Fiction by William Hayward
I drove for a few hours on the motorway and there wasn’t any pretty sights or trees or anything. There wasn't much around at all except the road, the other cars that either ebbed further and further behind me or pushed further and further in front of me and the noise of the radio where men with low voices told me about the weather coming in from the east and the clouds blowing in from the west.
The clouds came from the west while I was still on the road and it started raining pretty heavily. It started off like any kind of rain. Small drops coming down in little balls that didn't splash that much. Then it got heavier, and the drops got bigger and blacker and they started blurring my windows and I had to turn the wipers on just so I could see the road. This rain was a pretty sight and I liked staring through it as I drove. Then it got lighter again and the rain turned into a shower that flooded everything and I felt some drops on my nose when the sunroof started to leak. It was cold where it hit me, but I didn't wipe it away. I let it fall on my nose and then I let it fall from my nose down onto my seat until I had a little puddle collecting between my legs.
Even with the wipers on the rain was too thick to see clearly and I drove faster and faster and everything I could see got more and more blurred until it was all just a huge grey and blue and black thing that didn't make a damn bit of sense to me but I kept driving on because it was all that there was and because the car was stolen.
It was an old car. The steering wheel was made from white leather and the stitching was cracked. When I turned it with the turns in the road I could feel the leather creaking under my hands. I ran my hands over it like a hunter would over ivory. Like an animal cleans itself with its tongue. It felt good.
The rain kept coming down and I didn't see any of the potholes or cracks until I was nearly in them. They were big potholes. Big potholes I had to swerve and turn around. They were filled with rain and dirt and there were orange and brown leaves from trees floating in them and bobbing up and down like little colourful ships lost in a storm.
The ships didn't care I was driving a stolen car. Nothing cared that I was a thief. The car didn't seem to care about it either. It ran for me. When I turned the wheel, it turned for me. I pushed down on the brake hard and someone I didn't know was there banged on their horn and swerved around me, and the brakes don't fail like a tiny little piece of my mind thought they might. The wheels skid a bit when I brake. ‘You're a loose car,’ I say to it and I rub the dashboard.
I carried on driving the way I was headed and the rain stopped coming down so hard and the blur around the car turned back into a normal road and I could see clearly the pothole I was about to drive through, and I still turned too late. I went through it and everything shook for a second. I hissed between my teeth and in my rear mirror I saw water and leaves slapping up and out the sides of the hole I’d driven through and I flinched. The engine got rough for a second and then settled down.
I turned off the main road at the next exit. The sign announcing where I was, was green with white letters. I read it and I carried on driving. The sign read, WELCOME TO SUTTON COLDFIELD. I drove past cul-de-sacs and narrow streets with small houses sitting back from small driveways that had small cars on and there wasn’t anyone walking around. As I got closer to the town centre I passed bigger houses with bigger driveways and they had big gates blocking you from getting nearer to them. Streetlamps lit up the paths and the roads and other cars appeared and drove with me.
Some cars that drove behind me had music playing loudly and I could see smoke drifting out of open windows and it smelled of cigarettes and weed. They drove fast and they skidded around my car and they skidded around corners. People started appearing on the sidewalks. Walking slowly in groups or alone. Their mouths open and full of teeth and tongues and spit and they were all either laughing or not laughing.
I passed some little shops and saw an old man smoking out the front of a butcher shop wearing a dirty apron covered in blood. I recognised him from when my mom would send me there when I was young and scared of the pig heads hanging in the window and the cow hoofs waving from the counter. The town was where I'd grew up and I stared around and I didn't recognise anything else. I didn’t really know where I was, but I just didn’t know where else to go. The streets seemed a different colour and a different shape and the shops seemed darker. The people looked the same. I drove up the high street and got stuck behind a line of other cars who were stuck behind some traffic lights. Sometimes one of the cars would beep lazily. I stared at the red light of the traffic light and then I stared at the blue and red siren of a police car poking over the car in front of me.
I ran my fingers across my palms and started hammering them on the steering wheel. I wondered if the car would give me away. The traffic light turned from red to amber to green and the line of cars started to move slowly. When the space cleared, there was a pause as the police car didn't move. I imagined their eyes gazing back in their rear-view mirror. I imagined them having brown eyes. Green eyes. Maybe black eyes. I imagined them tapping each other on the leg and gesturing with their heads towards me.
