I AM FASCINATED BY SMALL MOMENTS IN TIME AND HOW THEY TELL A STORY. -JRS
“Did you lock the door?” she asked, adjusting her seat belt. “What’s with this seat belt? Am I doing something wrong?” With one hand she pulled the belt out from her and let it go. It snapped back to her shoulder. “Whatever. Anyway.”
His fingers tapped the top of the steering wheel as he waited for the light to change. He watched a woman pushing a stroller with two young children in tow chance the crosswalk as the light was about to turn. They rushed across the street and made it to the other side just as the red went to green. The mother had to lean out over the sidewalk and pull her straggling son up out of the road by his arms.
Marcus shook his head and accelerated through the intersection. “Only in Montreal.”
“Nothing. At the light there. A lady with three kids basically dragged her children across the street at the last second.” Her glanced to his right. She was absorbed in her purse, her hand digging for something, her arm in the bag up to her elbow.
“Never mind,” he said.
“Oh, thank God,” she said and closed the purse and placed it at her feet. She adjusted in the seat and looked at him. “Thought I forgot my wallet there for a second. Christ, that purse is bottomless. What time is it?”
He nodded at the dashboard. “Eight o’clock.”
“It takes how long to get there?”
“About two hours? Depending on traffic, obviously.”
“Oh, wonderful.” She fumbled for at the side of the seat and then clicked her seat back into a reclining position, put on her sunglasses. “I can sleep.”
He looked back over his shoulder and pulled out onto the 40 West. Pushed the car into the middle lane and then leaned back in his seat, set the cruise control.
She: “Turn that down, would you.”
He clicked the volume button on the steering wheel. “This is a nice car, I must say. I like it.”
“It is. I’m glad they upgraded us.”
Traffic was light on the highway and soon they were off the island, heading west. The sky before them a bold expanse of blue. What a day, he thought. Perfect.
He glanced to his right again. “It’s locked by the way.”
She lowered her sunglasses. “What?”
“The front door. It’s locked. And the back door. I double checked.”
“Oh. Alright. Good.”
He shifted the car into the left-most lane and sped up a little. A taxi driver had once told him that the police won’t stop you if unless you go twenty kilometres over the speed limit. He glanced down at the speedometer and reset the cruise control to one-nineteen. A few moments later a blue car approached behind him, nearly tailgating. He signalled and pulled into the right lane. The blue car sped past him and he returned to the outer lane. Christ, he thought, it’ll be good to be away from Quebec for the weekend, at least. Away from Quebec drivers.
The hum of the wheels and the hush of the radio station. After a few minutes: “God, this is so good,” she said, not moving.
“I know. We needed it.”
“Oh but seriously. I love summer but it’s been too fucking hot in the city. Way too hot.”
Silence passed between them again. To their left and right reeled farmland, fields of corn and grain. The occasional meadow pricked with countless yellow flowers. She returned her seat upright and stared out the window at nothing in particular. Her hands felt restless on her lap. She took a breath.
“We’ve got enough food, you think?”
“Absolutely. More than enough.”
A few beats pass. “And we can swim in that lake, right? You’re sure about that?”
He sighed audibly. “Yes, dear. It’s one of the cleanest lakes in the Ottawa region, apparently.”
“Oh, nice.” She scrunched down in her seat and placed her foot up on the dashboard by the window. “Cause it’s just so fucking hot. I just want to lie in the sun and then jump in the lake and then lie in the sun some more.”
“That’s the idea.”
She ran her hand along her calf muscles. “Jesus. I’m still sore from that run two days ago.”
He nodded. In the distance he noticed a police cruiser and checked their speed.
Her hand patted a beat against her thigh. “Listen,” she said. “You think we could stop somewhere and pick up something to drink later?”
He looked at her and then turned back to the road.
“I mean, just some wine or something to go with the meal. At an LCBO.” She dragged out the letters as she spoke them. The typical Quebecker disdain for all things Ontario, he thought. She leaned forward and adjusted the ventilation. “How do I turn down the fans here? God, it’s like freezing in here.”
He looked down at the panel in the dashboard and then lowered the air temperature control.
“Thanks,” she said. “Don’t you find it cold?”
He answered no and shook his head. To the right a sign approached, Ontario border, thirty seven kilometres. He nodded at the large green placard. “It’s about forty minutes to the Ontario border and then we’re another half an hour from that, roundabouts.”
Her answer was not a confirmation or a question. A tanker truck swung into the left lane behind them and overtook. As it passed their car was reflected in the shining, mirrored surface.
“I asked you a question.”
“Just now? Sorry I must have been lost in thought there.”
“No, like five minutes ago. About getting something to drink.”
His body pulled in a long deep breath and held it.
“Jesus. Can’t you give me a second to respond?”
She crossed her arms and leaned back in her seat. Looked out the window. “Alright, alright. Take it easy.”
“And don’t fucking tell me to take it easy.” This he said in his mind. His upper teeth, holding firmly to his lower lip, held in the words. He gave his head a little shake.
“Look, I really don’t think it’s a good idea for you—” his body clenched “—us. For us to drink.”
“I’m not talking about getting wasted, Marcus. I’m just saying some wine, you know, to go with the meal.”
His finger tapped the leatherette covering of the steering wheel. He thought for a moment and then looked over at her.
“Have you been drinking lately?”
She made a face. “Why would you ask that?”
She slouched down in the seat, her arms still crossed. “Oh, fuck off.”
