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The Jet Set

Jan is from Sweden, a town called Lulea near the Arctic Circle. He says that when the sun comes back after six months' darkness, the townspeople troop from street to street to see which of their neighbors has succumbed to scurvy or suicide.

It's still dark here. I am alone on the platform at half past five. Four broken ribs and the cold air make breathing difficult. Sparks fall from the power lines as the first tram of the morning approaches. I haven't been to Sweden yet but suppose it can't be much colder than this. Several workmen who were sealing cracks in the pavement by light of an oxyacetylene torch scuttle back, wait for the sleek white tram to pass. In nine hours' time I will be in Rome.

This time I did it in the American West, as agreed. A skiing holiday in Wyoming. Actually, it may not have been a holiday at all. I awoke splayed at the bottom of a black diamond run, legs buried in snow, one boot pointing toward the tree that must have broken the fall and no recollection of how I got there or who with. The only doctor in Jackson Hole was away for the weekend; I was tended by a vacationing allergist from Connecticut. It was easy for him to miss the signs of internal bleeding, the broken bones, the punctured lung. Everyone agreed that what followed was not his fault.

Jan did it on Mt. Etna. According to eyewitnesses, a tall blond man ambled past the guards and threw himself on the lava flows, camera and all. The story made the Denver Post - I scan the international pages while waiting for a flight out.

Shortly after I leave, Jan arrives Stateside, hires a blue Nissan and drives north. He loves the high desert strewn with juniper and chamiso brush, the straight reservation roads. I imagine him driving through the night past mountain hunting lodges and ranches lit silver by the birch moon.

Bereavement: I am upgraded to first class. From Rome I take the overnight train to Sicily and sleep on a fold-down bed alongside a mustached grandmother and her small brown charge. The girl talks at me until it is clear that both my vigor and my grasp of her childish Italian have been stretched to their limits. Long-legged student backpackers smoke by the windows. One of them sings as the train is loaded in pieces on a ferry. Several minutes later I recognise the tune - a country standard, "Mama Tried" - and realise he's been reciting it in heavily accented English.

Only a few people get off at Giardini-Naxos. I've never met Jan, never seen more than a blurry photo of him, but can not imagine him standing in this station. Six months ago I was in Reykjavik, before that Quito, before that Krakow, and so on. Sicily seems too cheerful and cluttered for a Nordic soul accustomed to cold and antiquity.

At the post office I give the clerk the name on my passport. "C' pacchetto per me?" I ask. "Do you have packages for me?" He returns, bored, with a box and a telegram. The tender first hairs on his upper lip and chin have never been shaved. He slips in a pamphlet offering boat tours to Stromboli.

In the toilets I change into the black shantung dress which has been to each of these solitary funerals on most every continent in the last twelve years. It's tighter around the chest, is that from the milky swelling of gravida or a consequence of knitting ribs? Fishing boats hang in the pellucid tide and look as if they're floating in midair. I have a craving for heavy restaurant Chinese food, redolent of pork fat and mushrooms, and know there is no chance of finding any here nor in the next town where I will stay the night and contemplate the slowly advancing fires on Etna.

Past the bead-bright boats and dock there's an outcrop of coral rock. Jumping, I just make it. In the box is a plastic bag. In the bag, ashes that look like clay litter. I scatter a handful. Jan dances on the eddies and wavelets, makes cloud and foam in the otherwise perfect surf. I open and read the telegram: NEXT YEAR WE'LL MEET IN FIJI. Wondering at his recent island fixation, I leave to catch the next coach to Taormina.

 
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Archive

Clare Maguire > 6dec2002 > The Face of The Future
Simon Batistoni > 15nov2002 > Ghost
Kelly Bean > 8nov2002 > The Program
Anonymous > 1nov2002 > Winning the Lottery
Ned > 25oct2002 > Calibre
Tom Massey > 4oct2002 > Roses
Simon Batistoni > 27sep2002 > Message Centre
Riana > 20sep2002 > Value Added
Giles Turnbull > 13sep2002 > A lab technician's lot
Kevan Davis > 6sep2002 > The Campaign for Real Advertising
Giles Turnbull > 30aug2002 > The old lady and the whelk
KTL > 23aug2002 > Feet
Sandy Tulloch > 16aug2002 > How the people came to stop thinking
RavenBlack > 9aug2002 > An Arm And A Leg
Nicholas Wilshere > 19jul2002 > Two full-page ads
Dustin Ruby > 12jul2002 > Family Life
Matt Jones > 14jun2002 > The end of history
Cathrine > 7jun2002 > The Eye of the Beholder
Nick > 31may2002 > I wanna shake your hand
RavenBlack > 24may2002 > Precognito Ergo Sum
Ned > 10may2002 > Spambot
Tyrethali > 26apr2002 > The Contest
Holly Gramazio > 19apr2002 > A Tale of No Watermelons
Brooke Magnanti > 12apr2002 > What The Dead Remember
Tyrethali > 5apr2002 > Superego
RavenBlack > 29mar2002 > Black Rain
james > 22mar2002 > The Atom Thief
RavenBlack > 15mar2002 > Soul Trap
matzu > 8mar2002 > Angry Elton
RavenBlack > 1mar2002 > Hell Is Other People
JT Bruce > 22feb2002 > Door Ajar
matzu > 15feb2002 > Send in the clones
Kevan Davis > 8feb2002 > Litter
RavenBlack > 1feb2002 > The Perfect Job
Tyrethali > 25jan2002 > Mystery
Giles Turnbull > 11jan2002 > The Twisted World of Advertising
Tom Armitage > 21dec2001 > Numbers
Sandy Tulloch > 14dec2001 > Killing Cats
Brooke Magnanti > 7dec2001 > The Jet Set
Giles Turnbull > 30nov2001 > Driftwood
james > 23nov2001 > with you in mind
RavenBlack > 16nov2001 > UpsideClones
Kevan Davis > 9nov2001 > Do Not Stand Forward Of This Notice
Giles Turnbull > 2nov2001 > Group Effort
Kevan Davis > 26oct2001 > Ask The Audience
RavenBlack > 19oct2001 > Don't You Just Hate Stupid People
Martin Griffiths > 12oct2001 > Your Nearest McDonalds...
RavenBlack > 5oct2001 > Life's a bureaucracy, and then you die
Kevan Davis > 28sep2001 > Work To Win
Tom Armitage > 21sep2001 > Don't Book it - Thomas Cook it.
Giles Turnbull > 14sep2001 > What happened to George
RavenBlack > 7sep2001 > Mental States
Kevan Davis > 31aug2001 > Walking Distance
Stuart and Jack > 24aug2001 > dialogue
Kevan Davis > 17aug2001 > Collector's Item

 
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