I saw them slowly move off and then slowly turn off the high street. The car in front of me pulled off too and I followed them and we both carried on driving straight. I followed them until we got off the high street and I saw some road signs I vaguely recognised. I waved to the car I’d been following and then I turned with the road signs and the road signs told me where to go. I saw the signs would take me to my old house and suddenly all I wanted to do was go home. I remembered the house had dirty red window frames when I was young and from the outside when it was night-time and the lights were turned on, the house looked like it was glowing red-yellow and white. I remembered and I wanted to see it.
I followed the signs and I passed some old car showrooms that I didn’t remember that had some broken windows and no cars in them. And I passed a boxing gym with a neon picture sign showing two men with bright red gloves hitting each other. I passed a little green sign showing the entrance to a park and past the sign, I saw the park it was talking about was just a square mile of grass surrounded by fences and a few trees. I slowed the car as I passed it and saw an old woman driving a lawnmower across the grass. The lawnmower was loud. Louder than the car engine and I could hear it over everything and as the women turned and started driving the lawnmower faster I could see she was singing. Her face was contorted and twisted as she sang something I couldn’t hear. Her hands were wrapped in thick gloves and she tapped her fingers on the wheel and her eyes were closed and the lawnmower swerved from side to side.
The house was on the top of a big hill. The hill was steep and had houses running on both sides all the way to the top and behind the houses blocks of flats hovered and blocked out any light that could be lurking behind them. The hill was steep, and the engine of the car got loud and then louder as I pushed the accelerator down. I went up slowly because the car wouldn’t let me go up quickly and the houses on either side of me were dark. The streetlamps that ran up the hill were weak and flickering and most didn’t work at all. I carried on driving and pushing the engine louder until I got to the top and stopped.
The engine rumbled like an angry old woman and I parked outside the house. The house was in the same place, next to a small dead tree my mom used to say grew cherries. The paint on the windows ledges had changed and was a normal clean white now. The house looked nicer. The door wasn’t cracked or peeling or brown, and the house number was made of silver metal and screwed into one of the bricks. The door had been painted a deep green. The driveway looked better too. It used to have grass and weeds growing up in tufts between the bricks no matter how much I was sent to pull them out. It didn’t look like the same place. It didn’t look like my home.
I got out of the car and I left the engine running and I walked onto the new clean driveway. Everything was too clean and beautiful about it. Only the dead cherry tree was the same. I brushed the tree with my hand and I brushed my shoe against the new driveway and some dust blew up when I did it and I felt a little better. ‘You’re not my home,’ I said out loud to nothing. ‘Too fucking clean,’ I muttered. ‘I don’t like it,’ I said. The words echoed a bit in the empty driveway. I wondered if the inside was the same. I walked closer to the house. The curtains were open in all the windows but there were no lights on. A car sped past where I was parked, and I flinched with my heart beating in my ears and chest.
I waited for a few minutes before I got closer to the windows and peered in. I couldn’t see anything. The garden gate was locked, and I climbed over it and when I landed on the other side I was out of breath. There was some sweat sticking the back of my shirt to my back and I kept pulling at it. I waited for a moment again while my breathing turned normal, before walking around to the back of the house. The back door was open like all backdoors are eventually, and I walked in the house.
I walked into the kitchen and I passed through without really looking around. It made me feel sick. It was clean and everything was white and seemed to shine even in the dark. I thought about the grease stains that used to live on the sides and the little fragments of food and water that used to cover the floor and the dog hairs that stuck to your clothes. I passed through into the hall and stared at a picture of a fat, wrinkled baby being held by a blonde dwarf wearing a black suit. Next to that was another picture of the dwarf wearing a tuxedo and holding the waist of a tall black woman wearing a wedding dress. Next to that, another picture of the tall black woman, only in this one she was kneeling down and kissing the dwarf and smoothing his hair. I nodded at the pictures and walked through into the living room.
‘Where’s my home gone,’ I thought to myself, and a little voice in the back of my head shrugged and laughed. ‘It’s just gone… it’s just gone.’ And I thought about how it was the same with anything. One day you wake up and everything is gone… vanished… little things you didn’t think could ever change!... Even things you’d never wanted before. I thought about Van Gogh and wondered if that’s why he’d cut off part of his ear. I wondered if I could do something like that if wanted too.
The living room was clean as well and the chairs and the paintings and the pictures and the wallpaper and the tables and the bookcases and the fireplace… everything was different and I sat down into an armchair that looked like a small fat tumour with its wrinkled red and white fabric and looked at the room and out the window. I knocked a picture off a little table next to me and it broke on the thin carpet.
