Like a Dog Smelling Storms
Angelica is driving hard, maybe just over the limit, as though intent on making up for lost time. Or time wasted. Eighteen months, or just the past couple? When did this start? Carl doesn’t know, and is having difficulty thinking, with the volume of the music, the way it shocks at his temples, vibrates through his elbow where it rests on the door. The way Angelica’s hands tap the steering wheel in time with the beat, the way the steering wheel rattles—more than a little worrying, that.
She’d bitten off a small strip of electrical tape, had to stick it over the engine warning light, because it kept going off, but her dad’s mate had a look and couldn’t see any issues. She wants to save up for a new one. A new car. Not just second-hand. It isn’t running too smoothly today, which is why the volume’s so high, even higher than normal. It’s her way of coping, he thinks. If you’re louder than the problem, then there isn’t a problem. He’s sitting quietly. He looks in the rearview. Maybe it’ll run smoother without all this stuff.
The stuff which jars backwards as she puts her foot down to try to beat the amber; jars forwards when she only just gets there in time for the red. He’s still looking in the rearview, assessing the damage. Then looks at her. She watches the lights, hands still tapping.
Nobody is waiting to cross. Someone must have pushed it earlier, but made it to the other side well-before they pulled up. Angelica hates when people do that. When he’s walking, he does it all the time.
When the change seems imminent, a pedestrian finally shows. Two of them, even. A man, tall, about 6’3”, and lean, with his son like a spirit guide perched on his shoulders. Pointing and shouting words that don’t quite carry to the gap in Carl’s window. Or perhaps the window simply shakes too much for him to hear.
He’s left to make what he can of the scene without subtitles.
It is as though the man is wading across a river with his most precious possession hoisted aloft. It’s like the kid is his controller: tugging and picking at his hair becomes manipulating circuitry; hacking it, overriding the feckless manly impulse to ditch responsibility and run. They learn new technology so quickly, these days. They know what they’re doing better than Carl.
The light goes green before they’ve made the crossing in full, and Angelica’s about to say something, or beep, maybe, he can tell, like a dog smelling storms, but he keeps watching them and ignores her even when she sets off. Twisting his neck til it cracks and he winces, a sharp intake of breath.
What’s up now? says Angelica.
He shakes his head, nothing.
She looks back at the road. He looks at the sat nav. Normally, they wouldn’t need it, but they’d been for a long weekend away, and the route had grown tricky at the other end of the trip. It gives them ten minutes, but he knows the roads, she’s driven him back here from her place often, and normally from this point it only takes five. Maybe less, today, at this speed. Though, once they hit the village outskirts, she’ll have to slow for the bumps and the camera with its lines on the road.
They could change direction, take a left at this next junction instead of straight on. Maybe they’d pass that man and his son again, if they didn’t live in-between. He studies the sat nav, tries to calculate how long it would take to reach that retail park, to find somewhere to look at high-chairs and sippy-cups and miniature trainers and those little gates you put at the bottom of staircases, or across the hall by the back door, if it’s open, if it’s one of those miraculous days when there’s warm air and clear sun.
Why are you looking at me like that? she says, though he didn’t think she’d noticed.
He can’t think of an answer. The music’s still too loud, the rattle of her steering wheel still too perturbing. He just stares at the road. Tries to calculate time and distance, according to velocity. No, the other way around. Gives up, checks the speedometer. Perhaps she wants to get stopped. By him? How? His mouth is dry and his temples throb. Somewhere in all this, the volume has risen, the song has changed. The lyrics are vague and vocoderized, but seem to be about the feckless manly impulse to ditch responsibility and run. Whether in hatred or praise, it’s difficult to tell. Angelica’s hands are tapping harder, he’s certain.
Until the engine cuts out and so does the radio, and, still looking forwards, she says: We’re here.
Carl is uncertain how his limbs should work. He could do with somebody hacking his circuits, yelling directions, pointing the way.
Didn’t you hear what I said?
I heard, he says.
Perhaps that’ll do it.
He opens the door, climbs out, pulls the seat forward. He reaches behind it and starts unloading his things.
Dan Micklethwaite lives and writes in a shed that he’s built in a tripartite back garden in a small town in West Yorkshire, UK. This week, he plans to write three stories and sketch a copy of a famous portrait of Cormac McCarthy. His work has featured in various magazines, including 3:AM and The Missing Slate. Further examples of such can be found here: http://smalltimebooks.blogspot.co.uk/