by Pete Pringle
edited by Tanny Hossain
‘What is it?’ Di asked.
Numb, Freddy just sat there. Sinking silently into the passenger seat of the family people carrier they’d bought years ago in the hope of having children. But that had never happened. Not from a lack of trying though. They’d given up after the second miscarriage. Well, Freddy had. And he couldn’t stand the idea of Di having to go through it all again. They’d drifted apart since then.
‘Stop hogging the middle lane!’ he muttered.
‘Why don’t you just shut the fuck up?’
Freddy started thinking back to when Diana had once filled his soul completely. Now it seemed to him like she just didn’t want him around. He could see her raging inside. He could hear her saying what she’d usually say when she was angry before the words left her lips, ‘Why don’t you just fuck off out of my life?’ Even he had to admit though that he was being a bit presumptuous.
The sat-nav blurted out some instructions. He ignored it. He wasn’t driving. The blue motorway sign for junction 36 on the M6 flashed past. He didn’t really know how she was feeling about ‘them’. They just didn’t talk anymore.
‘What is it?’ she asked again.
Freddy carried on looking out of the car window. The rushing fields blurring. The dotted white line solidifying. Was the question she’d asked him too overwhelming? Besides that, he didn’t want to get into an argument. Not again. At least, not today; please, not today.
Things had been like that for a while with her. She’d snap at him more and more. Each time she did it felt like she was slamming another door in his face. Every day she was letting him in a little less. So he’d learnt to stop responding. Thinking to himself that two can play that game. But she’d still try and pry something out of him, and he’d sometimes something would slip out. She’d just scream at him, ‘I can’t believe what comes out your mouth sometimes.’ And then he’d say, ‘Okay, well, nothing then!’ But sometimes he just wouldn’t answer, and then she’d dig, and dig, and dig. Just like how she was doing now, like a dog chasing after a cat. And the more she dug, the more he’d shut up.
He remembered back to when they’d first met. It never used to be like this. His thoughts drifted back to the first time she’d come around to his flat at Uni. They were supposed to be studying for exams but they ended up listening to music all night.
‘I really love music’ she’d said.
‘Yeah, I could live on it.’
‘Surely not literally? Does it get you that bad?’
‘Yeah! Sometimes I feel like I could burst when I listen to music. Only with certain songs though, and especially love songs. It’s as if I’m at a feast and I just have to overeat, and then duh, I lose my appetite, and eventually I get sick of the song. It’s not like I quite hate the song, but it gets to a point where I just can’t stand it anymore. Do you know what I mean?’
He remembered thinking she was so cute when she just thought out loud
‘Yeah, it’s funny that, I get that way too’
‘You know like that song you were playing just then?’ she asked.
‘The one that was on when I got here? What’s it called again? ‘Baby’ or something like that?’
‘Oh, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti?
‘Yeah, play it again, I liked it.’
‘It’s cool, huh?’
‘Yeah. I think it’s one of those songs though, it’ll never sound as good as the first time you hear it. But I guess most things are like that. You kind of have to chase after the moment.’
‘That’s so true. When I first heard it, it was like wind blowing over a bank of delicate flowers.’
At that moment, he remembered how Di had kept her head still while her eyes dropped away, pursing her lips at the same time. It wasn’t quite a look of disappointment but more like ‘does he actually know what he sounds like?’ She was probably thinking ‘What sort of crap was that?
‘Look at me trying to sound all poetic and shit.’
He smiled at himself knowing how crazy it sounded,
‘It brought a sort of warm cosy feeling over me,’ he continued.
He couldn’t help it, even though he knew he sounded like a total idiot. It was just the way she made him feel.
‘That sounds crazy, but it doesn’t surprise me, especially coming from you.’
He’d walked over to the CD player in the corner of his room. Its walls were plastered with posters; Jimi, Bob, The Zep, Nirvana. He stopped the song that was playing. He remembered thinking that the moment was lost. He smirked to himself thinking of how bourgeois bohemian he thought was back. Not knowing what life was really like with the ginger bum fluff hanging off his chin. Trying so desperately to be a man of sophistication.
‘Why’d you stop it Freddy?’
‘Well, as you said, we don’t want to spoil it.’
At the time, well perhaps a few days later, he remembered thinking about the power of love; how it had come to him like rolling waves at high tide, how it had caught him so unawares. It wasn’t something that he could identify easily with though, because as quickly as it’d seemed to have appeared, in one hot minute, it had disappeared. Perhaps, it was because of this, and this alone, that he’d felt so fantastic. It was marvellously irrational to him, especially when he’d looked at Di, and she’d looked back at him with that peculiar quizzical look. She had tilted her head, and as she did her hair fell lopsided over her shoulder. And it was in that moment that he knew. She was the girl that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
Now he asked himself why. Why on earth hadn’t he just let the music play on? The thought didn’t linger. He spotted a black cat sitting on a drystone wall in some small village they were rushing through. Besides, that was over ten years ago now.
Meanwhile, he just carried on looking out of the car window. She must have been watching him sitting in his little trance as she ran her hand through his hair.
‘Keep your eyes on the road!’
He’d flinched and told her not to do that, he didn’t like it. And this upset her of course. So teary eyed, she snarled back at him.
‘Well, what is it?’
Freddy tried to explain himself but she wasn’t really listening. It wasn’t that he minded her running her hand through his hair; that’s not what he meant at all. It was more that she’d shocked him, her touching him when he didn’t expect it. She started ranting and a dullness came over him. He was now oblivious to her rants. He went back into his little cocoon of looking out of the window. The world rushed by, and she ranted on, and on. He just stopped listening.
A yellow fog hugged the horizon in the distance as the sun kissed the approaching night. October is such a miserable month, he thought. Di used to be so innocent like the violets she grows on the kitchen window sill in late February. He slid into his seat.
He wished things could have stayed like how they used to be but they were both getting older. And his hair was thinning. Thinning that’s an understatement. He was almost bald. He’d read reviews about those supposed hair loss treatments online but they seemed to be a farce. He didn’t know what to do. The proverbial cat had got his tongue. How the hell am I going to tell her how I feel?
He looked over at her as her face was lit up every so often by passing headlights and thought of how delicate and sensible she still was. He somehow knew that he’d never get the courage to tell her. Stagnant. He sat just like how the yellow fog had been only minutes before. He could hear his conscious mocking him. Telling him that he was never going to be her hero. Would he regret later not telling her? He felt so emotionally paralysed that he just didn’t know anymore.
Freddy knew she was having a rough time with the menopause and all. He worried too; perhaps this was because he’d promised her father before she’d arrived at the church all those years ago that he’d protect her. But their relationship had somehow become euthanatized by time. And their lives seemed to be slowly grinding to a halt.
Just then their song came over the radio, and the DJ said something like, ‘this one’s for all the lovers out there.’ And it made him think of how he’d felt when they were together when they were younger. How it’d seemed somehow that their life together was always going to be free from pain. Sure, he still felt a longing for her when they were apart. And of course he still loved her but it had gotten messy along the way and it seemed that their love was just not the same. Even now when he remembers how he’d felt back then, his heart weakens a little. But his heart broke when she’d said to him that she’d only wanted to be friends. She’d said something like ‘You know that desire doesn’t last forever’.
‘What is it?’ she asked again.
She was looking at him when he turned to her. He smiled at her.
‘Remember this?’ he said as he leant forward and turned the radio up.
‘Dreams of you all the time, feel so good I wanna get that right, ha, ha, ha, just can’t wait til tomorrow, come on baby let’s shake it. Oh baby, you’re so baby….’
‘No… I can’t say that I do.’