I moved the glass from the picture under my shoe and looked down at it. It was tangled in the carpet and the carpet looked like the carpet we’d had. Maybe it was the same. It had the same pattern, but it was blue instead of grey and there were marks from where the vacuum had torn bits of it up and our one had been almost entirely bare from where me and my brother had ripped parts up from when we were children. I felt my heart grow a little lighter. Some strength seeped its way back into my milky bones. The pattern was the same. Thin black lines running along it in swirls and leaps. It swirled and leapt still on a different colour and I didn’t know what else it could do other than make my heart feel a little lighter. I nudged the glass back with my foot and I stood up.
The picture had two black and white of two soldiers smiling in a field. One of them was grinning at the camera and waving and had one arm wrapped around the other soldier who had a bandage wrapped around his forehead. There was a dark patch that must have been blood in the middle of the patch that just looked like shadows. I nodded down at the picture and walked past it. I left the glass on the floor and I left the way I’d gone in. I vaulted over the back gate with ease this time and I got back in the car, which was warm, and I leaned my head back on the headrest and I clipped my seatbelt in and started driving off slowly from my old home. I left it behind again and I felt a little better.
I drove faster now and I was out of the town quickly and the cul-de-sacs turned into normal streets and then into narrow country lanes that lined up next to fields and farms. The lane was narrow and there were tall trees that looked like shadows in the night. Their branches stuck straight up at the pale moon and they were bare like skeletons and they were black and sharp. The fields behind them are dark too and the light of the moon is almost nothing. It shined pathetically from behind some wispy black and grey clouds and I peered out the car window up at it. The car window had little streaks of dirt mixed in with raindrops that had smeared across the glass and when I tried to put it down, it only went down a few inches and then got stuck. I let go of the wheel with one hand and with the other, I wedged two fingers in the gap. I pulled down hard and with a groaning noise, it rolled down to halfway. With another groaning noise, I got it all the way down. I pressed back up on the switch and it didn't do anything. The rain that I thought had stopped blew in with a cold wind that blew as well and moved the little hairs on my arm around as they stuck up. The rain was just a drizzle but it got caught in the hairs on my arm and when I wiped them away me ones happily took their place.
I didn’t think about anything at all as I drove, and my heart felt light and I felt free and the moon looked like it was trying to wink at me with its shine but was too weak to manage it. There were some clouds covering half of it. There were clouds everywhere. Between the clouds, I could see glimmers of a dark blue sky and some stars that were blinking like an old man who'd lost his glasses. The wind moved the clouds and sometimes they closed the gaps and the stars would disappear as if they'd never existed at all.
I looked back at the road and I leaned my head on my hand and I steered with one hand. One of the car's headlights had turned off when I drove through the pothole and I noticed all of a sudden that it made everything darker on one side and I only saw one half of the cat that darted across the road in front of me. I heard all of the cat squeal and all of the cat moan as I ran over it.
I stopped the car at a little dip in the road and breathed. I didn't want to stop the car in a little dip on the side of the road and breathe. I wanted to drive and breathe. My heart dipped down into my bowels as heavy as lead and crushed my organs. The car is stolen, I thought. It didn't seem like a smart idea to sit still in a stolen car. It wasn’t smart to leave a stolen car outside your old house, I thought. You’re not very smart, I thought. I sat still in the stolen car and in my seat and I put my head on the steering wheel and the leather cracked under my head. ‘The cat, the cat, it had to do it… it had to do it,’ I muttered, ‘Just keep driving… just keep driving,’. I breathed. Some cars came from nowhere and drove past me. Their headlights left little spots of light dancing in my eyes when I closed them. The lights danced and flashed when I got out of the car and walked blinking. I left the engine running again and I walked over to the dead cat.
The other cars had run over it as well and its middle was crushed flat against the road. Its middle was a red blur that the tires had engrained into the road. There was some kind of small internal organ lying next to the red smear. Intestines were leaking out of the top half of the body and the bottom half looked comically deflated. Like a furry balloon that'd had all its air let out. Its eyes were open, and its sockets were empty. The eyeballs lay next to its head. It might have been ginger once before blood and organs and road grit covered it.
I walked and picked up a long stick from the side of the road and I prodded the bottom half of the body. Some blood leaked out every time I prodded it and joined the red smear. It steamed in the cold night air. I prodded it for a while. I wondered if I did it enough, it would just get up and run away. I kept doing it. I wondered if I did it enough, my heart would feel light again. I wondered if I did it enough, I’d be able to drive and feel good and not have to think or feel or do anything at all. I wondered and prodded for a while. I did it until I thought I'd done it enough. Then I threw the stick away and walked back to the stolen car and got in and left the moon and stars to blink sadly at the ginger cats’ body.