Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear (a short story)

My little nothing-special car careens around a curve; I’m going too fast, the music is blaring, I’m screeching at top volume, only a third of my mind engaged on the act of driving. I am escaping – not once but twice – escaping my location, and escaping my mind. On days like this, when the sun is bright, peering into every crack and pore, illuminating the dust and hidden things, I feel I might crack open like an egg, my contents fried on the hot leather seats. It’s not wholly bad – light is disinfecting, they say.

To drive is to fly, fly away from that possibility, to run from the past. I drive and I drive and I drive, and I don’t mind the endless errands, the to-and-fro, I don’t mind sitting with my legs cramped in this poor woman’s car for the entire day if necessary, because I am running, and it’s easier to run if you can drive. To drive is to fly; the wheels our limited human version of wings. On wheels is the only place I can soar.

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The warm crackle of the bonfire is a constant in my ears as I sit, huddled into myself, egg-shaped, the hard metal chair cutting into my back, as I watch you over the flames. You sit with a guitar in your arms, eyes closed, crooning, and all are crooning with you. A gathering of bohemian souls, awash with the light of the fire in its cleansing glory. Somehow, inexplicably, I am privy to this moment and I feel like a voyeur. I, sitting apart, a watcher, a wallflower. I get away with it because I have a pen, because they assume (secretly hope) I will document them.

I was never much of a singer.

But this is a lie I tell myself.

My reed-thin voice is of its own design; it is a mechanism, a thin egg-shell to enclose the tender yolk within. I cannot disguise pain from my voice. No matter the monotone I cultivate, it comes out in a wavering ribbon of unbeaten egg white, flowing and trembling through the cracks, giving me away. This happens in my normal speaking voice, when I speak of things beyond the comfort zone, when I zoom past the barriers I’ve erected for this purpose, and I’ve learned to talk with my hands to keep it at bay. When I sing, my hands are rendered mute and the voice emerges. The shell cracks and out I seep, and all is laid bare, and you can see, and you can see, and you can see. I cannot bear to be seen.

Not unless it’s through a filter.

But they are all singing, these denim-clad souls with their craft beer, cold and dripping with organic dew, with their sparkling eyes and clear skin, signs of health, of wealth; I long to be part of it, I want to be a bohemian, too, an artist, some inspired thing, mysterious and admired, part of the club. The kind of woman with free-flowing hair who oozes sensuality, who bakes homemade bread and strums out tunes on a sticker-covered guitar, barefoot, in flowing skirts. Some modern-day hipster Venus. Instead of this cracked, poor, pitiful excuse of a whatever. A woman who barely looks the part, who is inspired by everyone yet inspires no-one. What good is the pen I hold, if it only leaks ink on my bitter hands? I cannot tell a story if I don’t join a story.

This is utter nonsense, but I’ve learned to torture myself in his stead.

And so, defiant, I raise my voice, just a little, just enough to blend in but not stand out on its own. I sing along with your words to salt the wound and chase the bitterness.

And they hurt. Your words are beautiful but they hurt. Tender, swelling with perfect pitch, warbling intensity, warm and smooth like honey, but. Just when you give yourself to it, let yourself go, it bites.

I picture you as a little boy, doe-eyed and innocent, slightly crooked smile, child’s brows arched in curiosity. I picture you in your room, alone, I picture your scrunched face as it trains itself not to cry, but to sing instead. To write. To channel yourself into art, the way countless others have done before. To dance and writhe and scream it all away – you shaman, you charmer, you beautiful disaster, you punk-rock god-boy – you taught yourself to become art, the canvas and the paint – how do you do that, and will you teach me?

You’re so beautiful it’s hard to look at you, but it’s hard not to, too.

Will you teach me?

Your eyes open and meet mine. Blue on black. For whatever color my eyes are, they are black.

You hear me.

We sing together for a beat, a line, the longest I can go before I shut my mouth and look away. Your eyes don’t blink, and they don’t search. They hold a gaze that is full of a million shared understandings, you have heard the meek that cloaks the bleak, the stuff I’m made of, and the pit between my stomach and my heart clenches and aches and then I’m standing up, unfurling from the chair like a fern frond in the sun, and I’m running, running, running, with the crackle of the bonfire now my past, only the smoke trailing behind me.

