Copyright 2010 Gwendoline Ewins. All Rights Reserved.
A CONTEMPORARY SHORT STORY
"Are you coming?" Michael tossed over his shoulder.
And shattered her fantasy of him smothering her with kisses until she agreed to go with him.
Her belly churned in an effort to keep hurt at bay. Tears she refused to shed filled her eyes. Words scrambled to do battle for her, charged up her throat and out of her mouth: "So I can simper around you when you get back from your busy day? No thanks, Michael. I've got better things to do with my time."
That was the moment he deigned to turn round.
It was all so pathetically inevitable. Already her blood was racing, ready to explode. Already his was slowing, ready to implode. Already they were on their ghastly merry-go-round, traveling faster and faster, knowing they wouldn't get off until they made wild lust on the floor … or went to bed with their backs to one another.
It was a back night.
Michael was pretending to be asleep when she slipped between the sheets. Not that the row had ended - it went on in that awful underground way with not a word being spoken. And Sally didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to ask Is your heart aching like mine? Do you hate this as much as I do?
By morning she could stand it no longer. She almost threw herself into his arms and begged him to talk with her about how they could stop wrangling before it destroyed them completely.
She wanted to.
She really did. But she had no idea how and heard herself saying "I'm sick of you! Go to Scranton - and stay there."
Michael did that "saying-not-a-word" thing he did so very well, picked up his bag and walked out of the door. He closed it so quietly the silence roared.
Sally flopped onto a chair. Energy seeped out of her and pooled uselessly around her feet. Why do I keep saying "I hate you" when it's a lie? She loved him. She'd always loved him. And at one time he loved her.
Work was impossible. Hard-won clients, her pride and joy, felt like demanding children she had to placate ... "Of course, Mrs Frobisher. I'll get the drawings to you early next week." … "That sounds a good option to me, Mr Youngson, but let me think it through and get back to you." … on and on while most of her mind tried to make sense of how two people as intelligent, sensible, generous-hearted as she and Michael had got into this mess.
They couldn't go on this way.
She picked up the phone without taking off her coat. He answered immediately and she spoke quickly, before courage deserted her. "Michael, it's me. I'm flying down this afternoon …"
"I was just going to ring you. I want … damn! I've got to take this call … The meeting's all afternoon …"
"Don't worry. I'll get a taxi. I love you, Michael."
"Thank God for that. I love you, Sally."
She was almost glad he wasn't waiting for her, unaccountably shy at the thought of seeing him again. She felt strangely uncertain, as if she had walked into an unknown where the old didn't fit. Certainly the way she and Michael dealt with their differences didn't fit. I'm like a lioness protecting my young - except in this case I'm trying to protect myself. And Michael is left to take the high moral ground.
The Scranton terminal was small and emptying fast. She wandered around, unsure whether to go or stay a bit longer. There was no word from Michael. Is he as nervous as I am?
Sally stepped out into the twilight as a taxi swept by, the last because the rank was now empty. She hurried over to join the untidy crocodile lining up alongside the shuttle-bus and got one of the last seats. She trembled, just like the old times.
She stared unseeingly out of the window. From now on I'm doing things differently …
There is no warning.
One moment they are driving steadily along the motorway into Scranton past dusk-pinked hills to the east, the next an oncoming car heading for the airport squeals and spins out of control. Round and round it turns like a child's top before sliding across the median track into traffic coming in the opposite direction. It hits the shuttle and everything is suspended in time.
A woman is lifted high into the air until the roof stops her. Blood like red petals fall out of her onto the floor. People slam higgledy piggledy into one another, limbs at crazy angles. Papers and books are snatched out of hands. Bags from the luggage rack scrape skin and bone before collapsing in a heap in the aisle.
All at once Sally can't hear the screaming and moaning and wailing and the sirens of police cars and ambulances. She can't hear whispered "I think he's dead. I can't feel a pulse" and "Just hold my hand, love." She can't hear one voice gasp "I can't move" and another answer with gentle encouragement "Don't try - stay just where you are. The ambulance has just arrived - they'll know what to do." She can't hear people saying things like "Did you see what happened?" and "The first thing I noticed was the car heading straight for us." She is oblivious to stunned silence and hysterical laughter and sobbing, unaware of people being brave and being kind.
Later she floats above it all watching Michael sat by her very white hospital bed, holding her hand as if it is extraordinarily precious and very fragile. A tube is coming out of her nose and another is attached to a blue vein in her other hand. Tears are running down his cheeks, dripping off his nose and chin. An unknown brush has flecked his hair with grey at the temples. It suits him.