I’m not sure what car I’m driving.
All I know is that its a manual transmission, 5 gear system, though my feet has been on the gas for a while now and I haven’t had to slow down yet. I don’t know where I am, or where I’m headed to. I’m just driving.
The last thing I remember was laying in the hospital bed speaking to Katie and Susie. They were crying. Fuck it. *We* were crying. I was unbearably weak and it hurt to cry but I cried nonetheless. It was the thought of not being able to see Susie grow up. The thought of not being able to cuddle with my wife after a long day at work. Cancer was a bitch.
When all was said and done, I opened my eyes to this highway. I don’t know what the weather is like but I can feel the wind in my hair and it feels good. It’s dark. I think I’m in a sandy area. It’s hard to tell from the darkness, but no matter how much I try to focus on my surroundings, my eyes get pulled back to the road. The smoothness of it, the way the car handles.
I’ve been driving long enough that I’m beginning to feel like the car was specifically made for me. It handles so fucking well, it’s like whoever put me in it, created it from scratch from everything in my memory. Everything about the car feels like the best aspect of all the cars I’ve ever driven.
Time is useless. I’ve tried counting the seconds to minutes to hours and I’ve given up on the idea. Time is inconsequential. The more I enjoy riding in the car, the more the wind makes me feel calm, I keep casting my mind back to when I met Katie.
It was at University. First week. The student unions had organised a bar crawl around the local town and I had joined my new housemates out that night. Katie was in the second bar we entered in. She stood by herself at the bar, drinking. I know I was tipsy but the way the light caught her frame, it was like time slowed to a stop. Blonde haired, fit-bodied beauty that I stammered my way to a conversation that made her laugh.
Then she poured her drink over me and stomped out the bar.
I chuckle at the memory. It had taken two months after that before I met her again. Turns out we share a course. I think I had apologized then but she still didn’t accept it. But I’m persistent. I think. Wore her down with my charm. The sudden brightening of my surrounding pulls me out of my memory. I am in a black desert after all. Odd.
Never knew black deserts were possible.
Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever really opened my eyes to new things without Katie’s help. And Susie. And Martha, Joe, Shawn and every other person.
There was this one time when…
I would like to believe that I have been driving for decades at this point. It’s just a random number but it is the best I can estimate. It’s the least I want to estimate. The feeling I had gotten from the drive initially has dissipated away. It took a few years for that glow to wipe away. Now I see it for what it really is.
The black desert had been an illusion. A trick of the eye. A sleight of hand to make me believe I was experiencing that which had never been seen before. I couldn’t be farther from the truth. I quickly found out that the longer I drive, the more I remember about my life. The memories I had once thought forgotten come back to the forefront of my mind. The images would flash through me, vividly as if I am living it anew.
I remember with more detail than I care for, the feeling of my mum’s breastfeeding. I remember the first punch I took to the face because my father decided it was never too early in my life to show me how much of a bastard he was. I remember discovering new sensations under the Oak tree behind the house, before we moved locations after the divorce. I remember the lies. The heartbreaks, every single one of them.
With each memory, the environment lightens up. When I woke up to this scene, it was as dark as a quiet night down the highway. Now it’s as bright as summer’s day. And I understand why. I wonder if Katie would judge me. After all, she’s the reason I’ve done the things I’ve done.
As I said, decades here make you think. And when you’re remembering everything, you remember the bad too. I remember the secrets I’ve buried and all the times I forced it back into the grave whenever it tried to surface.
When Katie was still pregnant with Susie… things were hard. I remember the letters of foreclosure I hid from her view. The mortgages were getting to me, I was demoted at work, funds were tight and I found myself increasingly at the bottom of numerous bottles. It was bleak and with her due date approaching, I found myself in a dark place. She kept saying it will be alright… whenever she saw me worry.
“We’ve got this…”
That was her favourite saying.
I remember the downtrodden bar I walked into that night. The seedy kind with the “no camera” rule for accountability or lack thereof purposes. I remember the 10 shots of “me intentionally trying to kill myself” shots I had before I got roped into a conversation on making quick cash. Some men had propositioned me. They needed a driver. And they were offering to pay some disgusting amount of cash.
I was skittish at first, but then I remembered why I was at the bar and not with Katie.
So I agreed.
I was the driver of four unfortunate men that night.
But I got the money I needed to bounce back.
The sun is hanging high in the sky at the moment, and it’s so goddamn hot. The speed of the car doesn’t change but the wind blowing through my hair has lost its cool. It’s hot air now. The uncomfortable kind. I undo the top buttons of the shirt I didn’t notice I was wearing. I guess my awareness is returning with my memories, albeit at a slower pace. My fingers feel cramped up and I take some time to flex both hands.
It is only then I notice that I am not alone in the car. In fact, with that realisation, I get the intense feeling that reveals to me that I haven’t been alone in the car since the beginning of my journey.
So I turn.
I turn to face the four men, whose faces I wished to never see again.
I can’t stare at them for long. My eyes get pulled back to the road. So I take glances at them, just as they take glances at me. I see their expressions change from fear to anger to fear again. They think I am the one who’s brought them here. I want to tell them that we are all stuck in the same car but when my mouth opens, no sound comes out of it. Nothing. I try again but I hear nothing, and my mouth doesn’t move either.
