George leant back in the driving seat and flexed his neck to ease the stiffness creeping toward his shoulders, the tarmac slipping smoothly beneath him to become an ever-growing expanse of distance framed by the rear window of his ageing Ford Mondeo.
“Thanks for picking me up,” she half turned in the passenger seat adding an extra inch of upholstery between the worn denim of her jeans and the gear stick and fixing him with a small appreciative smile.
“It was nothing.” George felt a small surge of unfamiliar warmth toward his unintended passenger who occupied as much upholstery as a child, yet seemed to fill every crevice of the car’s interior.
She had approached him wearing that same small appreciative smile, wandering over to his table in the roadside café where he was struggling to quench a deep thirst with a mug of stewed tea.
“You’re taking a risk taking lifts off strangers,” he rolled his fingers round the steering wheel, glancing away from the road ahead to catch her reaction, “I could be a serial killer.”
She said nothing. Instead she lifted the corner of her lips to expose a row of neat white teeth that led George to ponder briefly on the smoothness of her cheek and the blueness of her eyes.
The road signs glanced by counting down the miles to cities on the route North. Wallowing in her presence, George couldn’t help stealing glances at the folds of her t-shirt hiding the rise of youthful mounds, the slender curve of her thighs, and the fold in continuity where they met encouraging dangerous thoughts. Just looking at her he could believe that the years had been stripped away. That he was an unblemished twenty something basking in innocence like she was, and not a tarnished forty something with a reflection he couldn’t look at without finding something new to hate. Watching her ease into her occupancy, stretching her legs into the passenger seat well and glancing back at him with enquiring eyes, he felt the warm surge again; a minor euphoric turbulence careering around his insides making him forget anything else.
She pulled him back suddenly. Her words framed with that same endearing smile and her eyes tracing the lines of his face making him feel old and doomed to remember the acres of rolling distance he was trying so hard to put behind him.
It had been raining when he left, fat raindrops splattering and settling in fractious pools on the concrete drive as he hurried to the car. Slamming the car door shut behind him, he had stared out of the windscreen watching the ordered rows of geraniums succumbing to the barrage mesmerised, momentarily forgetting the reasoning behind him sitting in the car in the pouring rain. Then, with the ferocity of total recall he had fired up the engine and floored the accelerator leaving black skid marks beneath the sheen of shallow puddles.
“Her name is Marietta.” George spoke, his eyes set forward and his voice stiff.
The girl blushed and shuffled uncomfortably adding another millimetre of upholstery between them.
George didn’t notice, maintaining instead a stoic silence, eyes set forward, the muscle in his jaw pinging irritably as he was plunged into to the abyss of recollection.
He couldn’t remember why he had married Marietta, only that it had been something to do with his mother. With tea, biscuits, polite conversation and perching awkwardly on the edge of the sofa gazing out through the living room window where heavy white blossoms bowed the branches of the lilac tree. Their lips had moved in a blur of sound, two heads and one thought, never for a moment turning their eyes to his to see what was in his mind or pluck a sound from his mouth. They were, he thought at the time, like bees floating round the lilac sucking pollen from the flowers until the white blooms turned brown and withered in the sunlight.
When his mother had finally died some years later, choking on some incurable disease that washed the colour from her cheeks and left just a thin line of blue around her lips, it was Marietta who had kissed her goodbye. George kept his distance, sitting on a plastic chair perplexed by the sanitised aroma of the hospital as Marietta leant so very gently over the spent body. Her fingers resting lightly on the white linen, she pressed her lips against his mother’s ghastly cheek and left them there suspended for what seemed like an eternity before pulling back and brushing the pink blush of her own cheek with an outstretched finger.