There I was, snuggled up in bed thinking, “I’m loving this winter break!” when I realise, you can’t be sleeping yet, beautiful! It’s time that second part went up (If you missed the first part, you’ll find it here). I never leave a good tale unfinished! So, what happened to our late night driver and his sombre companion once the dawn came…?
His Lifeline. Part two. J R Manawa.
‘Where are we?’ she asked. ‘Are you tired?’ she added.
Happy to answer her second question he said, ‘Only a little.’
She reached forward and claimed the last chocolate bar for her own. The floor was already littered with the wrappers of those that had not survived the night. She opened it and took a bite before suggesting with a full mouth that he pull over at the next stop for a rest.
Pregnant with the sun, the horizon was swelling into a deep shade of red as they parked on the roadside. There was nothing at the rest stop but a rotten old picnic bench swallowed in moss and a fence along the edge of the cliff which dropped down to the river.
She turned to him and smiled once as the sun split the horizon in two and the world became a molten glow, blinding their view through the windscreen. She lifted the handle and opened the door to get out of the car. ‘Are you coming?’ she asked.
He shook his head, but it didn’t take long for him to follow her. It was cold and crisp, and the icy gravel crunched beneath the soles of his shoes.
She was already on the edge of the cliff, leaning forward and looking straight down. All her trust was placed in the simple, man-made fencing to keep her from the fall. He was sure the view was beautiful, but a fear of heights and the self-pity he felt after the loneliness of the night prevented him from going closer.
‘Be careful!’ He begged her to come back from the edge. ‘It doesn’t look very safe,’ he added, leaning on the bonnet of the car as casually as he could, refusing to leave the safety of it.
The sadness was washed away completely for a moment as her face broke into a laugh, and the risen sun filled her hair and her eyes with a glow that was all too attractive, too enticing, and too alive.
‘Do you have a death wish?’ he asked, as she reached out her arms to the sky and inhaled deep.
She turned quickly, her eyes burning with betrayal at his mockery of her elation. Her jaw tightened but the explosion never came, instead she smoothed it over and stepped away from the edge.
‘No. I don’t want to die.’ The smile she ended her sentence with was fake, painted to her face. He couldn’t tell if it were because she was angry at his words, or because she was lying. Either way, the damage was done and she returned to the car without another word.
Back in the front seat, she put her belt on with a resounding click as he pulled away from the stop. He did not dare to make eye contact with her now.
‘You didn’t need to be so insensitive,’ she told him a few minutes later.
He should have expected a confrontation. ‘I, I just—’
‘Don’t worry, you don’t need to say anything,’ she folded her arms and flicked the tumbling locks of her hair out of the way.
It was his turn to laugh.
She glared at him. ‘What?’
‘If we were on better terms I would give you a kiss on the cheek and tell you to shut up,’ he grinned as he glanced at her with one eye. The other he kept on the road as they snaked down out of the hills, drawing closer to the town in the valley below.
She smiled ruefully. His words melted the frown off her brow, and she relaxed back into the seat for the last part of their journey. ‘I can’t believe we are here already,’ she said when they passed the rickety welcome sign before the first houses.
‘Already?’ he couldn’t agree with her use of the word and this was obvious from the slight increase of pitch in his voice.
She laughed at him, and then turned away. The crop of tears she kept well tendered was coming once again to harvest, sparkling as they ran like a stream of white diamonds down her cheeks.
Knowing the rules, he ignored it and said nothing until they passed into the thirty mile zone and entered the tiny township down the main street, passing the eerily silent shop fronts.
‘Where do you want me to drop you off?’ he asked.
‘Take a left up here,’ she replied, frowning and smearing the white diamonds across her sleeve.
The narrow road curved by hedge rows and houses with thatched roofs. Each little cottage had its own homely name etched onto a plaque, nailed beside a matching, brightly painted front door. There was no need for house numbers.
‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ he asked.
‘No, I’ll be fine.’ She reached over and touched his arm with her fingertips, like she was about to embrace him, but at the last moment chose to refrain. ‘You can drop me off just here,’ she pointed.
He pulled over to the curb and turned the engine off.
As she gathered her things, he stared out the window into the distance, wondering what he should say in farewell.
Slowly his eyes began to focus on where he was, as he looked up from the road to the graveyard and the little old stone church he had pulled up next to. In front of the church gate a sleek black hearse was parked. He could just see the white coffin through the pall bearers as they reached forward to take it from the vehicle. Gathered around the path to the church, a billowing storm cloud of dark umbrellas and black dresses, the mourners waited for the coffin, shielding themselves from the wind and the spitting rain that had now swallowed the sun overhead.
His words caught in his throat. ‘How did you know?’ he asked finally, unable to pry his eyes away from the white coffin as it made its final journey through the cemetery gates.
One woman turned, and seeing his car, she pulled away from the crowd. The rain softened back into a drizzle.
‘I—I’ll miss you,’ he stuttered, turning to the passenger seat. But his hitchhiker was already gone.
He opened his door and stepped out as the woman from the crowd reached the side of the car with arms outstretched, a small smile escaping through her veil of tears as she said, ‘Son, I’m so glad you could make it.’