I close it and focus back on the road, even as it transports me back to the night I met the four gentlemen.
Jack, Ahmed, Lewis and Rocky. Jack and Lewis were brothers, with the former being the eldest. Ahmed was a friend of theirs from a life before. They wouldn’t explain where but I don’t think I was lucid enough to demand to know. I was in doubles by then and the talk of money meant I didn’t really care about the extra information. Rocky was like me. A straggler recruited to join an expedition of sorts.
The plan was that I was going to drive them to a location for them to pick up some stuff, then drive to another location where I’d just have to wait for a few moments, before driving to go pick the money up. The location of the money was going to be given after they had returned from wherever I was going to be waiting for them at. Temporarily skittish, but money won.
They had made me chug down a lot of water before the drive began.
You have to be very awake, they had repeated as I threw up and drank more water outside the bar.
You’re our important piece.
Ahmed gave everyone a pair of gloves to wear, on account of the cold, or so I thought before we had all piled into a nondescript white van, with Jack and I in the front. The rest of the lads had piled up in the back. I drove them to the shed of a house out in the country, past midnight, where I waited as they went to retrieve their tools from the shed. I figure, out of mind, out of fucking sight, you know.
If I don’t know what ‘tools’ they are getting from the shed, I don’t have to know what job it is they are doing past freaking midnight.
They all return, excited about the trip ahead. I nervously nod as Jack directed me to the next location. The drive there was quiet. Jack didn’t talk much but instead seemed to periodically massage a slight bulge of sorts in his jacket pocket. My mind had screamed that it was a gun which made my body more obedient. If it was a weapon, I wasn’t going to act out while I was driving. My grip on the wheel had tightened in response.
He made me stop on a quiet street in the suburbs. The street was empty as well as the houses. I didn’t have to wonder anymore about what I had been drawn into. I was with robbers. Jack made me give him my ID, on account of me not getting cold feet at the last minute, which was a plan I had hoped to enact. I curse in my head as he took my wallet before vanishing into the darkness with his boys.
Those were the first longest waiting period I’d ever have to endure. The seconds dragged on and I kept apologising to Katie in my head. I had cried a few times too, lamenting at the stupid excuse I had given her.
“Working late baby… Will be back in the morning”, was my official story.
It felt like I was probably going to die.
My phone had vibrated and I had checked to see who was messaging me. Katie. I read the message from the notification but I don’t reply. I can’t reply. I can’t bring myself to.
After an excruciating thirty minutes wait, they had returned rushing back into the van, urging I put my foot on the gas and peel off. The window separating the guys in the back and us in front was open even as the details of the nights’ events spilled out before me. It was worse than I thought. I knew then that I was damned.
“Whatever you do, don’t fucking stop…” Jack had said excitedly as he licked his lips.
He had placed the gun I suspected he had on the dash of the van even as I sped through the street. I look through the rearview mirror and catch the colour of bright red flash before I turn the corner. Smoke. Fire.
As the others chattered on in the background, I gathered more information about the group of men I had associated myself with that night. Hired killers. They hadn’t gone to rob a house. They had gone to kill a man and his family. Except the reason it had taken so long for them to return is because of the heinous acts they had committed to the family. I remembered saying a quiet prayer for them.
I swallowed back a vomit as Jack made a call. I had heard him mumble a few sentences but the words that stood out to me was money and account. Once the call was done, Jack called out to the group.
“Guys… we’re home free. $10 MIllion. They are sending the address over, we can split the cash and pretend we don’t know each other” Jack called out laughing, even as the burner phone buzzed.
10 fucking million…
His eye lit up while mine locked on the gun. For self preservation.
The weather is fucking sweltering at the moment. I feel like I should be dying, dead or melting at this point but the drive continues. My shirt is off. My trousers are off. I’m driving fucking naked. The car moved regardless of whether or not my feet was on the gas. My hands are the only thing glued to the wheel.
My passengers are naked too. They can feel the heat. The car speeds up faster and faster and the heat is unbearable. I know why they look afraid. Why they looked like they were…begging. It made sense after the memory.
My secret is not that I was with them on the night they raped and killed a family.
It is a secret. But not The secret.
The van that night had a locking mechanism that meant whoever is in the back can’t open the door from inside. It had to be done from outside. So when we were close to a bridge I recognised, I grabbed the gun from the dash and put some bullets into Jack without hesitation. I remember the howl his brother made as I grabbed the burner phone. I pointed the van towards the water and exited the vehicle. I watched it go over the edge. I waited to hear the splash. I made a copy of the location of the money before making an anonymous call to the Police.
Then I had left.
Once I had gotten the money, I made another call that night to tell someone that “it’s gone full circle”
“We’ve got this…”
I smile ruefully as the memory dissipates. I glance again and find that the four passengers in my car are gone. It’s just me now. Alone in the burning heat as the car speeds up. I wonder if that’s the trick of the road. Maybe it is supposed to make me reflect on my act. I chuckle at the idea.
I don’t think I’m getting off the road like the four men just did. I think I will be driving for a long time. There is so much more aspects to that secret after all.
I do wonder though…
I wonder when Katie will join me.