this is the beginning of the first chapter of a novel called
'the dead bartender'.
moonlight flooded the front gardens of mayflower street that evening and the first jonquils were out when gavin and arinya came tumbling out of number forty three laughing and ran across the lawn hand in hand, taking the flower bed at a jump and landing on the asphalt right next to gavin’s car. well, gavin’s mum’s car really – she let him use it in return for running her around and doing errands. its bonnet and hood were criss-crossed with the moon-shadows of the twigs of the flowering cedars that grew between the parking spaces to shade them.
gavin unlocked arinya’s door and let her in and then ran round to his side. they met inside and kissed, and it would have been a longer, stronger, tenderer kiss, because they really were romantically in love, though they were neither of them nineteen yet, if arinya had not pushed him away and told him to get going, they were already going to be late if he didn’t hurry. besides, she didn’t want him to kiss her there where her little sister sonya could see her through her bedroom window if she stood looking out with the light out – which it was just at that moment.
so she was feeling for her seat-belt while gavin was steering with one hand and clutching the two parts of his seat-belt fastener with one hand ready to cinch it when he had both hands free while he was turning the wheel with the other hand, and he was just beginning to accelerate out into the carriage-way, leaning round to look back over his shoulder when he was so shocked to see a taxi speeding towards him that he slammed his foot down on the accelerator instead of the brake and lost his grip on the steering wheel. gavin was killed instantly when the taxi ploughed into the driver’s side. the impact slammed the passenger side into the trunk of a flowering cedar and arinya died six seconds later in a shower of shattering glass. the driver walked away with minor injuries, but he cursed that boy, near as a touch, all the way to hell!
arinya slid with a sad but somehow grateful sigh from her body, sorry for its brokenness as if it were something she’d done to it, and she rose slowly through the area occupied by the roof of the car as if it were not there. she could see it, and she could see through it. she could see the people running out of their houses, her mother, her sister, see but not hear their screaming, the dogs running wild, cars pulling over, men running. she felt the shock radiating outward. she could see the whole suburb turning towards it, ambulances rushing, police cars converging on the scene. she could see the whole city, lights moving, lights blinking, still lights, lights all meaning something, cytoplasmic movements, hidden, unhuman purposes, the metabolism of a great greedy being. she saw other accidents and other events in other areas, cars rushing along long, straight strips of molten light that were roads, and the countryside around, the sea all the way to the south, the land, the mountains the hills, the distant deserts…
it dawned on her slowly that she had been rising, that this rapidly expanding panorama was to do with how high above the earth she now was, and that made her really understand that she really had died, and that the still and infinite silence was all there was to hear now because her body’s thrumming symphony of heart and lungs and gut had ceased. she listened deeply to the silence, not panicking, but in awe, and it occurred to her that she would soon see an angel. the earth was far away, back-lit by the sun with the moon like a tear on her cheek, and arinya could now see the whole raging, towering, whirling starscape surrounding her. she turned for the first time away and saw the hollow caverns within the starry sky, and heard at last their howling.
opal sheened and vibrant came the dragon, bristling and business-like, with eyes so strange that arinya fell immediately in love with her, as a rat does with a cobra, and she yawned wide open a ravenous maw far greater than the dragon’s from the yearning heart of her own being, until she became a vast complex of stalactited caves of rainbow-coloured enquiry within mountains of stacked-up experience that she knew was hers forever, and on cool, glittering wings, with a delicious swish, the dragon glided in.
nor was she the first maiden to devour her dragon. nor was she aware that it too had devoured her, wrapping itself around her cavern-veined mountainscape like a mouth round a biscuit, and she died again. and it was then that she saw the angel, with dragon eyes and a blazing halo like the sun, and wings that spanned the galaxy. then she was afraid, so he carried her close to his shining face and left her alone it a sunny field in a green and pleasant land far from the earth, but like it, where she stood in her shabby, strappy shoes that her mother hadn’t quite approved of, in her lime-green satin sleaze dress with shoestring shoulder straps, and second-hand mink coat, her purse string wound round her wrist, and her hair in a vampish knot tied up on one side of her head with a black velvet ribbon, still dressed for a night out at blue maxe’s wine bar, where gavin was a bar tender.
but gavin too was dead. she saw him easily, by remote viewing, standing on the road in his day-glo shirt and his tight jeans, his natty tan boots and his black leather workman’s cap. he seemed to be trying to help, going to the car window, trying to open the door. but there were only dead bodies covered with blood. perhaps at last he realised that one of them was his own. she saw him stagger and reel, way out onto the crown of the road, among all the police and ambulance people, and the neighbours who had come out to help, where he staggered about brokenly for a while. then she saw a dark ghost come down obliquely from the east, which flew like a great raven, but was a man; and it wrapped gavin in its cloak – arinya could feel the warmth of it – and lifted him into the air. she saw them fly away over the rooves and disappear in the blackness of the night.
she didn’t know whether he was in danger or not – but she felt a deep certainty that she had to find out. but how? she must find someone who could tell her. she drew her attention back to the sunny meadow in which she stood, and saw in the distance the spires and smoke of a village and, a little ungainly in her narrow high heels on the soft earth, she began to walk towards it.