“Why can’t you answer the fucking question? Yes or no? It’s a simple question.”
“I really don’t see how you have the right to interrogate me.”
“What? Fucking, what? Interrogation? Jesus, Mel. What are you talking about?”
“All the questions.”
“One question, Mel. A simple one.” He flicked a glance over his right shoulder, pulled into the passing lane to get ahead of a large silver pickup truck. He tucked the car back into the right lane and looked at her.
“You have, haven’t you?”
A smirk spread across his face. “Jesus Christ, Mel.”
“Yes, okay? Yes. I have had a few drinks lately. But—”
He shook his head.
“Oh, fuck you,” she said. “it’s just been a few drinks, with my friends after work.”
“Why am I not surprised. Why am I not surprised? No wonder you’ve been in such a good mood lately.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Straight up. Don’t try to turn this around on me. You’ve got a fucking problem, Mel. We’ve talked about this before the last time you sobered up—”
She threw her hands up. “Are we really doing this right—”
His tone increased as he spoke over her. “—when you admitted you had a problem and it was because of drinking that you fucked up. And fucked that other guy.”
The words expanded in the space between them, pushed them into silence with an almost physical force. He clicked the signal light and pulled out into the passing lane.
Her, almost a whisper: “Christ.”
He waited a few moments. “Look, look. I’m sorry I brought that up. That was a little harsh.”
She shrugged. Stared out the passenger window.
“Anyway,” he continued, “I do apologize. But look, here’s how I feel. I’m a little concerned if you’ve been drinking lately. More than a little concerned, to be honest. I mean, if you see it from my perspective—”
“Whatever.” She shrugged again.
His hands clenched the steering wheel. He took a long and slow breath. “If you see it from my perspective, if that even matters, I don’t know, then you can understand, can’t you?”
The words waited for an answer. He: “Or?”
She stared out the window. “Your perspective.” A low voice, a shake of the head. “Your perspective,” she said, more loudly now, “it’s all about you, at the end of the day, isn’t it? Oh and slow the fuck down, by the way.”
He shot at a glance at the speedometer and realized he was well over one twenty-five and gaining speed. He lifted his foot from the gas and let the car drift back down to the limit. The interior of the car felt warm, the sun on his arm like a brand. “Christ,” he said. “I think I need a fucking drink myself.”
“Yeah, you’ve got it so rough, don’t you.”
“For fuck’s sakes.” The words felt electric, acidic, like a battery on the tongue. He shoved the car into the right lane sharply and kept the signal light on, slowed down and pulled onto the shoulder.
Her hand gripped the armrest. “Jesus, kill us both, why don’t you. That’ll solve the problem.”
He pulled off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes, his face, his neck. “My perspective. Listen, my perspective does matter because it’s all I have. All I can do is tell you how I feel and you tell me how you feel.”
“Oh I know exactly how you feel. For the last six months, it’s been nothing but you’re feelings. How hurt you were, how disappointed in me. On and on and on and fucking on. God dammit.” Her hand slapped the dashboard in punctuation.
“Well, what, then? What? No, really though. What the fuck else am I supposed to do? Just forgive and forget as if nothing ever happened? Or as if it was just some little mistake, like … I don’t know, like you, like you lost the car keys or something.”
“But it was a mistake. It was, it was,” her head found her hands and her body sagged. “Jesus. I don’t know what else to say or do. I really don’t. It’s like you just keep bringing this up, you can’t let it go. It’s like your holding it over me. A constant reminder, or threat or something.”
“Now, what the—” he stopped. Counted to ten in his head. He released his seat belt and reclined his seat.
The silence in the car was punctuated by the occasional click of the cooling motor and the hush of a passing car.
“Look. Look. Maybe we should just calm down for a minute.” He gestured at the rectangular section of azure beyond the windshield. “It’s a beautiful day, we’ve finally got some time off to spend together. Maybe we should just move on and make the best of it.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know. I mean, it all sounds so nice, I know. A weekend together out of the city, the cottage. A lake, everything.”
A transport truck slammed by them and the car shuddered in response.
“I just,” her head shook gently, “I don’t know if we can fix this.”
“What’s to fix?”
“This. Us. I don’t know, it’s just so hard living every day like you’re a criminal, like you’ve got this heavy, horrible past following you around. Following us around.”
“And I know, I know. You planned this trip together and it’s meant to be nice and sweet and romantic and everything.” Her head lowered with a sigh. “I just think it’s broken, Marcus. I think it’s broken and it can’t be fixed.”
He clicked his seat down into an even lower position and stared out the window at the open sky. Way up an airplane left a thin white trail, the only colour that wasn’t blue. He closed his eyes and felt the sun warm his face.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe you’re right.” Still gazing out the window, he continued. “You know, I’ve tried to let it go.” He turned to her for a moment. “I have. I really have. But yeah, in all honesty. It’s there. It’s there, it’s like a weight in my chest. Like something solid.”
He grasped the seat lever and sat upright again. Shook his head.
“Like something hard and solid and I was hoping that it would wear away with time. That the days and weeks and months would erode. Like water over a rock. But no. It’s still there. It isn’t going anywhere.”
He wiped his eyes. They watched in silence as a group of motorcycles growled by, coming from the opposite direction. The mutter of their engines was audible long after they had passed. He watched them shrink and disappear in the rearview mirror.
“It’s still there. And I can feel it. It’s there between us. An obstacle. No, I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”
She could feel it now, too. It sat there between them, a wall.