Cut to the inside of a car, speeding along a coastal road at night, oncoming headlights occasionally whiting out their faces.
“It’s cheap. Kill off a kid, a wife, a husband…. A dog, even, remember that ‘Marley and Me’ shit we sat through?… the emotions are there on a plate, pre-chewed. The topic’s so emotive, you don’t need to do anything remotely talented to earn an emotion. It’s creatively lazy, unhealthy, morbid misery porn.”
“Did you hate it before we even went in?” she asks. She glances over.
“Probably,” he admits.
Another road she regularly drives at one point runs parallel to a train track. She likes to race the engines, knowing she’ll eventually hit lights or traffic and have to concede. Some days she wants to jerk the wheel hard and plough through the barriers, mash metal against metal, but she knows it’s just exciting to picture, not something she’d actually want to experience, she thinks.
She saw him once, in the window of the train, and he seemed to see her, but when he put his fingers to his mouth and then to his hair, she wondered if he were looking at his reflection instead. A moment before she’d had to turn her eyes back to the road. She considered asking him about it later, but when she saw his face that night, decided to let it pass. Either that or she forgot.
Today’s commuters rush past her, none of them seeming to be him.
Her Creative Writing students are so young, dewy and confident, she wants to walk amongst them, touch their damp, new faces, steal their glow. She wonders what they see, facing her.
She says, “I need to prove someone wrong, OK, so no grief stories this week, please. Let’s try and keep everyone alive for seven whole days. I want you to make the reader feel, but I want you to work for it. Don’t use obvious triggers. Not a single dead infant.” A sardonic out-breath from the girl who writes nothing but explicit sex stories, clearly autobiographical and always disturbing.
The blinds behind their young heads slice the sunshine. She hopes she’s some Tylenol in her bag.
A sea breeze. A desert wind. Tomato, tomahto. His eyes could be made of Perspex when they turn on her. He says, “Every night we sit here, ‘unwinding’. This is the true opioid epidemic, you know? Netflix.”
She waits, sure there’s more.
“And what was wrong with ‘opiates’?”
“Do you want to stop watching? Go for a walk?”
“No,” he says, and she thanks Christ.
She learned to drive at seventeen and somehow ended up in a torrid affair with the instructor. ‘Somehow’! The instructor had her drive them to secluded parks where he’d pry her out of her clothes as though he were changing a tyre. She remembers the scalp sweat shining under his hair.
She drives her husband everywhere, too, knows one side of his face far better than the other. This morning at the station, she saw it full on, oddly boyish in the shade of the door frame. “How would you feel about getting a lab?” he’d asked. Jogging off to his train before she could respond.
The class come back with stories about dementia, depression, suicidal ideation (unfulfilled), unwanted pregnancy, involuntary celibacy, rape, war injury, domestic violence and disturbing sex but no characters outright dying.
Back on the coast road again, she tries to let the day in. The warm adjectives. Chrome sunlight bouncing off creamy surf, the crashing ocean, turquoise below the cliffs. She buttons the windows fully down, plays Kamasi Washington, LOUD, feels the air on her face. She pulls over, and starts texting him questions about magic and age, then stops herself, and drives on.
“Do you really want a dog?”
“It was a thought.”
“We’re both out all day.”
He moves his mouth up her neck, below the L of her jawbone. She pushes him back.
“Do you feel we’re missing something?”
He looks at her, his lips shiny. She suddenly punches the side of his buttock, as hard as she can. Smashes her knuckles deep into the muscle.
She slaps his abdomen, raising the blood up to the skin in the shape of her open hand, does it again.
They both appear startled.
What happens next has nothing to do with sex.
They take to driving late at night, and in the speeding privacy of the car they start to scream, at each other, beside the other, and for a few weeks at least, life is better.
Nick Black manages two public libraries in North London. His writing has been published in lit mags including Entropy, Jellyfish Review, (b)OINKzine, the Lonely Crowd, Open Pen, Train Lit Mag and Funhouse, links to most of which can be found at fuzzynick.wordpress.com He tweets about things he likes as @fuzzynick.
Image: Vladimir Proskurovskiy