Dusk 'til Dawn

Through the small frosted garage window the ghost of snowflakes were visible as they drifted into the light to be momentarily illuminated against the back-cloth of purple night, their passage stirred once by the wind and again by the prisms of ice on the inside of the glass. Within the garage the old man blew a breath of dampness onto his stiff and calloused fingers. The breath condensed on his hoary whiskers and soaked his chin. His throat was sore from drawing in the brumous air, heavy with the odour of mildew, old engine oil and the perspiration of worked metals.

Despite their frailness his fingers rattled the painfully cold tools about the machine, carefully wrapping each part in rags to ward off the cold steel from contact with his hands and to protect the machine from damage as his body shook uncontrollably with the cold. The oil lamps flickered evil shadows into areas where he needed the light and he squinted through his dim spectacles, tilting his head or drawing back to allow a few more flickers of light to reach inaccessible places. Among the spanners littered about his wooden bench a cheese sandwich curled its lip at his indifference to food, a mug of cold weak tea peered at him through the blind white of a new chip. The old man struggled on, his feet blocks of stone, part of the concrete floor across which the gap under the door blew kisses of death.

He paused to take a few rags and block that grin, then continued his work. Some hours ago he may have taken 2 minutes rest from his toil to eat or arrange the light a little better, but now time was too far ahead and success was in sight to spur him on. Imperceptibly the machine had ceased to be a collection of inanimate parts dismembered into misshapen cardboard boxes inaccurately labelled as groceries. The parts were becoming the whole, metamorphosing into a motorcycle complete in new details, spokes, engine fins cables and levers, pedals and wires. The nearer it came to completion the slower the work became like the bursting of a blossom or the growing of a child. Each final part wanted fettling and filing, fitting, greasing, trying and retrying. His concentration cut through his conditions and was only deflected by an occasional glance at a pocket watch hung carefully on a nail by the door. Each time he revised the watch the hands had thrown themselves into another caricature of surprise. Depression fought desperation for control of the old man but he kept moving with patience and precision. He balanced his emotions with the skill of a craftsman.

At long last he was finished. He stood back to regard his work. A motorcycle, complete in every detail, as good as new. His mind jumped out of gear and his memory returned to days long ago when he first rode this motorcycle. Again his body felt the thrill of youth when he and this machine had taken on the old roads, leaping and surging in heart and wheel, laughing at rain, commiserating with the winter, loving the bright dust of summer travels. In the flickering light his eyes reflected these joys of long ago before he had married. His face saddened as he thought of the later world of happiness he had spent with his wife, another life, a complete thing, with a different existence belonging to the motorbike before, and a recent empty existence since his wife had died, closing a beautiful book. His wife had never ridden the motorcycle and he had renounced it gladly for the love of her, never once regretted his decision all the happy years they spent together. Now he returned to his bike for consolation. This would be a reincarnation, a return to a previous life. The life of the motorcycle.

Fuel was poured carefully into the petrol tank and the kick start rotated to check chains, clutch, compression. All the nuances flooded back with the feel. Like a live and loving animal, a dog nuzzling against a hand, the bike gently kicked back. A fire, a spark! He trembled now with the excitement rather than cold.

He was about to be reborn with all his youth returned on this machine of his old forgotten life. It would be difficult, even dangerous, but the wisdom of his years knew that danger was an opponent to be outwitted. This third life would be the best of all.

He prodded the kick-start with determination. He could feel the reaction within the sinews of the machine. He knew it would start even before the engine roared into life. He twisted the throttle and a thunder of power rippled from the exhaust and rattled the garage walls. All it required was for the carburettor to be adjusted but first the engine needed to warm up. He set it at a steady beat, a fast tick over. The vibration ran up his arms and filled his old heart. He reluctantly let go of the bike and walked round it. Time for a well earned rest. He removed some tools from an oil drum and sat down. He had not realised how tired he was. He looked at the watch's recumbent hands at twenty-five to six, the first light of dawn peering through the window. All night he had worked and his old body ached from the cold and the labour. He leaned back and turned his head to the motorcycle, purring its pleasure, growling its challenge. His cheeks were rosier now. His cold hands showed a bright pink under his black and wrinkled finger nails. His cracked lips pulled back into a grin of satisfaction disclosing his red toothless gums; he chuckled and dozed off to sleep.

He dreamed of his new life, and in his dreams his wife was with him again.


Ben Crossley