from a work in progress
Towns at rest, people on their way home, intermittent patches of glitter and dark everywhere, all the little things that make up life danced restlessly through her lashes. Leaning her head against the car window, Kara felt wide awake with fear and curiosity. Houses rolled past her by like a tracking shot in a movie, blurring and disappearing from her view the next moment. But they didn’t hold her interest for long. The passenger seat (the safe haven) and the speed (a delicious break from the reality of the moment) were half-assing their jobs too. On the other side of the car, Tomás kept giving sighs of helpless irritation, distracting her from her attempt to stay distracted.
‘Damn you,’ she muttered softly to herself, burying her face in her coat.
He didn’t look at her. He drove quickly, without saying a word, and his eyes were nothing but silence. Bright and alert, like a small animal that has just noticed that a much larger one is nearby, his thoughts raced. Now she knew, and she would not be silent. He had to show her things he could not show anyone, because now she would go back and question everything out loud. If only he could go fast enough to lose himself in a vortex. Anything bigger than him would do, because for once Tomás did not want the blame, the trouble, and the girl.
Fidgeting in her seat, she finally turned to face him. He looked tormented. She didn’t like the complications of real life and would have been happy to forget this story if he had only asked her. If only he had asked for anything. But his persistence worried her. Life in the New World was easy, and that quality got to her nerves as time went on. Now her mind was spinning with countless thoughts about the crazy things he seemed to believe (because of the heavy drinking or because he had never received treatment).
Out of life, she had picked a few things she liked that did not have tormented faces: Highways, rooftops, public swimming pools, houses with big gardens, apartments high up on the last floor, oranges, tea, red flowers, colourful lighters, sitting by the fire, big windows and bigger beds, sunset, sunrise and sometimes, not going to bed at all, electric people and the life she could have if no one loved her enough to tie her down. But she did not know how to deal with a sad man, because she had never seen one before. They were all in the stories she read, and they were only stories, after all. Unless they were not, and unless his was not either. Finally, she let the alcohol take effect and dispel her thoughts, and closed her eyes.
Much later, when she opened her eyes, Kara realised that they were no longer in the mountains. They were driving across a wide, windy field with no trees or houses on either side of the road, at a speed that seemed to match that of light, straight into nothingness.
Her lips were dark and dry and she longed for a glass of water. She had barely mumbled a few words when she remembered that he would not say anything until they got there. That was what he had said, that he would not talk, and she could not help it. Well, to hell with him.
‘Pull over,’ she managed.
‘Oh, no, I will not,’ he said, as if he’d had the answer ready all along. ‘There’s nothing to do here. If you are going to turn me in, I might as well drive you all the way up there so you can take a look at what you have done first.’
‘Kara, you have to trust me on this one, ok?’
‘Look, I wouldn’t…why would I report you if you stopped driving like an animal? I wouldn’t even know what to report you for, except for drunkenly talking nonsense about me.’
He slowed down, but he did it without a word.
‘Oh fuck your professionalism, Tomás! Just tell me what the hell is going on! Now stop this stupid car and let me take my break—’
‘Wait a minute.’
Tomás stopped the car and looked at her with wide, curious eyes. The whole thing lasted a few seconds and surprised her.
‘Thank you for stopping,’ she smiled.
She was scared out of her wits. He wouldn’t know that.
He waited a few seconds before nodding slowly in her direction and taking one out.
‘Why do you think I,’ she lit hers, then handed him the lighter, watching his every move in hopes of clues, ‘would turn you in?
You didn’t take me out drinking. I snuck out on you. I wouldn’t report my own bad behaviour.’
Tomás laughed to himself and slowly shook his head in disbelief.
‘If that’s the case, what would happen if I reported you?’
‘Roles reversed?’ she smiled, ‘I’d lie and say you lied, I guess.’
There were troubled waters beneath the surface, and she would never swim in them, nor would others, ever. But he would dive deep. She knew it, because despite the game of hide and seek, there was more depth in Tomás than she could imagine. That in itself was incredibly exciting for someone who had imagined people like him all his life, while he devoured one book after another.
She felt a little shy and self-conscious, yes. After all, it was his job to dive deep into her world, not the other way around. But the whole thing swirled nicely in her head, because it meant she would be seeing him a little longer. Being afraid of him no longer crossed her mind. Funny how that works, she thought.
He seemed to think about it for a while, but finally he put his arm around her. She could feel him trembling.
‘Is the radio on?’
His voice, like everything else up there, was cool and unfamiliar, but surprisingly moving.
Love at first sight, then.
She straightened in her seat, laid her head back and closed her eyes. Hell or heaven she had ever been in—now that he seemed to be on her side, she was in for the thrill. This was one of those moments she had read about in her grandmother’s books that seemed to come from another world—no, it was another world, the Old World.
It was her and this man and their complicity and their bodies and fingers and thoughts intertwined in the night, the cigarettes and the alcohol and the lies they had just promised each other to save their skins. The bad and the worst, the feeling of being alive with each other, far from home, a place that did not feel like home to either of them, last night, tonight, tomorrow night…
‘My God, you weren’t kidding. I didn’t take you seriously earlier. I should have, right? Oh, please tell me I shouldn’t have.’
Night came in, dark, powerful, magical.
‘If I’d known you wouldn’t know when I meant something, I wouldn’t have bothered to drive y’ all the way here. But now that we’ve come this far, what do you say I show you what your imagination has produced?’
The principle by which the New World operated was very simple, but had innumerable unexpected effects: The bad had to be eradicated. This was a very noble idea, and it had been around since Eve ate the beautiful apple. Only, of course, it never worked. The bad could be swept under the rug, no doubt, but the rug was still in the house. While the good thrived, the bad was just around the corner, the shadow on the wall in the dark, the bump under the comforter, the thing no one would have suspected beneath the cleverly layered, multi-layered stories.
In Kara’s case, the evil—surprise, surprise—wasn’t inside her, but out there. Up there. There it is, his eyes confirmed. She gasped in horror as he put his hand on her knee.
‘Welcome to everything the New World has kept from you.’
to be continued