Parallel Lines

3

We were stuck. Stuck in our marriage, stuck in our lives, stuck in this fucking car.

‘How could you be so stupid?’ he said.

Five minutes from the main road and the next petrol station. Ten minutes from the overflowing pumps we had just driven past, and I’d run out of petrol.

‘It was too expensive there,’ I said, ‘I wanted to wait until we got to Apple Green.’

‘What, two cent cheaper? That would really make a difference when you get your ten euro’s worth.’

‘Oh, fuck off.’

I’d had to listen to him, for over ten minutes now, going on and on. I would have gotten out of the car except it was pissing down, Baltic, and pitch dark.

‘Where the fuck is Bob? He should be here by now.’

Bob was always good in a crisis. Especially ones that weren’t caused by him, as he had an unnatural amount of bad luck in life. Last year his dog died. She was run over, suffered horrific injuries and had to be put down. It was Bob who drove over her in the jeep. The huge Labrador, gone deaf with age, was asleep outside the house, in the middle of the road, where she had taken to sleeping in the last week or so before her untimely death. Anyway, Bob never saw the dog. He was jerked into reality when he felt the large bump and grind of his front and then rear wheels. No one could say the dog’s name for six months after, such was Bob’s upset.

‘That might be him,’ I said.

A car’s headlights, not dimmed of course, until almost on top of us and our flashing indicators, lit up the inside of my dirty Kia. I tried not to see the shabby, old jeans I wore, nor Damien’s impeccable trousers beside me. And I tried not to notice our body language as we both leaned away from each other, almost crouching on top of our doors, ready for escape. It’s just stress, I told myself.

‘Bollocks,’ Damien said.

The car kept on driving. Not Bob then. Its full headlights went back on illuminating the dark, the falling rain and the long grass either side of the narrow country road.

‘There’s still time,’ I said.

‘Not fucking much.’

I worked out that if Bob got here with the can of petrol in the next ten minutes, we could still make it there on time, if there was no traffic and we ran from our car to the doctor’s office. I pushed away the thought of using the can of petrol to set Damien on fire.

‘I just don’t understand, who goes fucking driving, in the dark and pouring rain, past a petrol station when the indicator is telling them it’s below fucking E? Who? Or is it you don’t want to go there. Maybe that’s what it is.’

In the dark he turned to me, I could see his face outlined, the straight jaw, slightly large nose, the whites of his eyes like two Polo Mints staring.

‘That isn’t fair,’ I said.

I rested my head against the cool, damp window. It always came down to this. Who wanted a baby, who didn’t, and who wouldn’t say either way. Me, in other words.

‘So why couldn’t we have taken the van? Why insist you drive when there’s no fucking petrol in your car? A subconscious sabotage.’

‘Oh save it for your fucking book.’

It was a strike below the belt. Damien had been writing, or at least talking about writing, this great science fiction book since I first met him in a pub back in 2012. I’d read two chapters so far, because that’s all he’d written. And yes, it was actually good, if you were into futuristic type stuff, which I was as it happened. But I wasn’t sure he’d written as much as a sentence in the last two years.

‘Nice one, Meadbh.’

I didn’t bother to apologise.

‘We’ll never make it now anyway,’ he said.

He sighed.

‘Three fucking months waiting for this appointment and we’re stuck on a back arse road, thirty minutes away in a fucking Kia.’

‘Well why didn’t you drive then? I didn’t hear you offering?’ I said.

‘Bull. You heard me well, but you ran out the door and started up this piece of shit instead. The van not good enough to be seen in, is it?’

It wasn’t. A big rusty, faded red Hiace. Who the fuck would want to be seen in that?

‘I didn’t hear you. I would have happily gone in the van.’

Bright lights came around the corner behind us. Please be Bob. If I didn’t get out of this car soon I’d be done for assault.

‘At fucking last,’ said Damien.

Damien opened his door as the car pulled in behind us. Bob got out, taking a can of petrol from the boot. I opened my door, felt the wet, cold air hit me, rain pelting the top of my head.

‘How ye,’ he said.

I popped the fuel valve and Bob started to pour.

‘Ye have enough to get you to the next petrol station. Better stop there and fill her up altogether.’

‘Bob, you are a legend,’ said Damien.

‘It’s a rotten night to be stuck on the side of the road,’ said Bob.

He looked at me, a smile on his face. I rolled my eyes.

‘Don’t start him, Bob. I’ve already got an earful.’

‘Genius, isn’t she?’ said Damien.

‘Ah, sure we’ve all been there at some stage. Not to worry.’

