Sunday, 6 December 2009

"Our Song" 3400 word short story

He pelted down the grassy knoll at full tilt. He didn't stop until he ran slap bang into the car door. The sickening slap of flesh stopping up hard against glass reverberated in the still air. Head splayed against the passenger window, legs pinioned against the steel door like a butterfly mounted on a cork. If she didn't know him better, she'd believe him to have had the very life crushed out of him. But she knew him very well indeed. It simply wasn't possible to know another discrete human being better than they knew one another. This was him doing his outsized bug squished against a metal carapace routine. Again.


She herself took more dainty steps down to knoll, since it was icy underfoot. As it unfailingly was at this frozen time. The frore grass crinkled as she tiptoed along, a sound that conferred shivers down her spine that owed nothing to the temperature. Lovers Lane always had that effect.


She arrived at her mate spreadeagled against the unyielding barrier. She canted her neck just enough to see that he had interposed his hands between his temple and the glass. Skillful sleight of hand, consonant with him being a wrestling devotee. Where all along you knew the violence was dexterously implied. The two of them hadn't implied or faked anything however.


Finally he bobbed his head. His hands now serving for blinkers, as he tried to pierce the darkness within. He arched his shoulders back in order to unclamp his pate from the window. Affording his breath some range to wreathe itself against the glass. Then he rubbed at it with the elbow of his puffa jacket. He returned to his scrutiny, moving his hands around the window like a doctor tapping a chest cavity. He shot her a grin, then blew breath out towards her, yet it never arrived. Freezing and petrified in the air before being able to lick her with a burning raw kiss. "It's on the inside alright". She contented herself with a tight nod and concentrated on working her chin deeper into her coat's muffler. "Same as it ever was" as he rapped on the window. His knuckles were covered in rime.


She walked over to the driver's side. She gave it a cursory gaze, before she too blew on the window and then rubbed away at it. Her woolen coat didn't emit the same nerve-shredding friction squelch as had his puffa. She wrapped her hands around her shoulders and tried to hug herself warm. Nothing doing. He shifted over to the side of the bonnet and bevelled both fists down on to it and stared into the space between his arms. As if consulting an imaginary map. Or trying to remember the co-ordinates of some blurred memory. She was burrowing deeper and deeper into herself. He couldn't catch her eyes. He extended his hands across the bonnet's partition out towards her. She didn't break her obtection, the pupa yet to bloom into a butterfly. He wiggled his fingers. He would unthaw her. He always did.


She tried not to break into a smile, but she couldn't steel herself enough. She branched out her arms to meet his hands. Palm to palm, his dwarfing hers. They brought the pads of their fingers together, steepling their hands. He quickly manouevred them into interlocking and before she knew it, he had raised them into a vault over the bonnet. She knew what this was a signal for. They both started sidling along their respective sides of the car, hands joined in a wedding arch, canopying the car beneath them. On reaching the boot, back they turned once again. Picking up the ceilidh's pace, moving into a skip. Wheeling this way and then that, rocking their arms as their exertion trails hung in the air like unspoken sweet nothings. Like confetti frozen in mid-flight.


They collapse across the bonnet. Steam rising from both of their bodies chafed at by the cold air. Great beaming grins on their empty faces. He winks at her. They slide off the bonnet and resume their vaulted arch. Two grooves diverging from the slick ice on the bonnet mark their wakes. As they dance, they bring their arms scything down over the bonnet and boot and raise them back up to clear the bubble roof. This time they do not keep to their side of the car, but carry wildly on round the chassis, Dipping their heads into their respective front seat side windows. Seems they are possessed of enough boundless spirit to keep this reel going for eternity.


