This little tale is here for you to zone out and escape while you are still digesting you Christmas meal on a hopefully relaxed boxing day afternoon! And if I haven’t said it already, Merry Christmas beautiful people!
His lifeline. J R Manawa.
‘Just keep driving. Please.’
It wasn’t a request. It was simply, “do this for me.”
He let the car follow the road out onto the highway. They sped up in silence, the only noise the whir of traffic passing and the hum of the engine turning over. Obeying her request, he drifted into autopilot with one hand on the wheel, the other relaxed on the gear stick. Where the road ahead might lead was something he had little concern for, because it didn’t matter. After meeting this particular girl he was expecting a night somewhat less ordinary.
From the corner of his eye he could see the profile of her face. She was watching the road too, but not seeing it through the state she was in. Her eyes were misty like the evening around them as it settled in the fields to either side of the highway, and silent tears were rolling down her cheeks like the raindrops that left shinning paths down his windscreen.
She cried with silent beauty, not a sniffle, not a sob, not a sigh, just salt water and rivers. She did not wipe them away. He tried to keep his eyes straight ahead. There was privacy to her tears and he had become a spectator, a peeping-tom awkwardly enthralled by them.
So he watched the fuel gauge instead, weighing the severity of the tears against the amount of petrol in the tank, but there was no way for him to measure “just keep driving”.
Fields slipped away to either side, interspersed between clutches of housing and industrial estates that lessened in regularity the further from the city they drove. Even the traffic on the road was growing less, affected by the weather which was only getting worse. Eventually the silence became so long it grew painful.
Unable to help himself, he glanced toward her. She was still crying, but when she saw him looking she reached up and quickly wiped the tears away with the side of her hand.
‘Sorry,’ she said, softly. Her cheeks were streaked with mascara.
‘Sorry for?’ he tried a tone of voice that suggested she was silly for apologising, but she didn’t seem to notice it. ‘We can talk, if you want,’ he offered lamely.
‘I’d rather not,’
He nodded and turned back to the road, tapping the steering wheel to a non-existent tune. Silence had never been one of his talents, and it did not help that the car stereo had been broken since before he could remember. He let out a long, slow breath. Already he was beginning to regret agreeing to this journey.
‘Did you want something to eat?’ he asked, seeing the lights of a quick-stop up ahead.
‘No, thank you.’
‘You don’t mind if I do?’
‘Of course not.’ She shifted in the seat and put her seatbelt on.
‘That’s a bit pointless now,’ he said as he flipped the indicator and slowed down to pull off the road.
She shrugged and folded her jacket over the belt to make a hammock she could rest her head on.
Letting a small smile escape across his lips, he shook his head at her as he pulled into the park nearest the doors of the quick-stop and shut the engine off. ‘I’ll just be a moment,’ he promised, checking the sky before he opened the door. Thankfully the rain had stopped for a bit.
She looked up as he got out, and her eyes were sparkling under the lights from the wetness of her tears. The look held him for a moment longer than it should have before he pushed the door shut and walked away.
Inside the quick-stop the phosphorescent lights burned his eyes in stinging contrast to the darkness of the stormy night. One light over the counter was flickering with seizure inducing speed, illuminating the cashier with his headphones plugged in and eyes locked to his phone screen. In the background the store speaker system was leaking an insipid soundtrack of love songs through the airwaves.
The cashier looked up at him with uninterested eyes as he wandered down the aisle toward the coffee machine. Pausing with his finger over the espresso button he lamented the all-nighter ahead of him before he pressed it. The coffee smelt burnt from the moment the thin dark liquid began seeping through the filter and into his polystyrene cup. He watched it pool in the bottom with distaste as the dirty brown foam bubbled to the surface. Fingers fumbling over the lid, he sighed and made his way to the counter, snatching up a handful of chocolate bars as he went.
Back in the car, his passenger had relocated to the back seat where she was curled up in a ball beneath her jacket. He drained his espresso in one gulp before tossing the cup out the window and into the waiting rubbish bin. Pleased with his aim, he then clicked his seatbelt on and started the engine.
While she slept he let the car chew through the miles of darkness. Time flickered forward with each change of the minute display on his dashboard. Still he kept driving. The storm set in for the night, rain streaking through his view of the world like the bars of a cage holding him captive. A sensation of loneliness grew in his stomach like a weed, suffocating the brief comfort and happiness he had felt from her company. He was alone, just he and the darkness before him. Even the other vehicles on the road gave him a wide berth.
For hours the only movement came from the swing of the air freshener tree that hung over the rear vision mirror. His knuckles grew white, turning to stone as they clutched the steering wheel. The highway was long and straight, and it wasn’t till the sky paled before dawn into a moody grey that the road began to fill with early morning traffic.
She only stirred beneath the jacket when he finally turned off the highway. They drove over an old stone bridge with a river in flood running riot beneath, and the road began to curve and twist as it followed the river. He wound down the window a touch to inhale the impending dawn and his ears filled with the sounds of the roaring storm waters below them.
His passenger was awake now. He watched her in the rear-vision mirror as she sat up and stretched, then leaned forward over his shoulder. Her proximity instantly disarmed him. Unable to help himself, he closed his eyes for a moment and inhaled her scent.
‘Where are we?’ she asked…
***Part two of ‘His lifeline’ will be here tomorrow evening! Similar time, same place! I’ll see you then…!***
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