It was one of those nights when hordes of young people were roaming about the streets of Edinburgh in search of adventure or violence, their beautiful bodies brandished like ceremonial weapons. It was also one of those nights when I felt hopelessly old and defeated, and the city seemed like too much hard work, and it chattered relentlessly at me like a crackhead. Tori and I had tried to get drunk, but she had let me down. She had briskly set to work on her beer as if it was an unpleasant chore which needed to be completed, before declaring that, you know, what she really fancied was some green tea. I had the old nagging in my bones, as if my life was the pile of broken toys in the corner of a cot, and my heart stepped up and delivered its stark demand to the city: give me something, I don’t know what, but something new, something which will set my head spinning, some mission on which to gallop merrily away. The city responded with the same old empty streets, which rolled wearily onwards like a familiar level on a computer game.
And then, incredibly, walking across the Meadows, every molecule of the city rose up with a great, generous yes!, and I was overwhelmed by the feeling that a huge moment had arrived, that my time was here, and that my every utterance and reflex would now be of vital, total importance. For Marcin was swimming before us. He looked as crisp as a lawyer, embalmed in a suit as glossy as tar, carrying a briefcase, and with an umbrella protruding jauntily from under his arm. I fumbled for Tori.
“I don’t believe it. We’ve found him. We’ve finally found him.” A wave of euphoria broke over me. “It’s finally over!”
Tori was clinging to me, and for a moment we wobbled in a little unsteady frenzy under the great elms, before everything was suddenly draining away. Marcin’s face was blank and oddly unattractive, emptied of all his self and energy and personality. And he just marched past us, entirely oblivious to our cries.
We watched helplessly as he walked off.
“He’s sleepwalking,” Tori said stupidly.
I set off after him. And then I was jogging along beside him, struggling to keep up. Tori was tugging at my arm.
“We cannot wake him up…”
“We have to!” I roared. Marcin looked like a morning commuter, destined for a busy day in the office, and yet he was marching into the uproar of the Edinburgh night, complete with the briefcase and umbrella with which the surrealists had equipped their bourgeois clowns. He would be run down by a bus, or beaten up by some teenagers.
“If you wake him up, he’ll drop dead! A heart attack! I’ve read about these things…”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, that is one of the stupidest myths…”
“It’s true!” Tori pleaded. “The shock will kill him!”
Whilst we had slowed down to argue, Marcin had sailed ahead. We were suddenly cowering as Marcin marched straight into the road, insensible of the traffic screeching and plunging to a halt around him. He was now heading towards George IV Bridge. The possibility flickered across my brain like lightening that he would lurch into Frankenstein’s, and appear on the dance floor, gyrating absurdly with his briefcase and umbrella. By the time that we caught up with him, however, he was marching down Chambers Street.
I was throbbing in front of his unconscious figure, like a moth attacking a window pane. “I can’t believe it!” I was repeating madly. My hands were in his hair, and kneading at his face. It seemed incredible! That he was alive! That he was here! Tori, more sensibly, took Marcin’s elbow, but she was unable to arrest his progress.
And then Marcin veered unexpectedly to the left and straight through the doors of a nightclub.
Marcin was disappearing down a long purple corridor. “Hey!” a woman yelped at me. “Tickets are £12!”
I was fumbling for money. Tori was no help – she was chasing Marcin down the purple corridor – we were all sliding helplessly into the bowels of this building like bugs into a pitcher plant. Finally, the woman had been paid and the tickets were bought, and I was pursuing them, bracing myself for the nightclub’s music and fumes and turmoil.
The silence was far more unnerving. It was an intense, agitated silence. Waves of silence crashed untidily together around and overhead. For a moment, I was totally dumbfounded, and then I began to discern the squeaking of shoes on the dance floor, and the tiny fizz of music from headphones, and the sloppy, flapping sound of people exercising. It was a silent disco. I had read about them before, but I had never previously witnessed one. Whispering and giggling occasionally intruded when some of the kids slipped off their headphones to briefly awe themselves anew at the sight of the disco.
I gazed at this tableau until I retrieved the vision of Marcin. He was traipsing around the dance floor, jostling the dancers and pushing aimlessly forward.
Suddenly he stopped and opened his eyes. I looked him directly in the eye but there was nothing there, just two dead stars. He was moaning and groaning, and then – amazingly!, fantastically! – he began to scream.
These were the cries of fathomless night terror, when millennia of human fears rise and overflow. Terribly, desperately, Marcin screamed out his soul.
The room danced on, the shoes squeaked on the dance floor, the kids jostled blindly, the headphones fizzed like a swarm of flies. And gradually the soundless worming of this disco began to accord with Marcin’s screams, until the whole scene had become a complete, perfectly-synchronised picture. I floated for a moment in my horror, a shimmering beam of nerves, before I finally blundered around and tore myself from the room.
Outside, I was violently sick in the street. I was so frustrated with myself – at my slow, idiot wits – that I began to beat at my head, and scratch and tear at my face like a savage in the throws of his savagery. Tori stood a little way off, staring at me in dismay, but I could not bring myself to speak to her.