‘Daniel, please. Let’s stop, up at Carter Bar? Get out for some air.’
In profile, she sees his jaw tighten, his Adam’s apple slides up and down his leathered neck. The low slung, red sports car climbs up from the valley with ease.
‘Look at the sky, its totally clear. We’ll be able to see the Milky Way? Do you remember that time …Mam Gu said …..’
‘Save it, Marie. For the love of God. There’s no point pretending. It makes this shit feel even worse.’
He fingers an angry spot on his chin and slackens his grip on the steering wheel.
‘We haven’t finally decided,’ she says. ‘I thought we were going to talk it through. I want to stop. I really do. Please?’
They climb higher on Scottish roads that snake uphill towards the English border. The roads here lack the tight chicanes of the Alps but are twisty enough to make her nauseous, as the bends snake back on themselves. Dan drives faster, the raised vein on his temple throbs. He loves his car. Surely, he won’t take risks with that, even to punish her. If only she could slow things down they could recalibrate, get back onto solid ground.
‘I need a piss. I’m desperate.’ she says. ‘Pull over when we get there.’
‘OK, you win. Whatever you want.’
Minutes later he swings into the stone-walled layby of Carter Bar, scattering the gravel as he brakes hard. It is deserted. She glances across at him. He stares straight ahead, preoccupied, picking his nose. She crams four peppermint creams into her mouth.
‘Greedy bitch,’ he says. ‘Never satisfied.’
Marie kicks her door open. The sharp air slaps her after the fug inside the vehicle. She pulls her coat over her sweater and stumbles up onto her feet.
‘Get on with it,’ he says. ‘And for Christ’s sake shut that door.’
The car looks different when she comes back, the bonnet sparkles with sharp, feathered ice-crystals. The temperature has dropped. She lifts her eyes towards the ink sky, punctured by intense bursts of light, sourced from light-years away, from stars already dead. Her knowledge of the constellations comforts her. She’d got that from Mama Gu.
‘Dan, please, please. Have a quick look out here. Don’t miss the chance. We won’t see many night skies like this.’
‘Get in. Or you’ll make your own way, Marie. For the last time. You’re not going to reel me in again. I’ve had enough.’
‘As usual,’ she says. ‘Your way or the highway.’
She climbs in, in slow motion.
‘You’re a controlling bastard.’
If she can’t win him over, she’ll annoy him. He deserves it. The second the door closes he’s off, before she has time to do up her seat belt.
The dragon’s eyes, twin beams, full on, come from nowhere. They scorch her retinas and blind her.
‘Grip my hand and repeat: ten, nine,’ Marie smells iodine. ‘Eight, seven, six, five……..’
Mam Gu’s arms wrap around me. It’s going to be fine. She’ll clear up the sick. I hate dentists and there’s blood in my mouth. My gym shorts are wet, a big red stain. My ice cream dribbles. Davey Smith got it for me. Mum will go mental. I kissed him after. I’ll get her a choc ice, she’ll like that. I watch Davey peeing in the toilet, if I pee straight after, I’ll have a baby. Mam Gu says I’m her baby. I sit at her table in the back, eat warm apple tart with custard, I have seconds. Mum tells me off, it’s rude to be greedy. She doesn’t like it when Dad shares his chips with me, says I’m set on doing her head in. Dan’s my boyfriend. We’re going to explore, navigate by the stars. On the sea. Will those crabs bite my toes? That crab’s huge, it’s eaten Daniel. Good. No, no, it’s eating Mam Gu. Mam, Mam, Mam……. There she is, she’s a mermaid with green hair.
A pin prick of light stings my eyes as I swim towards her. Mam. Mam.
‘She’s back with us,’ says a male voice. ‘Marie, Mrs Ross. Your vivisection went well. We rang the bells, broke the spell. The amputation of your pelvic and pectoral fins was successful. A Sabatier scalpel. However, sadly, Daniel passed.’
My dorsal fin relaxes.
‘Mrs Ross, we’re all done now. You’ve lost four molars and three incisors. You’ll find it hard to speak until the swelling reduces, but you’re lucky it could have been much worse.’
She struggles to open her eyes and squints under the bright light. She tries again. Her eyes water; pain and exhaustion ambush her. She twists her head to one side. A shape looms in the unlit corner. Daniel. How? The quack told her …….. his skin is grey, his clothes gritted and dirty. Their gazes lock tight. The door to the room opens, and a shaft of light falls over his scaled features. His eyes light up. A wink or a glint? Humour or malice? A reptile. Vomit spumes out and stings her raw, exposed gums. She closes her eyes against the arc of orange, red and yellow. Where’s Mam Gu?
‘Mam, Mam …’
Mam Gu – [mam gee] Grandmother – Welsh
Ceinwen lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and writes short stories and poetry. She has been widely published in web magazines and in print anthologies. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University in 2017. Twitter: @CeinwenHaydon Facebook: facebook.com/ceinwen.haydon