*

The hand , pinned between a shoulder and passenger seat, has developed pins and needles. Colloquially termed 'going to sleep', when in fact it is feverishly pounding its pain gong to rouse the rest of the body which is in slumber. The tiny stabs at first are absorbed into a persecutory dream, but somehow the overwrought brain manages to convey the internecine nature of these forces and stirs the boy into consciousness. He can't believe they've fallen asleep, tonight of all nights. He tries to extricate his hand from its press. "Mmm, don't. I'm comfortable" she murmurs. He contents himself using his free hand to pick away a curl that has fallen across her closed eye. She curls up closer into his puffa padded warmth, still in the land of nod. He takes the opportunity to extricate his hand. It feels swollen, though he knows this only to be the interruption of the blood flow yielding untrustworthy impressions for his gray matter. He holds it against the quilted weave of his other sleeve. It is hard to determine which of the two is more inflated right now.


He fumbles with the key in the ignition. The problem is he can't calibrate his movements with a hand that's not only awry, but also shaking. He grabs its wrist with his good hand and steadies himself. he manages to turn the key. "What, so soon?" she inquires dreamily. "No, I'm just trying to warm you up". "Cos I'm not ready-" "No, it's okay. I'm not ready either. Nothing's connected up". "Oww, oww oww it's blowing cold air you wally!" "Sorry. The engine needs to warm up first". "It's not worth it. And I was having a lovely-" She looks up at him, panic in her eyes. He smiles gently and dabs once again at her recalcitrant fringe with reassuring fingers. "No. It doesn't really matter does it?" He entreats his lips to hold their smile, but cannot see that they still betray him by blanching themselves of honest colour. But in the crepuscule she fails to regard this and besides, she is engaged in wiping sleep from her eyes.


"It's okay to feel a little bit scared". Some part of her yearns to raise her head from his shoulder and confront him, but its leaden heaviness only yields torpor. "How can you tell?" His smile widens genuinely into a grin, that crooked grin he knows she is unerringly smitten by. "You're trembling!" "Well I'm freezing aren't I?" "I can feel your heart pounding too!" He mimes the motion of her ticker, breasting his hand against the skin above her heart, then veering it sharply away with the systole. Neither are aware that it more approximates the action of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She snakes her hand out and rests it on his jacket. "I can't feel your heart through your coat. Shows how thin mine is". He arches his shoulders back and makes as if to shuck them from his coat. We can swap if you like. I'll wear yours". "Don't be daft. It's too small for you. It'll rip at the seams". "So what? What difference will it make?" She tilts her head to look up into his face, pressed back into the headrest since he is still frozen half-in and half-out of his jacket. Her face appears to have dropped ten years of ageing, to a time just before he knew her. To a time when she would most definitely be regarded as a little girl. But now, such part regression back in time, when still planted atop a young woman's body... God she is beautiful, even when drained of her usual sparkle. He wondered what his face revealed of him right now. He decompressed his upper body back into his jacket.


"I'm so tired. I want to get it right you know? Is this what it will be like?" This is an impossible question to answer, but he feels some response is called for. His whole upper body naturally puckers towards a shrug, but he manages to depute his fingers to stroke her cheek. She recoils under his touch. "I'm very scared. Hold me". "I'll never let you go". Finally she lifts her head and lasers her eyes on to his as surely as were she tugging his chin with her fingers into direct alignment. "How do we know? How can you say that for certain?" He has to hold her gaze or the moment, the lifetime will pass for ever. He can't even allow himself to blink. Can he risk holding her shoulders to demonstrate his resolve? "Cos we love one another and nothing can change that. Absolutely nothing". They hold each other's stares, looking for a chink. Praying to be steeled in the forge of their eternal love. To have the impurities of thought burned off. His fingers span her cheeks and he pulls her into a kiss. Searing and unfamiliar in the freezing air, even the sound rasped beyond wonted flesh on flesh. Her lips were quavering. He held steady and soothed her tremors. She blinked her eyes shut. He fancied he could discern what was expressed beneath the closed lids and exhaled softly. The breath should have gently stirred the shutters over her eyes, ruffled them open as was the norm. But it was sideswiped and beaten down by the chill.


