Pieces of human traffic jumped like lost litter.
Lola was exhausted – staring out into the wavering mass of headlines and hot exhaust, as she rolled the car into a stopped position and placed a cigarette languorously between her lips. The rings of smoke seemed almost mocking in their free flight, the paper of the cigarettes slightly charred against her tongue. She experienced a sudden flood of nostalgia for something homely, before the brake lights of the car in front of her snapped back to neutral like a wincing eyelid. She pushed forward.
She needed to get home, back to Edward, listen to him talk about his brother with a kind of infatuation whilst she would drink tea scalding enough to act as a confirmation of existence. Edward – the man whose face she had held between her hands and watched the nervous, unseated tremor of his eyes, even when she had first come to know him, Edward, the man still striving to find the brother he had lost so long ago. He talked about his brother as if he was conceptual, some variety of enigma which was difficult to express in human terms.
The circumstances of Edward’s brother were unclear, but within Edward, Lola always sensed the sickness of guilt – as if it had seized his body and worked its way deep into tissue. He held himself with a kind of uncertainty, even held her with a kind of fragility, his long pianist’s fingers trilling a nervous tune across her spine. She shivered compulsively at the imagining of his touch.
The traffic began to dissipate as if sluiced by the liquid ream of human exhaustion and discontent, music pounding inside some vehicle interiors like congested speech. Sunlight melted across the sky of a winter evening like an aged tablet slowly breaking down into water. Lola thought there was something horrible about it as she took another draw of her cigarette, her hands feeling thick and heavy at the wheel.
“Finally,” She breathed, as the cars in front of her began to accelerate, draping the city thoroughfare dolorously with their smells of cramped bodies and engine oil. It was a particularly acrid stench of urbanity which powdered the lungs and cramped the throat. A hitch-hiker was apparently choking, semi-crouched upon the kerb.
As her car came alongside him, Lola gazed interrogatively into the slightly averted face – for there was something almost familiar about him, comfortingly so, yet beneath the lank hair and lustful eyes of a stranger –
“Where do you want to go?” Lola shouted to him through her open window, hardly conscious of her own assertion, an assemblage of cheap jewellery rattling on her wrist as she spoke “ I’m going along the A1, as far as Hornsey-Lane Bridge anyway –“
Lola saw the glimmer of affirmation in the man’s eyes, though not avoiding the apparent curl of contempt in his top lip. Silently, he swept to the passenger door and scrambled in beside her. His hot exhalation of breath thickly misted the portion of window in front of him as he muttered some hasty impersonal words of gratitude.
“Thanks,” he paused for a moment, wiping a damp dark curl to the side of his face as Lola began to gain speed. Wetting his dry lips, so dry they seemed scored deep like exposed rubber in the sun, he spoke with a tone of thickened exhaustion.
“Come with me.”
Lola let out an almost baying, impulsive laugh, though her fingers tightening subconsciously on the steering wheel, her back ;poised and firm against the faux leather interior.
“Come with me.”
There was a note of pleading in his tone – harsh and horrible. His eyes seemed almost invasive, deep blue and swollen, they clashed sharply with the dull beige of the seats against which he shrunk like a sullen doll.
“I’m glad you’re going along the A1,” he mused, seemingly evading even the subject of the previous interrogative “There’s something I need to do there…”
He plucked anxiously at the skin of his wrist as he spoke, pulling the flesh away from the bone and then aback again in an awful exhibition of uncertainty. It shocked Lola in terms of how he ,manipulated his mouth with a kind of precision, how his voice wavered and undulated, crawling into her ears in a way that seemed to fuel her driving, forwards, earnestly forwards with this strange young man –
“ I need to… I need to know that… I need to,”
It was painful to hear his stuttering exclamations, almost strangled as he brought up a cuff of his old tweed jacket to his cheek, sending the intent strands of sunlight spangling over his feet, the dashboard. The day was still prominent, Lola thought, as prominent as its intensity taut and trembling in young tears.
Pulling hastily onto the kerb in an adjacent audience, Lola stopped the car, the engine still shrilling in its half-baked exclamations of hot oil. The moisture was heavily marked against his sunken cheeks in a way in which threat did not seem a possibility.
“Can you tell me what has happened?” She managed.
The words seemed too large, too revealing for his thin lips as he stumbled over some nonsensical syllables. Lola thought, almost pityingly, of Edward, waiting for her, probably pacing the tiles now with the peculiar breed of anger etched into his face, fixing his words, only to fumble with them on the spot. She was tired, she needed to be home.
“I can take you to the nearest hostel if you like..?” She emphasized her upwards intonation in order to sound peculiarly friendly, watching the strange flexing of his long fingers and thin hands as she spoke.
He face suddenly flared beside her.
