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Driven by memory
Linda Jackson

Ivan drove the bus through the drizzling rain, it bounced and spluttered over the pot holes in the road. Ivan built up speed and the small bus flew past the stop leaving the pedestrians with hands and arms fuckin and blinding about bastards and work and the endless rain.
When he swerved into Victoria road, he emerged from his own thoughts and remembered to stop the bus. People thrust money forward into the small rectangle and mouthed language and place names he either couldn’t understand or didn’t know. He sat with his back very straight, his body taut and strong against his shirt. He had to keep himself fit, he had to be able to fight for everything. Girls from this town glanced at his body, some drunk and giggling on the late night bus, others sober and slow running their eyes quietly across him.
He thought of Marsha and his children, she too was confident but not forward and pushy. She worked hard in Gdansk, together they had worked the home with all the cleaning and repairs but it was a hard life, too hard for the few returns. He was determined that his children would grow up educated, would go on to study. Five years before, his friends had left for Scotland, and Ivan couldn’t imagine how they managed, mechanics with no English, carpenters with no English but they had come to know the place, earned good money and sent it back home to the waiting families.

It was a cold November morning, Marsha felt the chill in the air.
What are you thinking about Ivan? You are not here with us.
The children, sensing big people’s talk, moved off into the other living space of the small flat. Ivan looked at his wife, dark-haired with arms folded across her breasts. He loved her hair, he knew her body. He felt aroused by their sudden togetherness in this hot kitchen area. He moved her hair from her face, he kissed her slowly feeling his body move against her skirt.
Marsha slid into him, loving his closeness but aware of other demands on the time, other thoughts in her head. Not now Ivan, it is not the right time. She pulled back, Ivan, tell me.
He sat down in the dimly lit kitchen.
Do you remember my grandmother’s story about uncle Pater, Pater Skedzieleski, the Lithuanian? After the war, he went to a city called Glasgow, he never came back.
And? Marsha hurried around clearing the table and trying to gauge her husband’s line of thinking.
Mikhail came back from there last month and the family are doing so well now. Marsha, I think it might be an idea for me too.
The words were hardly out from his mouth when she pressed her finger to his lips.
I won’t have it Ivan, you are my husband and should be here with me.
But look at the children, I can’t get them what they need, they see others and I see them wishing Marsha, I see them wishing.
Hi, are you listening to me? An all day into town, and ye shouldnay be behind the wheel, yer fucking away wi it man.
He was brought sharply back to the bus, The man gave him a friendly glance along with this comment; he loved this town now but it took so long to know when someone was serious or angry. He felt in the beginning like it was a roulette game. But he was strong and he looked it.
Ye awright Ivan, the blonde girl gave him a wink before heading upstairs on the bus with her friend.
It had been a year now and in that time he had been home twice. It had taken many months for Marsha to agree or give in to his idea. She had cried and that was unheard of. It shocked him to see her.
What can happen? It will only be for a short time and I can make so much there.
Every day she withdrew a little from him, it hurt but he knew it was her way. Finally he made the move to live with two other polish workers in a small rented flat in Dixon Road, near to a beautiful park called Queens. He sat there some evenings with his paper and letters from Poland. It killed him in the beginning, he told Sergei,
I can’t bear the letters, if I don’t think about them, I just get on with it here.
Now he could read them and watch the Glasgow families in the park, watch the young women walking their dogs or jogging past him. He allowed himself some thoughts about them too.

He flew past another bus stop and the angry shouts chased his bus.
Wake up ya dizzy cunt resounded in his head as he pulled the bus up outside the depot. He slipped out of the yellow over jacket and shook a quick handshake with the next driver.
Good man, nae bother son.
The older driver, a man in his fifties settled into the seat and Ivan stood out on the road wondering about the language here. He needed to take some more English lessons but even these didn’t help much in this town; it was probably better to pick up the sounds and watch the faces.
Back at the house, Sergei asked him if he could stay in the kitchen cos he had brought a young woman home for a while. Sergei was unmarried and Ivan could hear their lovemaking, as their breathing changed so did his, as their bodies writhed so did his. He withdrew a small picture of Marsha from his shirt pocket. She was only eighteen in the photo. He remembered touching her for the first time, he pulled at his own body but he slowed himself, he tried to be less function – he needed emotion too. Marsha, Marsha he whispered again and again into the photo. As the noise subsided next door, Ivan relaxed his body into the old chair. He cleaned himself quickly and put on a kettle. He needed to check how much he had saved, he needed to justify this life. Ivan felt that he might never go home.

It was a cold November morning outside. Ivan woke with his arm stretched across the woman beside him. He felt warm, sticky and their legs were entwined in sweat and the afterheat of the night. She dozed and matted her red hair across the black of his chest, the sweet scent of alcohol, stale perfume and sex were comfortable enough. He pulled his arm back cautiously, placed it behind his head and then sshhh – until she settled back to her sleeping. Ivan was good at his job, it was so much warmer than the buses. He remembered women looking at him. Aroused, he began to move slowly against the stranger lying beside him but she was a dead weight and he was too exhausted to make any great effort. This shift was finished and he knew he had already earned his wages. His body relaxed and he began to disentangle his limbs. In the kitchen, he looked around for coffee, found orange juice in the fridge. Only once before had he worked on this woman and was uncertain of the layout as he padded around her flat. Typically, it harboured all the trappings of comfort and wealth. Crown Circus. The address said it all.

My husband’s useless, he’s much older you see. You’re doing him a favour.
Ivan had heard everything: justifications ranged from sexual inadequacy, neglect, homosexuality, widowhood. Loneliness. He listened quietly while slowly removing their clothes, usually by the time they were naked the voices had become sound and all reason has turned to heat, grinding into fury and abandonment. He could exert the necessary extra effort when required but prided himself more in his ‘soft touch’ in the final moments. It was all about timing.
It was five years now since he moved to Scotland. He would probably never go back but Marsha still appreciated the money he sent home to her and the children.

 

 

 

 

 

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