It’s like a movie cliché. They always stroke their jaw thoughtfully (is this considered manly? Does it give a ‘man’s man’ a touch of intelligence, of sophistication?), and its always a big, strong, square chin. He strokes his square chin thoughtfully. The black hairs on his knuckles shine in the light overhead. That same square chin has a bit of stubble, a five-o-clock shadow, which makes him distinguished. Like the ‘before’ in a bad commercial for razors. He strokes and strokes his chin, cradles it gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, his chin a treasure in his hand, delicate. It is a moment that seems to repeat on a loop, the record caught, the tape jammed, the car stalled.

The egg cracked.

A fluid movement, the black-haired knuckles unfurling into a fist, moving from chin through air and to face, a quick, serpentine action. It is graceful, and I hate him for that. I hate his choreographed violence, how perfect it is.

The same hand that caresses his chin so thoughtfully smashes into my face without much thought at all.

Gasping, I let myself in through the sliding-glass door, imagining it shattering around my head, the crunch of glass raining down into my hair like shimmering glitter, baptizing me with a million tiny pin-prick cuts, the blood, running from my face in an elegant stream, a beautiful stream, mainly from my eyes, like the devil’s eyeliner.

I imagine so many things breaking; I suppose its good I don’t have that form of ESP where I can make things happen. So many broken shards of glass; they would be everywhere.

I dart down the hall; I don’t know this place well. I stumble into a bathroom. Splash water on my face. Look in the mirror, curse my appearance. Curse the lines around my mouth, the splotchiness of my forehead, my listless stupid fucking hair.

I am so embarrassed. I let myself be seen, and now I will disappear.

A gentle knock on the door. My chest freezes. My mouth forms an “O.” The shower curtain is mildewed and stiff, but I consider wrapping up in it, like a burial shroud.

Sometime later I emerge from the bathroom, confident that whomever knocked went to piss outside and I’m safe and alone. I yearn for the safety of my car. I haven’t drank much, I can flee now, I can fly away. Blast the music so loud my windows rattle, and scream along until my throat is raw. Escape.

But you’re in the hall. You followed me. You waited.

You don’t ask if I’m okay. You don’t smile or nod. You don’t say sorry or even wait for me to speak, to mutter an ‘excuse me’ – instead you reach for me, pull me close, and we hit the wall in a tumble of sweat and smoke and mouths, and I can’t understand why you’re kissing me or why I am kissing back. Your mouth is soft as a pillow but it moves rough. We’re a jumble of fucked up bodies on somebody’s hall carpet, you pressing me against the wall with the length of your body, small and compact though it is, and even though I am taller than you, you’re pushing me upwards, up, up, until I feel my head will hit the ceiling, and your mouth is like fire and I’m melting forever.

I’m hardboiled, bobbing in the water, and I’m solid and I’m seen and I’m –

The pain in me sees the pain in you.

Is there pain yoga? Where people go to do corpse pose and sun salutation and look at each other and cry? Can we stand stock-still, ramrod straight, like trees, and let the pain pour from our veins and down our legs, sticky-sweet and warm? Can we be sap together?

We went on so many drives, he and I. We toured the country. We rode, sometimes with the radio off, sometimes on – and one time I read him poetry as he drove – T.S. Eliot, my favorite – something I always wanted to do, fancying myself a romantic, a literary sap, and now that’s ruined because I did it with him, and he was bad, and I can’t very well do it again – but no matter the background noise, we always rode in silence.

We always rode in silence.

To this day, in the pit between my stomach and my chest, behind the ache, there is silence.

You peel me off the floor.

I’m out of breath, and you are too, but you are beautiful and I am not, all red-faced and leaking air like an overfilled balloon.

You’ve not said a word. You stare at me, your eyes full of…full of me, knowing me, understanding me. I quake. How is it you’ve read all of me when I haven’t written a word? You haven’t seen one single page.

How is it you are everything and nothing all at once?

Will you teach me?

He hated coats. He wore shorts and t-shirts and ugly sandals all year-round, even in the snow. How could a man so ludicrous, so unkempt, manage to break me so utterly. I hate myself for a lot of things but that’s the one I hate the most. The least I could have done is fall for a man who was gorgeous enough to get away with it.

What kind of stinking-shit thought is that, you utter betrayal of womanhood. What kind of backwards, stupid thought is that.

And yet-

Across the bonfire I saw your well-made light brown corduroy jacket, cloaking your arms as you in turn cloaked your guitar, and the corduroy matched the wood and the wood matched your shining hair, and everything about you was so warm and wholesome and alive and real, and I knew if I touched that corduroy of your jacket it would be sturdy but slightly soft, giving way under my fingers and would remind me of my teenage years, of corduroy pants, of a time gone by, of grunge, of youth, and god, I just want to cry thinking about that beautiful jacket and your beautiful mouth. Thinking about the kind of man who picks out a well-made corduroy jacket or a nice pair of soft boots to wear with his ripped jeans, instead of a guy who wears sandals in the winter and strokes his square chin with his hairy-knuckled, beating hands.

