THURSDAY: Going South


Copyright is held by the author.

Jason could not help noticing her drawn features, the wrinkles framing her mouth, and her faded eyeshadow. He thought today should feel like any other winter day, no matter how different it may have seemed. His fiancé reached into her purse for a tube of lip gloss then stooped before sliding into the front seat.

“Thank you,” Sarah said, lifting her feet onto the floor mat. A sweet cherry aroma filled the air around her. Jason leaned across the centre console and gently pulled the car door shut. Admiring how she massaged the soft, waxy balm over her chafed lips, he followed her gaze through the windshield and out toward the oppressive   shadows cast by the giant oak trees lining the clinic’s poorly lit circular driveway.

They didn’t speak, but he turned the key in the ignition and dropped his phone on the seat near Sarah’s leather gloves and black Chanel purse. Driving past the parking lot, he pulled a piece of candy from his pocket and popped it into his mouth. He didn’t think she could have any. Avoiding the cars lined bumper-to-bumper on Main Street, he was able to snake around the neighbourhood’s back avenues toward the freeway entrance miles away.

The night fell quickly, dark and serene. He leaned forward to turn on the radio, but thought better of it, and wrapped his hands back around the steering wheel. He stopped obligatorily at a traffic light. Red quickly turned to green.


Stunned by Sarah’s outburst, he pushed his foot on the gas pedal and weaved his way into the crowded lanes of the Southern Expressway. Mostly lone drivers occupied countless cars. Many were tapping away on their cell phones.

“At this rate, we’ll never get home,” she complained.

Peeved, he turned his head to admonish her, but sensing some anxiety, he guessed there was no cause for anger. For a moment, he took his eyes off the road. She looked tired and older than her 35 years. He strained to find words that might soothe her palpable discontent.

“I don’t like driving when it’s dark,” he declared, squinting from behind his eyeglasses.

“Would you prefer I drive?” The sharpness in her voice was an obvious hint that her question was rhetorical.

He reached across the console to put his hand on her knee.

“I’m okay,” he said, “you shouldn’t drive.” He turned on the radio, finding a smooth jazz station. “Everything will be fine.”

Sarah turned it off. “Yes,” she said. “Of course.”

They drove on in silence, neither able to ease the other’s burden.

“Traffic is heavy,” she finally offered. “It’s Friday.”

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s always deadly on Fridays.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Jason winced but said nothing. For a while he eyed Sarah sporadically, and from the way she had buttoned her coat and double-wrapped the grey cashmere scarf around her neck, he knew she was cold. As he withdrew his hand from the steering wheel to adjust the heat, she began rifling through her purse. The high-pitched sound of keys clinking against loose change went on interminably.

“Did you forget something?” he asked.

Sarah stammered. “My wallet, I forgot my wallet.” Her eyes swelled with tears. “I left it on the counter when I checked out.”

Jason swerved quickly to avoid a passing eighteen-wheeler. For a moment, they were caught in the truck’s blind spot. He raised his voice over the explosive rumbling. “I’m sure you have it,” he said, clutching the steering wheel with both hands. He accelerated into an adjacent lane, narrowing his eyes to lessen the blinding glare of headlights in his rear view mirror. “Maybe I should stop,” he said. “Do you want me to turn around?”

Sarah didn’t answer. She was busy rustling through her purse with both hands. First, she dropped a Kleenex on her lap. Then she pulled out an atomizer of perfume, some folded papers, and a plastic pill bottle that she threw onto the dashboard. The pill bottle fell to the floor.

“Did they give you that at the clinic?” Jason asked.

“Obviously.” She turned the roof light on and began hunting for the bottle between her feet. “Where did it go?” she muttered. “It must have rolled under the seat.”

“You can find it when we get home.”

“No, I’ll find it now,” she insisted, unbuckling her seatbelt and battling to find the lever that moved her seat backward. She unbuttoned the lower half of her coat. “Oh, my wallet is right here in my pocket. “Waving the dark orange leather between her thumb and fingers, she dropped the wallet into her handbag. “Could you slow down now, so I don’t get tossed through the windshield?”

He backed his foot off the accelerator and watched her lean forward. She groped blindly beneath the seat.

“I’m sure it’s under here, somewhere.”

Jason frowned. “Did you find it?” He didn’t like Sarah to be without her seatbelt.

“Not yet,” she growled. Her fingernails made a scratching sound on the rubber floor mat. “Okay, I’ve got it.” She picked up the bottle and shoveled it into her purse with everything else.

“I don’t feel well,” she said.

Jason saw her lay the palm of her hand over her lower abdomen. “Are you okay?” He switched on the blinkers and maneuvered toward the outer lanes of the freeway.

“I’m not sure.”

“Are you in pain?”

“Stop at the station. I need to get out.”

He exited as soon as he could and pulled into a sparsely lit rest area, where he stopped the car alongside a series of trash bins competing for space. Without a word, Sarah opened the door, flung her purse over her shoulder, and stepped into a biting wind that slashed across the pavement and onto the front seat. She buried her chin into her coat collar and stumbled around the open door toward the front of the car, stopping to put one hand on the hood. With the other clutching her lower abdomen, she retched violently.

The overhead lamp went out when he pulled her door shut. He rushed from the car in time to catch her purse before she vomited. He gathered her long hair in his hands and pulled her scarf upwards. Trash littered the pavement in front of his headlights. She vomited again.

“I’m here,” he mumbled.

She pushed his hands away and leaned her elbows on the hood, wiping her lips with the back of her sleeve. Then she coughed.

“I’ll be fine,” she said, stepping away. She took a deep breath and tugged at the waistline of her coat. Then, she retched.

“Really, do you think so?” Jason put his hands on her shoulders. “I can turn around. We’ll go back to the clinic. It’s not that far.”

Sarah shook her head and wrestled free. “I’ll be fine,” she insisted.

“Are you sure?”

“It was my decision.”

“You did the right thing.”

“I’m glad you think so.”

“You did. I mean, we did.” He tried to wrap his arms around her again, but she slipped away before he could hold her.

“Please don’t,” she said, stuffing her hands in her pockets and hunching her shoulders. Sarah leaned her back against a trash bin.

“I need to pee,” she said.

So, Jason stepped onto the curb and made his way to the back of the car. Waiting, listening, until the intermittent spatter of his fiancé’s urine on the pavement ceased.

“There, I’m done.”

She sounds exhausted, he thought. After walking through the gleam of his headlights, Jason crouched for a moment at Sarah’s side. Rising to their feet together, he helped her back into her seat, but not before removing his jacket, leaning forward, and wrapping it diligently over Sarah’s chest and shoulders. He closed the door. There was yet an hour’s drive ahead before they’d be home.

  1. Brilliant work, Henri. No skimming with this one, I had to keep reading. More like this please!

  2. Would be a lot tighter with fewer adjectives, adverbs and gerunds. Resolution? I didn’t find one. Empathetic characters? No. A bit of a downer, this one.

  3. A downer? Yes, and there are quite a few of those on CL lately, but this one, gerunds and adverbs notwithstanding, felt real: a telling vignette of a relationship under stress. Resolution? He wraps his jacket over her shoulders, he cares, and that’s all we can ask. Empathetic characters? Not exactly but I got to know them and felt sad for them. That’s good writing!

  4. Enjoyed the tension, well done – but no resolution. Felt like you weren’t finished yet.

  5. There’s a finality here, and it’s heartbreaking. I felt the tension and guilt of the protagonists. You’ve captured the sadness of this situation and reminds me of Hills Like White Elephants.

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