George watched it all in silence, imagining that his wife was sucking the last remnants of his mother’s essence and imagining too, with absolute certainty, that Marietta’s eyes had changed colour to become a flawless reflection of the woman who had just died. In that moment he had not felt the relief of being an orphan, but the intense burden of knowledge that there was no possible hope of respite.
“Are you alright?” The girl was leaning forward in her seat, one hand pressed against the denim of her jeans as if seeking reassurance from the feel of her own body. She tilted her head to face him with the look of child who suspects there’s a monster lurking in the dark corners of the closet and is too fearful to investigate too closely.
George snapped back to the present angry that he had let himself become lost in the acres of rolling tarmac he had put so firmly behind him.
“Sorry, I was just thinking,” he tried to recover lost ground, aware that she had shrunk her occupancy to an impossibly small square of upholstery.
“Is she pretty, your wife?” The girl eased, the tense furrows shallowing beneath the untidy waves of sandy hair that stroked her brow as the monster fell back into the strangeness of an unfamiliar shadow.
“Hard to say really after all these years,” George spoke with little conviction and added a small and desperate smile.
The girl laughed, the interior of the car echoing with her amusement. Her laughter trickled over her features like bright and bubbling water and lit up the crevices on Georges’ face that he had allowed to be darkened by the memory of Marietta.
“I hope you don’t say that in front of her,” the girl unfurled herself, throwing her back against the seat and stretching out her legs, her face carrying that same multi-purpose, all-encompassing smile.
George was compelled to smile back, drinking her in like the hot sweet tea he had craved and never received and feeling it quench even the arid spot buried deep in his chest.
The scenery rolled by, the names of cities changing as they were left behind and replaced by the countdown to new ones. George eased into the task of driving, one hand carelessly guiding the steering wheel, the other resting on the gear stick, as the girl, lulled by the engine and the restored comfort of silence, fell into her own thoughts. From the corner of his eye he continued to watch her, pulling his focus from the tedium of the motorway to trace every curve of youth and promise as she slipped closer to sleep, her long fingers playing with the silver chain around her neck.
He watched as she pressed her fingertips into the hollow of her throat where the silver pendant nestled, his mind slipping back, flying out through the rear window where the past was strewn like waste paper.
There had always been silver…
She had worn it round her neck and pressed it against her skin, a wish that it might be white gold playing in her eyes as her lips retracted into a begrudging smile. White gold was always far beyond his means and even farther beyond his will and it didn’t please him to imagine her eyes reflecting pleasure. One pleasure would have never have been enough. Marietta moved with the hardened grace of a governess. Her expression, always one frown line away from the bitterest of disappointments, prompting old irritations and frustrations to uncoil within him like a cobra all too ready to strike.
His mother lurched around in his memory, her touch cold and impenetrable as sheet ice, her face doused in perpetual denial caressing the silver crucifix at her throat as if it was blessed. As if the tiny emblem was her only hope against the protestations of a useless child as she plotted out every moment of his life, forcing him to retreat into a lonely existence and find solace in hurt. Forcing him into devising ways to hurt her so that she would have to notice him.
He remembered clearly the first time it ever happened. hen impotent anger had sent his sent mothers best china teacup careering across the kitchen and he had watched it shatter. He had been only as tall as the worktop, but the frustration had been so real he could taste it still and had stood in a pool of sunlight sweating in anticipation waiting for her to come to him. He remembered clearly the cool sweep of air when she appeared, the cherry red of her lips smearing her face with contemptuous disdain and her vice like grip on his arm. And that there, held in suspended animation with the toe of his shoe scuffing on the lino, he had felt the first glorious stream of pain flowing through his body. The first experience of a compunction now so deeply rooted in his psyche that it had gone beyond an obsession to become an addiction.