An extract from one of my favourite books – JG Ballard’s magnificent – and controversial – Crash. Magnificent not because of the subject matter – but because of the author’s incredible style of writing.
Disclaimer: this is very much an ’18’ certificate book and the extract is no different. If you’re easily shocked by sex and violence, best move along.
Extract from Chapter 21
Distracted by Vaughan’s physical presence as he leaned against me, I held the wheel again, steering the car down the fast lane. Vaughan’s body was a collection of loosely coupled planes. The elements of his musculature and personality were suspended a few millimetres apart, floating beside me in this pressure-free zone like the contents of an astronaut’s capsule. I watched the cars approaching us, unable to grasp more than a fraction of the thousands of messages which their wheels and headlamps, windshields and radiator grilles were flashing at me.
I remembered my first journey home from Ashford Hospital after my accident. The brightness of the traffic, the nervous perspectives of the motorway embankments and the vehicle lanes along Western Avenue, had anticipated this acid vision, as if my wounds had flowered into these paradisial creatures, celebrating the unity of my crash and this metallized Elysium. As Vaughan urged me again to crash the car into the vehicles approaching us, I was tempted to obey him, making no effort to answer the teasing pressure of his hand. An airline coach sped towards us, its silver hull irradiating all six lanes of the motorway, bearing down on us like an alighting archangel.
I held Vaughan’s wrist in my hand. The dark hairs of his pallid forearm, the scar tissue on the knuckles of his ring and index fingers, were now irrigated with a harsh beauty. Taking my eyes off the road, I clasped Vaughan’s hand in my own, trying to close my eyes to the fountain of light that poured through the windshield of the car from the vehicles approaching us.
An armada of angelic creatures, each surrounded by an immense corona of light, was landing on the motorway on either side of us, sweeping down in opposite directions. They soared past, a few feet above the ground, landing everywhere on these endless runways that covered the landscape. I realized that all these roads and expressways had been built by us unknowingly for their reception.
Leaning across me, Vaughan steered the car through the flight paths. As we changed direction, horns and tyres screamed around us. Vaughan controlled the wheel, like a parent guiding an exhausted child. I held the rim passively in my hands, following the pathway of the car down a slip road.
We stopped below an overpass, the front fender of the Lincoln rolling on to the concrete palisade that divided the motorway embankment from the edge of an abandoned wrecker’s yard. I listened to the last music of the engine before I switched off the ignition, and lay back in my seat. In the screen of the rear-view mirror I watched the cars climbing the access ramp on to the motorway behind us, eager arrivals at this aerial carnival. They sailed along the road surface above our heads to join the aircraft Vaughan had watched for so many months. As I gazed at the distant causeways of the northern circular motorway I could see that everywhere these metallized creatures were soaring through the sunlight, ascending from the traffic jams that had locked them together.
Around me the interior of the car glowed like a magician’s bower, the light within the compartment becoming darker and brighter as I moved my eyes. The instrument dials irradiated my skin with their luminous needles and numerals. The carapace of the instrument binnacle, the inclined planes of the dashboard panel, the metal sills of the radio and ashtrays gleamed around me like altarpieces, their geometries reaching towards my body like the stylized embraces of some hypercerebral machine.
In the breaker’s yard a testudo of abandoned cars lay together in the everchanging light, their outlines shifting as if some time-wind were blowing across them. Strips of rusting chrome leaked into the overheated air, patches of intact cellulose bled away into the crown of light that covered the yard. The spurs of deformed metal, the triangles of fractured glass, were signals that had lain unread for years in this shabby grass, ciphers translated by Vaughan and myself as we sat with our arms around each other in the centre of the electric storm moving across our retinas.
