13 The silver van to the ghost town

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13   The silver van to the ghost town

I awake to the big day. Tonight we perform, and I can hear the zeroes singing for me.

I get up at leisure, text Alaia "Did Marc call you about Thursday?" and receive the reply "Yes—EEK!" I get dressed, eat, get various things done around my apartment here in the Riverbank West, which I've been neglecting during this rehearsal period, and pack for a week. The journey there will be short, and I know that once we've arrived we shan't have too long before the broadcast, so I ready myself for the camera here. The picture will be a close-up from about shoulder-height upwards, with essentially no alteration of framing throughout; so I wear the simplest black long-sleeved T-shirt with no other attire visible to camera, to offer no distraction from what I'll be projecting.

At the appointed hour I get a text from an unfamiliar number, saying "Outside." I step onto my balcony, here near the top of the tower-block, peer down and see a small silver van parked on the street. I gather my things, lock up, descend in the lift and emerge at Forty-Third Street by Eleventh Avenue. The afternoon air is warm on my face. There's that sleek little van, and in the driver's window the face of a Latina in her twenties smiles out at me, smooth, sunny, round, with a faint sass within its clear warmth. This must be the mysterious Evelyn Carmello. "Hi Jaymi," she calls. I like her straight away. I lean against a lamp-post and fold my arms. She stares at me. "Well, come on!"

"I don't know," I say. "Should we cancel?"

She raises her eyes and points behind her to the van door.

I step across the pavement. "I feel like a little boy on his first morning of school."

"Well aren't you cute—we should put that in a press release." She clicks the van door open for me.

Up three steps is a small living space in black and silver, with a tiny table and a few very basic facilities including a TV and a mini-fridge, then further back a dozen fixed black seats with windows on either side. I slide the door shut behind me, put my bag down and sit in one of the two front-most seats.

She eases the van from the kerb and sets off across the Avenue. "This is like a concert tour van," I say. "And I guess this is a kind of concert tour, though a brief and unnatural one. So let's do this right: for the next couple of hours of our life, on this tour van, our every passing feeling will potentially be product or merchandise."

She picks this up without dropping a beat: "Oh, you know it. This tour will be a legend. One day they'll make a road movie out of it. See that little fridge there? Look inside."

I get up and open it. "Oh my god. A comprehensive array of intoxicating beverages!"

"I'm driving, so I'll just have a whisky."

I turn, and glimpse her twinkly eyes and freckled nose in the driving mirror. "What kind of whisky?"

"Bourbon. What are you having?"

"Chocolate-flavoured soy milk."

"Soy milk?"

"That's the modern-day rock'n'roll lifestyle. The hard stuff is so two-decades-ago." I pour out a tall brown glassful for myself and hand her a tumbler of bourbon on the rocks, as we turn onto the far side of the West Side Highway. The scurrying of cars reminds me of a jazz trumpet's sound, the sunlight pours through the van's open windows and I feel a burst of exhilaration at what's coming tonight. "You know," I announce, "I think this trip is going to be a giggle."

She bangs her hands on the wheel and whoops back at me, "It's gonna be a blast!"

There's no doubt about it: although it's evident that I retain the ability to make plausible good-natured conversation with someone I have never met before (admitting that the bubbly Evelyn is hardly a test of such abilities), I have nonetheless not ceased, since the onset of my new abilities, to feel as if my conversational contributions are turns in a role-playing game uttered by some skilled participant other than myself. She doesn't seem to be hearing anything odd, but from inside it feels as if my best guess is to aim a straight line from what I'm thinking to my interlocutor's likely understanding of this thinking, and to hope that this line, in passing through the interface between us, will crackle up a little constellation of exchanges that'll be appropriate. Perhaps this is what I and others did in conversations before my new abilities arrived; but I can't quite be certain of this, for in those days I didn't have this feeling. I didn't feel that I lacked the basic clothing of a default personality. This reminds me: "Oh. I suppose, before we pick up Alaia, I should ask you about, you know, Jason and—"

"Let's get the broadcast over with first. We'll get onto the other stuff afterwards."

So "the other stuff" is still on. Well, at least we're all calling it the same thing.

We exit the Highway onto Houston Street; then before long she pulls up at the corner of Houston and Norfolk, and there's Alaia.

"Hi Alaia. Hop on in," says Evelyn through the window and clicks open the door for her.

Alaia's faint smile seems to burn through the air at us. "Evelyn? Hi." She climbs into the van and slides the door shut behind her. "Good afternoon," she says to me and sits, with that demureness which I know to be deceptive, on the seat across the aisle from me.

I notice Evelyn is sending a quick text. "OK then, let's roll," she says. "This is how we roll." She turns and hands to each of us a print-out of our call-sheet for the evening, headed "General Network—Metropolitan Sound-stage", featuring a simple but precise timetable for our arrival and studio call-times, culminating with the broadcast at eight o'clock and signed off by Rik Chambers.

When I look up from the sheet, we are coasting fast down the elevated FDR Drive, passing the end of Wall Street. I catch Alaia's eye. "Ready?" I ask quietly.

She holds my gaze. "Yes, I'm ready. And you?"

Evelyn presses a button and the windows all glide shut.

"Yep."

We turn our heads to opposite sides, as daylight fades away, an underpass slants up in streaks on left and right, and the van swoops down to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

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For some nice reviews and interviews about The Imagination Thief, in The Guardian and elsewhere, see http://www.rohanquine.com/press-media/the-imagination-thief-reviews-media/

For a quick synopsis of it, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/synopsis-and-characters-list-the-imagination-thief/

For the 12 Films in The Imagination Thief, see http://www.rohanquine.com/video-books-films/12-films/

For the Audio-book version and the Video-book version of each of its 120 mini-chapters, see http://www.rohanquine.com/home-the-imagination-thief-novel/audiobook-tumblr-wattpad/

For links to the retailers, see http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-ebook/ and http://www.rohanquine.com/buy/the-imagination-thief-novel-paperback/

And for its Amazon pages, see http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909 and http://www.amazon.com/The-Imagination-Thief/dp/0992754909

The Imagination Thief is about a web of secrets, triggered by the stealing and copying of people's imaginations and memories. It's about the magic that can be conjured up by images of people, in imagination or on film; the split between beauty and happiness in the world; and the allure of various kinds of power. It celebrates some of the most extreme possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, exploring the darkest and brightest flavours of beauty living in our minds.

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