeling slightly ashamed, reminds himself to breathe deeply, to relax.
He catches half a sentence of dialogue on the radio, something about cell counts in
Ruth and David Archer's herd, and the rage is forgotten. Billy drifts back to his original
train of thought. The radio, the wind noise and the thump of tyres on white lines are nothing
more than background static. Billy is running old movies in his head. Home movies. Slices
of history in which he is the centre of the universe. He cringes, visibly flinching as he opens
the can marked 'Happy Families' and loads the eight millimetre spool onto the projector in
Billy had woken up just after eight, still sitting in his front room armchair. His neck
was stiff. His clothes looked like they had been lived in for a week and his mouth was full
of cat litter. He sat in the half- life of waking, trying to remember who and where he was.
Everything around him, his possessions, his natural environment, seemed out of kilter with
the world, as if spinning at a slower rate around the sun than the rest of the planets.
As the reflux memories of his waking spill into his gullet, Billy coughs. The smell
of stale scotch on his breath nearly makes him retch.
The record player has an auto return mechanism, so Vic Damone's long player had
finished side one and clicked its robotic way to silence without mishap, but when Billy had
first stirred the low density hum from the speakers beat against his head like an incoming
tide on a breakwater. Too much to drink. Always too much to drink.
Back in the here and now Billy tells himself that he ought to cut out the late nights,
maybe buy some cocoa. This morning he feels as though he has abused every single day of
his fifty odd years on the planet. This is the cardiac nightmare. He holds his breath,
counting the pulse at his temple as it becomes more frantic. He exhales heavily. Still alive.
He had showered, dosed himself up on caffeine and stopped at Taunton services for
a full helping of cholesterol. Now that he has passed Bristol, he feels marginally better than
he did. He will probably do without alco hol today. Probably.