"Give me your hand". She blindly gropes a hand to fumble into the open cupped embrace of his. "No, no. You need to open your eyes for this". She complies, more with weariness than either irritation or curiosity. Still holding her hand, he leans away from her towards his driver's side window. He breathes on it and brings her hand up to the fogged patch. He uncurls her index finger and uses it to incise through the condensation. He etches a heart from the opacity. Then he extends a finger of his own and draws a second, interlocking heart on the window. He appends their intials and considers an arrow. But by now the breath has evaporated, returning the window to its single translucency. "Very symbolic" she snorts, dragon vapour trails of breath emitting from her nostrils. "We've disappeared in the blink of an eye." He smiles and leans once again to gently exhale over the area. Their hearts of course rematerialise. He keeps up his conjuration by breath over several waxes and wanings. She stares fixedly at both the empty void and the recurring proclamation of their love. "That's all well and good, but it will only last until they tow the car away, scrub it down for clues and then crush it". "No, they'll give it back to my parents. And don't forget the mix CD. That will have to get them to see". He reaches inside her coat and pulls out a caseless CD. It's silver sheen seems alien in the gloom.


"Shall I put it on?" She bites her lip but doesn't respond. "Heroes" starts palpating the speakers. "I've been thinking about the music-" "Bit late to make any changes now". "No, not the track listing. But how do we know which song will be in prime position?" "What do you mean?" She has turned away from him and now she scrolls breath on to the passenger side window. Her gnawed nail trails its wake, but he notices that her finger is shaking. Is she trying to convince herself, as she executes her own twin hearts to posterity? "I mean, which track will be playing when we finally drop off the charts? Which will be the ferryman's song?" "Who knows? It will be on continuous play. Bit like Russian Roul-" "Until the car battery gives out. Then it will all go dead and they won't know". "Who cares? Just as long as we know which song is the last to ring in our ears?" "But this is all about providing definite answers for them. Making it so unutterably clear to them that they are hopelessly wrong about us. There can't be any loose ends. As sure as eggs are eggs, they're going to turn everything over and look for any inkling." 'Look, it will be obvious. Short of us doing with a samurai sword and daubing a message in our blood on the lounge wall-" "Don't! Just don't. This is hard enough".


He moves in to hug her silent. He dips his head and bevels it into her abdomen. It does seem to take the fight out of her. Or maybe just her breath, tugged and wrenched from her by the wincing cold. "Are we sure this method is going to work? Not the aftermath, I mean the actual journey itself?" "It's foolproof. It's probably the most common method". "Well how come, even with the heater on, it's so damn cold in here? That must mean the air from outside is getting in somehow? That the car's not properly sealed?" "It's fine, I promise you". "Then what about where the hose comes in? It won't be a perfect fit and enough air might get in to spoil things. We could end up vegetables. Alive but cut off from one another". I'm not feeding the hose in through any windows. I'll hook it up so that the warm air blowing through the heater here will deliver us the exhaust fumes". "Exhausted fumes". "What?" "Nothing".


She hits the track button and returns the disc to the beginning. He has a flashback image, normally when she's leaning forward like that, it's to reapply her lipstick using the driver's mirror. He's normally the one tasked with the soundtrack for any stationary passage in the car. He looks at the dashboard's clock. It will be light soon he thinks to himself. "If we don't do it soon, someone might see us" he offered flatly. "It's still too early. Who else would be up at this time?" "Well us for one". "Apart from us?" "I dunno, doggers maybe". "Don't! Always you have to cheapen it don't you?" "I'm sorry babes. I'm sorry. I'm so sorr-"


*

They cease their dance once again facing their respective side windows of the car. He raps his knuckles on the driver's, his fist precisely in the centre of the love hearts. He receives a thumbs up from inside. He drops her hands and walks slowly over to the rear of the car. A rubber hose lies limp and forlorn under the chassis. He sinks to his haunches and has to prop himself up against the car to prevent himself overbalancing. His hand is trembling, but he manages to thread it over the rusty exhaust pipe. Corroded or not, the metal chastises his flesh with an icy touch. He steps awkwardly out of his crouch and trudges back to the driver's door. He knocks on the glass once again, but this time with less percussion. The engine revs once, but then settles back into its contented purr. Evidently it is having no truck with the cold affecting its performance.