I never drove when we were together. It was a skill I acquired – forced of myself – much later. I always let him navigate, man the wheel.

And to this end, there were many nights and days of white-knuckling the ‘oh-shit-handle’ as he sped around mountains, squalled tires in the street, stopped in dark and still places to turn to me with eyes so devious they might have been yellow.

He quite literally drove me…

…well, to the brink. Right to the end of the road and then he stopped and, to our shared surprise, I got out.

Now I’m behind the wheel.

I listen to my music loud.

The pit between my stomach and my chest aches and seems to groan, but I turn the music up louder. I won’t listen to it.

My road is long and weary, but I’ve got plenty of gas in the tank.

Here, in my little car, I am as heard as I want to be. Here I am seen, too, by the sun that streams through my windshield, lighting up my face, warming my thighs.

Here I am the driver and god is my co-pilot, ha ha.

Here I leave you in the dust.

You extend a hand, help me stumble up to my feet. Your mouth twists into a crooked smile, beautiful. Your teeth are pointy and white and I want you to bite me. I don’t say that, though. I don’t say anything. Your blue eyes sparkle and shimmer along with the rest of you.

Unable to control the longing, I reach out and brush a finger over your coat. The corduroy is pliable, soft, but slightly rough to the touch. Just as I imagined. It’s an everyman coat, nothing special, but oh how you wear it. I know it must smell like you. Perhaps there are a few stray hairs clinging to the back of the fabric. Perhaps the inside is emblazoned with your name, in sharpie. Perhaps the pockets are filled with lighters, cigarettes, an errant phone number or two. Your car keys.

You’re still smiling. You lift up your arms, shrug out of the coat. And you wrap it around my shoulders. It slides over me like a hug; envelopes me and my heart fills with sweetness. I open my mouth to protest, but you shush me with a finger on my lips.

You lean forward, and I smell your sweetness, like wine, with a faint hint of smoke clinging to your hair. You plant a gentle kiss on my lips where your finger still rests and then you, your finger and your lips are gone down the hall. I hear a fragment of a tune as you hum your way out into the night. I yearn to go after you, to be a part of it, but it’s not for me.

You are one full person, and it has taken you time to get to that wholeness.

I’m not there yet, but I will be, maybe.

I get in my car.

Hold an egg in your hand. Feel the firm but delicate shell on your palm, cool. The oblong, satisfying slope of the oval. Oeuf. Huevos. The egg is a weird thing, so delicate on the outside, so oddly-made, but inside lies the universe.

What is your desire?

How do I presume?

Do you yearn to crack it under your fingers, exert pressure, feel your strength as the shell gives away in your fingers, splinters, pieces of it sticking to your skin, as the blob tumbles out, plops on the floor without grace? Or do you nurture it, cradle it, place it gingerly back in its crate, because it exists in its own space and purpose and unless its breakfast time, there’s no need for violence?

Breakfast was never my thing.

Sometimes I dream that I’m driving away from him. We’re in some random parking lot, and he’s standing there, and he’s changed, gone are the shorts and sandals; now it’s a sleek black suit, and his hair is slicked back, and he looks so good, so very good, sleek and handsome and almost oiled, but it’s too late, too late, far too late. He’s changed but so have I, and I’m one less egg in your carton, my dear.

I crank the car, and I turn on my music, loud. The heavy wind of our shared city, soon to be my ex-city, whips through the open windows, blows my hair around my face like a tangled halo. I buckle up, because I now care about my safety. I lean the seat back, cocky, look at him from the rearviewmirror. My bitter hand opens, the trim fingers extend, and the middle one grazes across his cheek in my mind, upward, upward, upward, flying like the most triumphant bird you’ve ever seen.

And then I’m gone down the road, leaving him in a cloud of dust that will never remove from his clothes. He will see me every time he tries to wash.

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I took a drive today

time to emancipate

I guess it was the beatings made me wise

but i’m not about to give thanks, or apologize

…saw things so much clearer…

once you were in my rearviewmirror.

-Pearl Jam

I put millions of miles under my heels

and still too close to you I feel…

I am not your rolling wheels

I am the highway

I am not your carpet ride

I am the sky.

-Audioslave

Copyright 2018 Lillah Lawson
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