Away from Me
“You are always late Dad.”
The cyclist in front of the car cocked his finger, shot out the tire with a fake gun, and then carried on his morning commute being sure to rub his sweaty lycra across the front of the car that protruded beyond the give way sign. Caitlyn cycled through the input settings on the stereo; dull static of AM, excessively loud and all-surrounding static of FM, the start of a CD that was meant to be donated to a charity shop with the random kitchen items and an old coat in the back seat but clearly the case didn’t have said CD inside it… back to dull AM static, back to FM…
“For the love of… what the hell Caitlyn?”
“Your stupid stereo won’t sync with my phone Dad. Just drive. Don’t make me late.”
At the lane merge a rusted white van edged in front of me out of turn. FM static, the CD mid-chorus, AM static, FM static. I wound my window down so I could explain to the van that quietly alternating is something the fingers of a prayer do as they interlock in harmony, but he couldn’t hear me over the sound of my car horn and we just ended up middle finger sword fighting over 20 yards of polluted air.
“Dad. The time.” She tapped the clock with her Mother’s bony fingers. “Last week Jenny was eight minutes late and she had to tidy up the utility cupboard for punishment. All the girls are calling her Mop now and I’m pretty sure that’s gonna stick for the entire rest of high school and probably her life.” She tapped again. “Mum’s never late.”
“Yeah. Well go and live with your Mother then and you won’t even be in the St. Peter’s catchment Caitlyn, you’ll be going to Southpoint with all the pregnant girls…”
The FM static erupted again and my head split open.
“CAITLYN! Seriously! I will make you walk. See that old lady outside… she’s walking faster than the car right now. She’s been following us for the last hundred meters while we concertina along this ungodly stretch of pollution and now, at eighty years if she’s a day, she’s walking faster than our stupid car and your stupid static while that ugly van keeps slamming his hilarious brake lights on at me. Yeah I see you.”
The traffic edged forward in front but, for a moment, I didn’t move. For a moment I breathed in the space, held it in my stomach, and then exhaled so slowly, moved the air so slowly from my stomach I could feel a gentle string of breath start to pull the toxic out; lightly pulling until it reached my sternum, until it delicately held against my ribcage, until it uncomfortably put pressure on my esophagus and throat, until… until the car behind blasted a horn.
“It’s FOUR metres! There is a FOUR METRE gap between me and the car in front, and then there is NO WHERE ELSE TO GO!”
“Dad. There’s room to get into the right turn lane. Just bump over the gutter. It’s eight fifty!” She was twitching her Mother’s knee and looking at me from the corner of her Mother’s eye and I conceded. And I bumped over the gutter. And as I bumped, much to the great joy of a disgruntled cyclist somewhere, the front corner of the car sank into the static.
“Dad! Are you serious!”
I steeled to keep driving at least a dozen lengths down the turn lane and past the van but the tire began to strip and the steel on bitumen screamed like childbirth.
“Oh… my… God! I’ll get called Bucket or Sponge or Toilet Duck. Jesus Dad, change the tire!”
I reached to the back seat; the coat that might have once been a trendy colour was now a quietly defeated brown that would probably be thrown out by the charity shop should it ever manage to be donated. I laid it on the grass verge.
“Caitlyn. Sit out here on the coat so I can jack the car.”
“Jesus Dad,” she shook her head. “Mum told you to throw that thing out years ago.”
I leaned across my seat.
Her jaw protruded like a car across a give way sign; protruded like her Mother refusing to concede anything at the merge. “I’ll just wait in the car.”
I lurched toward her and she edged closer to her window like traffic in the early morning concertina. She snapped her head back at me and protruded her Mother’s porcelain jaw so far her face distorted across the bridge of her nose and her cheekbones and she aged hideously.
“I don’t need the coat story for the millionth bloody time Dad, just change the bloody tire…”
The stereo exploded back to a static that rose and spilled from the car; merging with car horns and pollution and see ya arsehole as the van finally got on the good side of the green. Static that sucked back into the car and circled around me like floodwater washing down a drain.
“You are always late.”
My hand cocked. It flew backward and exploded at her, but arrested with the double honk of a car horn alongside.
“Caitlyn. You’re late. Hop in!”
“Awesome. Thanks Mop.”
The drain of static kept spiraling around me and I rested back into my seat. My eyes weakened.
Outside on the verge, my wife lay on the old brown coat. On a dirty coat. On the side of the road. With a newborn baby girl in her arms. I kneeled down at her feet and interlocked my fingers. And then I reached out my arms. And she pulled the baby away from me. She looked down at the baby, but not at me. She spoke from a protruding porcelain jaw. I interlocked my fingers again. And she pulled her away from me.
“You are always late.”