The rusting door slammed shut. The two people stared out of the windscreen at the pattern of burnt-orange brickwork. She slowly reached behind her shoulder for the seatbelt and stared ahead. Her eyes followed the cement between the bricks as she pulled at the cold metal clip.
“Get out,” he said.
Startled, she lost the metal clip. She paused, and then looked at the door handle willing for something to happen. “Please, don’t,” she said turning to him. He stared at her. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking. They waited in silence. Everything was still except for clouds of breath.
He grabbed for the handbrake. She flinched and held her breath, the clouds stopped. He took the handbrake off and reversed at speed.
“I haven’t got my belt on,” she said. He didn’t hear her; he didn’t want to hear her. He had his arm around the back of her chair to look out of the back window. She frantically pulled at her belt. It was locking. She let go and took a deep breath, pulled it gently and buckled it with a soft click. The car came to a sudden stop. He smiled at her and pushed the car into first gear.
The car accelerated along the suburban road, out of the junction onto the main road. She dug her fingernails hard into the worn seat and pushed hard against the headrest. They continued down the road, narrowly missing parked cars and the oncoming traffic. She looked at him again. He looked different when he was like this. The lines on his face looked deeper, like scars. She traced the pattern with her fingernail on the seat. He was concentrating, his hands gripped to the steering wheel.
“What?” he said.
There were so many things she could say to him. Please, stop driving so fast. Please, slow down. Please, turn the car around. I’m sorry. But after what she’d done? Tell him what to do? “Err. I just err was thinking, you know, thinking if it. Red light. Stop. Stop. Red.” The engine revved angrily and the car passed the crossroads.
The car turned down a number of streets, ones she didn’t know or like. Out of the passenger window, the scenery merged into a scribble of the skeleton-like tree branches, tall grey lampposts and orange dots. She couldn’t focus on one particular spot, she tried, but this soon gave her a headache. They overtook a dark green car. They were going at a speed so that the central white lines were now one continuous blur. She held one hand on her stomach, she felt worse.
“Don’t tell me how to drive” he said. He reached into one of the car compartments and took out his box of cigarettes, it was his last one. He held it in his mouth, put the window down and tossed the empty packet out. “Light.” She picked up the red lighter and passed it to him. His thumb revved along the striker wheel a few times. He shook it and ripped his thumb over the wheel again, lit his cigarette and tossed the lighter out the window as well. He took one, long drag and wound the window back up. She hated the smell of smoke. The road had quietened down but he was still speeding. His eyes were the perfect shade of brown, even when he was like this, his eyes never changed, she thought. He put the cigarette back in his mouth; the end glowed like molten rock. The clouds of smoke poured out and filled the car with a soft, nicotine haze leaving the grey ash balancing on the end of the cigarette. Maybe, this was her fault.
The cigarette burned and the ash crawled slowly along the white paper. She saw this and watched the grey flakes grow. She knew it wouldn’t take long. She kept quiet. The car swerved violently to the right. His attention had snapped. He panicked. Using his palm, he scuffed the burnt patch on his jeans. She imagined that the ash would have burned through. And it had. She sat still with her lips pursed together. He mumbled and cursed under his breath, wound the window down and threw the cigarette out.
“This. Is all your fault,” he said. “You make me do this. You know you do. You know what you’re doing. Well it stops now. Otherwise you know what’ll happen. And nobody will care. No. Not one. No one cares about you.” The car was still swerving.
“Please what?” He snapped, grabbing her wrist and shaking it violently with each syllable.
“You’re hurting me,” she said. His attention drifted again, this time from the road to her and continued to hold her wrist. He tilted his head.
“Please what?” He was laughing now.
The back wheel pounded. The car braked hard, screeched and the tyres scraped along the gravel. The car was still.
“What the-” He looked in the rear view mirror and then turned to look out of the back windscreen. “Wait there. Don’t move.”
He stepped out of the car, walked off behind and crouched down. She watched him out of the wing mirror. Her eyes were glistening. She could see what had happened. Her face was beginning to crack into what seemed to be a grin.
“It’s a cat. I’ve hit a cat. What do I, what do we-? It has a collar. And it’s still alive. I think. Is there a vet? We can ring the people on its collar. Phone. Where’s my phone? Do you-?”
“Get in” she said. “Get in, now.”
He scrambled into the car seat. His eyes had changed. They were young. She looked at the black smudge on his light blue Levis. She had never felt so much satisfaction in watching his desperation.
“Now, listen to me and do as I say. You’re going to turn the engine on. And you’re going to reverse. You’re going to reverse slowly. And once we’ve reversed enough, we’re going to keep driving. Okay?” He looked at her in disbelief. His mouth opened. He couldn’t speak, he felt sick. His eyes drifted and he nodded. “Turn it on.” His eyes filled as he twisted the key in the ignition. He blinked and a tear fell down his cheek. “Reverse...Slowly. We need to feel it” He shut his eyes tightly and reluctantly moved the gearstick into reverse. The gravel crunched underneath the tyres. The branches and lampposts and little orange dots crept past them on either side. She glared into the wing mirror. The cat was black, except for its paws, they were white. She thought it would be a lovely family cat, if it was hers she might have called it Socks. She smiled. It was a cold evening, the moon gleamed above them. The car had slowed down a little. The back tyre lifted and dropped, the front tyre lifted and dropped. The crunch of gravel hushed and the engine purred. “Drive,” she said.
Charlottte is a student currently studying English at Sheffield Hallam University. She is 20 and has lived in Sheffield throughout her life. As well as enjoying creative writing at University, she is also a classical pianist.