‘Thanks, Bob,’ I said.

‘Not in this fucking weather we haven’t,’ Damien said, seething.

I wanted to punch Damien. I wondered if there was any petrol left in that can, and I thought of the lighter in the car.

‘Right. I’ll leave ye to it.’

Bob nodded at us and went back to his jeep, the empty can of petrol swinging in his hand.

‘Come on, if there’s any point,’ said Damien.

I gave a final wave to Bob and went back into the Kia. My jeans were damp already, and clung to my legs making them itch as I sat. We pulled our seatbelts on in unison. In so many ways we moved at the same beat. Without realising it, Damien was my parallel line. But the distance between those lines had grown wider.

‘We’ll have to stop again so. More time wasted,’ he said.

I didn’t answer. Just started the engine and wondered if this was the beginning of where we ended, or had that started to happen long ago. I pulled out from the ditch, pressed the accelerator down hard. How much would I miss Damien if he wasn’t here? Five years is a long time.

Damien moved in his seat, pulled at his jacket. It was his good jacket, the one he wore on rare nights out, or when work demanded meetings. The sleeves of my old, puffy cream coat started at me from near the steering wheel.

Five minutes of silence, a hard uncomfortable silence, brought us to the illuminated green and yellow lights of cheaper petrol. I pulled up at a pump. There weren’t many cars. The wet and cold kept people at home.

‘Do you want anything?’ I asked, releasing the seatbelt.

He looked at me, in the brighter lights I saw his eyes were rimmed red. Had he been crying? Shit.

‘No,’ he said.

I debated asking him if he was OK. But that was stupid. He wasn’t and it was my fault. Anything I said now would only irritate him more.

The cold wet air and fumes of petrol and diesel hit me as I got out. I pulled up my hood and shivered. I was glad to be out of the car, it felt like the spaces inside had shrunk.

The thick smell of petrol clung as the tank began to fill. I actually was only going to put in ten euro worth, but I wouldn’t please him now. I let it fill up to thirty. Overdraft again.

I walked quickly into the shop. Damien was probably watching me and would accuse me of moving slowly, as if we weren’t already late, as if I didn’t care where we were going.

‘Thirty petrol, thanks,’ I said at the counter.

A featureless blank face surrounded by dyed blonde hair took my card and tapped it. I waited for the receipt that I didn’t need.

‘Thank you,’ she said.

I shoved my card back into my wallet and ran out to the car. My stomach gave an unusual lurch as I sat inside.

‘Seriously?’ Damien said.

‘What?’

‘The first time ever you put in more than ten quid. Are you actually wasting time on purpose?’

Fuck you, I thought. Fuck this.

‘Because you always give out when I only put in ten. I fucking ran in and out of the shop.’

‘You did, yeah.’

I started the car, blinking back tears. I want to turn around and go home. Wait, no, not home. Not where he would be. Maybe the pub would be a better option. The pub, a bottle of gin, and no Damien.

The road was quiet, I drove above the speed limit. A few times Damien stretched his head over to look at the dial, checking my speed. I could smell his shampoo, the soap from the shower he had before we left, so careful to present himself well to this doctor. While I sat flicking through Sky.

Neither of us spoke the rest of the journey, our anger fizzling through the cool air. I made it there ten minutes faster than normal. But we were still late.

Damien didn’t move as I parked the car, turned off the engine.

‘Come on,’ I said, ‘he might see us still.’

He turned in his seat, facing me. I felt panic rise in my chest. I didn’t want him to speak. There was no doubt now what he was going to say.

I opened my car door quickly, hopped out, closing it behind me and stood in the rain. My heart pounded hard. I waited for him to get out too. But he didn’t.

Through my car door window I could see the blurred, rainy outline of him and his good jacket. I pulled up my hood, standing alone, the rain falling hard. I felt my shoulders start to dampen already, my runners soaking up the wet puddle I had managed to land in. Finally, he got out of the car.

Without looking at me, Damien walked slowly to the building entrance. Around him sheets of rain fell, firing down like highlighted darts, I concentrated on the back of his head, the bulls eye.

He pushed in the glass door, the illuminated white floor and walls inside made me squint. I was surprised when he held the door open for me.

‘Thanks,’ I said.

Then the unexpected happened. As I stepped in, he let the door close, and as it did, he pulled me into a hug.

The smell of our wet clothes and the feel of his arms tight around me caused my eyes to tear up. I felt his warm breath in my ear as he whispered, ‘We’ll figure this out. Either way.’

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