I stroked Vaughan’s shoulder, remembering the terror in which I had clung to my wife. Yet Vaughan, for all his harshness, was a wholly benevolent partner, the eye of this illumination of the landscape around us. Taking his hand, I pressed his palm against the medallion of the horn boss, an aluminized emblem which had always irritated me. I felt the indentation in his white skin, remembering the triton-shaped bruise in the palm of the dead Remington as he lay across my bonnet, remembering the pink grooves in my wife’s skin left by her underwear, the imprints of imaginary wounds, as she changed in her department store cubicle, remembering the exciting crevices and sulci of Gabrielle’s crippled body. One by one, I moved Vaughan’s hand across the glowing dials of the instrument panel, pressing his fingers against the sharp toggles, the projecting lances of the direction indicator and gear shift.
At last I let his hand rest on my penis, reassured by its firm pressure on my testicles. I turned towards Vaughan, floating with him on the warm amnion of illuminated air, encouraged by the stylized morphology of the automobile’s interior, by the hundreds of radiant gondolas soaring along the motorway above our heads. As I embraced him, Vaughan’s body seemed to slide up and down in my arms, the muscles of his back and buttocks becoming hard and opaque as I felt the changing planes. I held his face in my hands, feeling the porcelain smoothness of his cheeks, and touched with my fingers the scars on his lips and cheeks. Vaughan’s skin seemed to be covered with scales of metallic gold as the points of sweat on his arms and neck fired my eyes. I hesitated at finding myself wrestling with this ugly golden creature, made beautiful by its scars and wounds. I moved my mouth across the scars on his lips, feeling with my tongue for those familiar elements of long-vanished dashboards and windshields. Vaughan loosened his leather jacket, exposing the re-opened wounds that marked his chest and abdomen, a deranged drag queen revealing the leaking scars of an unsuccessful trans-sexual surgery. I lowered my head to his chest, pressing my cheek against the bloody profiles of a collapsing steering wheel, the collision points of an instrument panel. I ran my lips along his left collar-bone, and sucked at his scarred nipple, feeling the re-sectioned areola between my lips. I moved my mouth down his abdomen to his damp groin, marked with blood and semen, a faint odour of a woman’s excrement clinging to the shaft of his penis. A zodiac of unforgotten collisions illuminated Vaughan’s groin, and one by one I explored these scars with my lips, tasting the blood and urine. With my fingers I touched the scar on his penis, then felt the glans within my mouth. I loosened Vaughan’s blood-stained trousers. His naked buttocks were like a pubertal youth’s, as unscarred as a child’s. The nerves in my legs and arms began to jump with irritation, my limbs flexing themselves in a series of nervous spasms. I crouched behind Vaughan, forcing his thighs against my own. The jutting carapace of the instrument binnacle presided over the dark cleft between his buttocks. With my right hand I parted his buttocks, feeling for the hot vent of his anus. For several minutes, as the cabin walls glowed and shifted, as if trying to take up the deformed geometry of the crashed cars outside, I laid my penis at the mouth of his rectum. His anus opened around the head of my penis, settling itself around the shaft, his hard detrusor muscles gripping my glans. As I moved in and out of his rectum the lightborne vehicles soaring along the motorway drew the semen from my testicles. After my orgasm I lifted myself slowly from Vaughan, holding his buttocks apart with my hands so as not to injure his rectum. Still parting his buttocks, I watched my semen leak from his anus across the fluted ribbing of the vinyl upholstery.
Sitting together, we were washed by the light flowing in every direction across the landscape. I held my arm around Vaughan as he slept, watching as the fountain pouring from the radiator grilles of the crashed cars twenty yards away gradually faded. A profound sense of calm presided over my body, composed partly of my love for Vaughan, and partly of my feelings of tenderness towards the metal bower in which we sat. When Vaughan woke, exhausted and still half asleep, he leaned his naked body against me. His face was pallid, eyes exploring the contours of my arms and chest. Together we showed our wounds to each other, exposing the scars on our chests and hands to the beckoning injury sites on the interior of the car, to the pointed sills of the chromium ashtrays, to the lights of a distant intersection. In our wounds we celebrated the re-birth of the traffic-slain dead, the deaths and injuries of those we had seen dying by the roadside and the imaginary wounds and postures of the millions yet to die.
Extract from CRASH, Chapter 21, pages 198 – 203 © JG Ballard 1973.
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