George wound down the car window and turned his cheek into the flow of cool passing air to ease the repetitive throb of a headache. The girl moaned in her sleep and dragged on her flimsy jacket, pulling it protectively closer to her throat. He felt the sudden urge to touch her, to press his lips against hers and suck out her essence. Imagining instead, that it was Marietta lying so close and so still by his side that he could run his finger over her cheek to feel the warmth of her skin without her ever knowing.
The sun had dropped, captured on the edge of the horizon a distant raging fire as the weight of exhaustion pressed against his eyelids. Somewhere along the way he had left civilisation behind him, the road cutting through vast rising hillsides and flying over deep valleys sprinkled with the lights of scattered houses.
Marietta was back there too, coming around in her own brand of civilisation and looking out through his mother’s eyes.
He had hurt her, only ever wanting her to come to him, to hold him. He had been driven to torment and punish without reason until they moved in a complex maze of circles, rarely speaking, never touching, the disappointment burying itself in the lines on her face and becoming crevasses he couldn’t pass over. And through it all he was never able to satisfy the numb hollowness deep in his chest, the arid place that demanded the hurt be deeper and the pain more terrible.
The penultimate game had stretched on for weeks, beginning as it always did with a trivial put down and the sting of initial hurt played and replayed in her eyes. Long silences led to irate questions and bitter rebukes as they passed through the maze of deeper and deeper hurt volleyed back and forth, blow by blow.
That time it had ended when he slammed a door on her hand, revelling in her pain and the knowledge that now she would step out of the maze and come up close. And she had come to him, the hurt pouring from her eyes, the fingers of her uninjured hand wrapped tightly round the handle of a kitchen knife. He had revelled in the drunken pleasure of it, his heart racing as he clamped her fragile hand in his fist so hard he felt the sharpness of her bones against his palm and imagined they might shatter.
He held her in mid-air trembling and convulsing, tears flooding down her white cheek and melting into the fabric of her blouse. Staring into his mother’s eyes, he had pushed the silver blade against his skin and drew a weeping scarlet line down his chest. For a moment the pain had been glorious, more glorious than he could have hoped, but there had been something in her eyes far deeper than horror. He had wanted it so much that it gone beyond a game. Simple pain could never be enough anymore. She had looked into his face and seen a frenzy of desire that would consume them both. She had seen beyond him to a dark and terrible place where the lust for perversion knew no bounds and would never be satisfied. And he had seen it too. He had seen his monster and it terrified him, but he could not stop.
George urged the car to go faster, pressing down his foot until the engine roared in protest and the hand of the rev counter twitched nervously. Somewhere far ahead of him where the earth and the sky met, the fire was dying to dull glow as deep inside his chest a hollow chasm gaped.
The girl woke and stretched her arms out in front of her, the smile emerging on her face, innocent and endearing.
“Where are we?” she yawned, peering out through windscreen at unfamiliar territory.
George closed his window and drove face forward, fingers pressed into the steering wheel at regulation ten to two.
“Do you know where we are?” she quizzed again, her voice slipping as she saw that George was trembling beneath his shirt. “Where are you taking me?” Her voice quivered, her arms reaching for her bag and pulling it into a protective bundle on her lap as she stared wide eyed pleading for an answer.
George turned his head, his eyes heavy and incomprehensible and his mouth set like a scar that had never healed.
The girl whimpered. Her face washed clean of all colour and unknown horrors flashing behind the blue of her eyes as George slowed the car, then turned into a lay-by and stopped.