My Live Reading
“I rescue people. I guess.”
“Rescue? Like a shining knight?”
Nick stared at Jackie as if seeing her for the time. It had been eight years afterall. In that time, his memories of her had become distorted, altering some of her features. The way her neck sloped to her back, the way her earlobes curved into an oval. All minute details that had somehow been rewritten in the imperfect circuitry of the brain.
“I’m more of the knight that always arrives too late,” he responded. “By the time people call me, it’s usually more of a mop-up job.”
With her eyes focused on the road, his gaze wandered to her legs where her skirt had parted. He glimpsed a flash of thigh; nothing especially revealing but Nicholas found himself interested. No good could come of that.
“So that’s your calling card? Arriving too late? Like 8 years too late?”
The car shuddered as it cruised across the country road. This late in the season, the uneven gravel had been compacted as hard as concrete.
“You’re not letting me off easy this time, are you?”
“What do you mean, Nick? You’re in my car. That’s way ahead of where you should be. I should’ve left you behind at the flower shop.”
Flowershop. Have I been at the flowershop?
Nick glanced at the speedometer. The needle swung slowly past 50kms.
“I never pictured you in a car like this.”
“Good change of subject. Very smooth. What did you picture me driving?”
“I don’t know. Something yellow. Something feminine.”
“Like a beetle bug,” she offered.
“This is only a borrowed car. My beetle’s in the garage.”
“Borrowed? Who would lend you this?”
She turned to him. “You don’t want to know.”
Nick gave a nod, preferring if she kept her eyes on the road. Even back in high school, her driving made him nervous. Not because of a general lack of skill but because she often couldn’t keep her attention focused ahead. Jackie much preferred to be flipping through radio stations, keeping beat with the songs by tapping the steering wheel with her palms.
The speedometer climbed past 65. Probably a little too fast for the roads, especially this time of night when the stabbing cones of her headlights only gave a moment of clarity. Nick settled further into the passenger seat.
“Do you sometimes wonder, Jackie, what could’ve been?”
“If you didn’t run away, you mean?”
“That’s unfair. I never ran away.”
“Unfair? What’s unfair is you never calling me once. Not once since you left. Even a quick note would’ve helped. Instead, I hadn’t heard from you until today. You could’ve joined the army for all I knew.”
“I did the army.”
“That’s not the point. You left me out her by myself, Nick. People that care for each other don’t do that. They don’t abandon one another.”
But Nick wasn’t listening. Something else was playing in his mind, ruining his concentration. The Flower shop.
Had he been to the flower shop? Like a wisp of a dream, the harder he tried to pull the memory from his unconscious mind, the further it retreated.
“I was at the flower shop?”
“More games?” Her lips were pursed.
Nicholas remembered something about the police being at the shop. Or people who looked like police. There was an ugly man, who had seemingly been infected with red hair which streamed from his nose, ears, and curled from underneath his hat. That man had been a cop. Nicholas recalled a gun, and the booming blast of the discharge.
“No games. I came to see you this afternoon. I went into the flowershop,” he recited, as if saying it aloud might make it real. “You thought I was someone named Josh.”
“Why are you bringing Josh into this?”
“This doesn’t seem right, ” Nick said to himself as he stared out the window. Through the darkness, he focused on the blur that was the edge of the road.
They were on a path of inevitability. Like being on a train heading towards a shattered bridge, Nicholas knew they were heading somewhere dark. Somewhere bad.
“I’m telling you what happened this afternoon,” he said. “There were police. I just can’t seem to remember.”
The speedometer was above 90kms. The car sagged to the right as the suspension struggled to keep with the curves of the road.
“You’re going too fast,” he said.
“How could you leave me like that, Nick?” Her voice cracked. “You left me all alone.”
“There’s a bend in the road coming up. If you don’t slow down, we won’t make it.”
“Isn’t your whole life about taking risks?”
“Calculated risks. You’re going to kill us both.”
The car swerved again. She was overdriving her headlights now.
Nick braced himself by placing his hands on the dashboard. The vinyl was sticky.
Sticky? He recognized that texture – he had experienced it too many times in his line of work. Blood.
“Jackie,” he said calmly. “Where did this blood come from?”
She ignored him, her foot fully on the floor.
His eyes followed the blood along the dash, to smeared palm prints on the passenger window, to the fingerprints on the metal door handle.
“There’s a lot of blood. Tell me where it came from.”
She turned to him, smiled, and said, “It’s ours.”
She jerked the wheel to the right. The car shuddered and left the road.