This night had no beginning, has no end.
We no longer drive. We climb in the cab and let the city move around us. It rolls past the window like a dodgy model city on an off-centred plate, crowds of tiny figures toppling against each other and calling out beneath the great grey lamp of the moon.
And the work keeps coming, job after job after job.
They rise up and link arms, fifty bingo-winged Tiller girls advancing arm in arm, sequined support stockings, diamante slippers, feathery alarm pendants, high kicking an inch then falling in a line, left to right.
They scramble over each other, all hands on deck, a freaked crew of foundering sailors scrambling up the steps of the ambulance as the bulkhead bursts and the windows crack and the tail lift spits rivets along its seam.
They surf out of the bars and clubs on boards made from crushed fast food cartons, ATM cards and hair gel, crouched low, arms spread wide atop great breakers of blood and vomit, whilst their friends shout encouragement from the taxi stands: he’s never been like this before; her drink’s been spiked; he’s only had a glass or two; she’s got asthma.
They run in to each other, merge, rise up roaring as an unconvincing creature from the deep, suckered with weapons, smashing a bottle over its head with one tentacle, poking a beer glass in its eye with another, pushing itself over, slapping its beak, strangling itself, calling 999 on one mobile phone, filming itself on another, whilst we stand off yawning, watching the sou’westered police wade in with landing hooks.
But then, just when I realise my head has been twisted off and stuck back on upside down, the shift is over. In the space of an extended blink, someone has reached up, switched off the moon, wound up the night. Suddenly – unaccountably – instead of the Third Urban Circle of Hell, I’m on a charming country road, with plasticine trees tottering past the window of my little red and yellow car, and choruses of cheerful birds looping and fa-lah-lahing in the blue.
A hedgehog doffs his cap.
And stands there, smiling and stuffing his pipe, as the sleepy little ambulance figure gets kissed good morning, and carefully tucked away in a matchbox.