“Come with me, come with me. Escape everything, perhaps we can, strangers feeling a new humanity,” He gestured violently to the surrounding houses with precision-cut gardens and cold kerbs iced with white as if in decoration “We could escape everything, we would no longer to be anything, no longer subscribe to anything…”
The tears wavering against his half-closed lids both fascinated and repulsed her.
“Get out,” She muttered, the cherry blossom tainting the air as it fell with an almost blood-thickness against the windscreen. A horribly romantic situation – the revelation of hatred in a overheated car, five miles out of London, she thought with a sick irony, wanted to laugh -
She let the car roll to a halt near Hornsey-Lane Bridge.
She again repeated her request, with a note of desperation seeping through her speech.
‘Please, just get out.’
He shrugged his shoulders, though the movement itself seemed strained and telling, almost tortuous. It told of loveless, unoccupied nights and steel-soaked rain greasing and glorifying itself against wind-worn skin, his face, his hands – the hands he crossed and uncrossed in his lap with a kind of nervous energy.
“I needed that confirmation,” He muttered, almost thankfully. ‘What it is to feel unnecessary, needless –“
His voice trailed off as Lola opened her mouth to reprimand him again, though the words clotted uneasily in her throat and she pursed her mouth shut.
A stale evening breeze rasped determinedly against the slightly open windows which seemed greasy and indifferent against the desperate motions of human life. From where he was sat, the young man suddenly started and looked across into Lola’s eye, as if it was a great and significant expanse. There was something familiar but the alignment of his eyes with hers, almost tender, impassioned, the pupils dilating in a way of hasty infatuation she had seen before. She was caught in the sharp shards of brown in his blue eyes, the expression close to honesty which they conveyed. His gaze flickered and deepened, almost penetrative, she felt her spine slip against the driver’s seat, almost overwhelmed. His eyes searched desperately in a hunger of the most passionate sense, as if peeling away the webs of colour in the iris, to reach the bone white beneath.
“A bridge is what I want,” He sucked his teeth, his pale lips seemingly injected with the pressure, as the car shuddered to a final stop beneath the brakes. “Everything stops eventually…”
His mouth seemed to curve on the edge of a chuckle. She felt his hand on her wrist.
And then, simply, the quick bustle of his departure. Gasping, almost desperately, she felt almost compressed by the wave of silence which followed, her fingers greased and flexing at the steering wheel. She tried to smoke, but the cigarette felt almost hauntingly intimate, reflecting the slight slipping pressure of his fingertips against her wrist as he had reached over in a movement which echoed the throwing of flowers, or confetti, or something similar. A sense of sickness overwhelmed her as she looked down at the same skin. There, around her arm, sliding into the conglomerate of glass beads and other jewellery, was another bracelet – a hastily tied string-affair, seemingly faded from bold yellow to a dull beige with apparently decadent wearing.
Then she thought very little of anything, as she automatically, with the exhausted expression of the everyday office worker, pulled from the kerb back into the road drove down the familiar monotony of thoroughfare.
Edward was waiting for her when she reached home, waiting with a compassion embedded deep and earnestly-practiced in his eyes. It was a compassion she would have usually been grateful for, grateful for its immersion to rid her of the regularity of the domestic sequence. But tonight it unnerved her – there was something horribly strong and forceful in the occasion, almost dramatic as he took her hand in his as she locked the door with a resigning gesture.
“I’m so sorry about everything,” He gushed, his pale lips colouring under the pressure of his teeth in a way which made her duck her eyes from him. He only gripped her hand harder “You know, with my brother, and that. It doesn’t matter – it is my personal issue, and not one I expect you to have to deal with anymore, Lo –“
As his fingertips moved in small circular caresses over her palm, his hand brushed the little string bracelet the stranger had left. His lips seemed to curve, as if preparing for laughter, his eyes widened slightly.
”Strange, as we’re on the subject,” He spoke fondly. “My brother had a bracelet just like this – said he’d give it to me when, you know, something happened to him. A keepsake, I guess.”
He let the string pass through his thick fingers.
“This one looks good on you – string bracelets are back then are they? Eh?” He sucked his teeth earnestly amidst the rhetoric “My brother made his though, you should see it –“
His musing was broken as he glanced down into Lola’s tear-stricken, silenced face. He let his mouth soften to a compassionate ‘O’.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” He gushed, folding her into his arms. “I won’t talk about him anymore. It’s our life we’ve got to focus on now, isn’t it, baby? Everything stops eventually – isn’t that right, baby? Even fantasy.”
He looked over her shoulder and through the window, his vision merging with the blue flashing lights of the busy thoroughfare, the steely cold countenance of the bridge. He fell unfaithfully back to musing.
“Let’s just hope he calls in one day,” he spoke through a smile “I’d love him to introduce you to him, you know. My wife.”
He kissed her forehead automatically.
“you know, we could show him the garden, and he’s love what we’ve done with the porch.”
He exhaled conclusively.
“Yeah, it would be good to see him, to show him round. I need to.”