She pops her head up over the roof towards him. "Which one is playing now, can you hear?" He places his ear against the glass, but it is shaken free by the car's vibration. "It's hard to tell. It's all a bit fuzzy. That might be the gas dampening everything. See told you there was no problem with it being sealed". "Oh yes, you were so right about everything". She holds out her fingers and waggles them at him. Whether her intent was to mock, he gives no indication of being affronted but merely grasps them. They massage each other's fingers while entwined. "You didn't stay with me!" He yanks both her arms towards him, forcing her chin on to the bonnet. "You went first, leaving me on my own. Looking at you and not being able to have you". He swivels her wrists in his, twisting and contorting her arms, elbows pointing outwards like question marks. "Well you'd already let go of my hand. More concerned with your own throat than us going together". She strains to reverse her upturned hands, but he holds fast. Her wrists exposed from their sleeves appear vulnerable. The veins enticing and goading. "It was an instinct. Nothing I could control. Your throat constricts..." He drags her forwards wholly on to the bonnet. With its slick rime, she slides right up underneath his face. He looks like he could either slap or kiss her. "Yeah well I must have gone first cos of lower body mass or something. The monoxide overpowered me faster". He distended his arms and sent her skidding back across the bonnet away from him. He brings one hand up to his throat, she still fully extended at the end of the other hand. "Things we never thought of. Could never have thought of". Still gripping his hand, she works up on to her haunches and slides back across the bonnet, scissoring her legs a straddle round his hips. "The body puts up a hell of a fight. But our love overcame it all the same". He wheels away so her body whips round away from the car. He starts rotating on the spot, spinning her round the fulcrum of his body. They wheel around ceaselessly, until alerted by the car's engine cutting out "Stop! It's making me dizzy. I feel... light-headed".


He gently levers her back to the ground. She dismounts from him. They each return to their respective sides of the car. He grasps the door handle, but is careful to buttress his body against the panel. He only wants to inch the door open. The door clicks open with a sodden clunk. He slithers his hand in to prop up the boy inside. He gapes the door further open. The boy's body sags towards him but he is able to brace the slump. He repositions the corpse upright. Then he reaches across it to gently cup the girl's head turned away against its window. He gets his hand beneath her cheek and gingers her head away from the window. Her matted hair erases the faint imprint of the interlocked hearts. He places her head so that it is sitting on the boy's shoulder. He leans across, down into the footwell. He fumbles sightlessly around the floor until he is able to grasp the coarse stem. He brings the rose up and interlaces it between her fingers. He slowly extracts his hand as he backs away from the open door. He is outside the car once again. As he places the flat of his hand against the edge of the door, his face is parallel to the driver's window. He realises that the initials within the boys' hearts have not been reversed, in order to broadcast to the outside world. Little matter he shrugs, since the hearts are barely discernible within the glazed smudge condensed by the gas. "I remembered to do mine though" she chastises over his shoulder having come round to his side of the car. She leans her face on his shoulder, her chin nestling on the bone in order to peer beyond. He does not protest the driving pain.


"Ah the afterglow". "They do look pleased with themselves". "Positively radiant." "Angelic cheeks of the innocent". "Of course! What have they got to feel guilty about?" "Don't start that again". "Do you think they're dreaming of each other?" "No, I think their sleep is dreamless". "And eternal". "And eternal, yes. Except for the anniversary. When we turn over to avoid the coffin sores". "We were just two young kids really." "Exhausted kids". "Exhausted kids indeed. Up way past their bedtime". She jabs her chin into him to vacate. She slams the door shut. Unseen inside, the two corpses flop away from another again with the impact of the door wresting them apart. The rose drops into the footwell.

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