Eyes on the Road
We left early. We always leave early. We aren't exactly party people. We just like to get drunk. Everyone always says something like, Why are you leaving so early? My husband just smiles and says, Got to get this one off to bed! Then everyone gives me a telling look that depends on how well they know my husband.
My husband drives with one hand on the wheel. When I tell him to close the window, he rolls it all the way down then hangs his hand free and cuts waves in the breeze. His sleeves are scrunched to the elbows. I can see his arm hair blowing in the breeze. I hate his arm hair. Always have. There's a drop of either blood or wine on his collar. I guess he is pretty drunk, so anything is possible, but chances are he's had another one of those goddamn nosebleeds. They just never stop. Both of us know we would be happier with him dead. Waiting for someone to bleed to death through their nostrils is a difficult thing to live with. I yelled at him the other day when his nose burst over our pillows. I yelled, Why are you always bleeding? So he ran off to the bathroom and slammed the door. He yelled back, Why don't you just mind your own damn business! We kept yelling through the door like that for hours. See, before we moved out to the country, there were always concerned neighbours ready to call the cops, who would dutifully break up our fights. Now we just keep on yelling until one of us gets bored and smashes something valuable.
The next day he announced that he would finally see a doctor about his nose. Said it like I should care. I replied that I was going to stay home and sell my body. Little more money in the bank in case he croaks. He punched the wall, reached for his keys, and just like that, his stupid nose popped. I mean it really explodes this time. Just keeps bleeding and bleeding. Naturally, because these bleeds keep happening, we're all out of tissues and clean sheets. Once he was through blaming me for not keeping on top of the groceries and for neglecting the washing, my husband tore open the pantry and found an alternative solution.
How am I meant to drive like this? he whined through the slice of bread he had pressed against his face. I told him I couldn't care less. I told him he had just used my breakfast as a rag. But then he started crying, pleading, so I snatched the keys and off we went.
Before we arrived, with blood-soaked bread still hanging from his face, he ducked into the pharmacy beside the clinic and spent five dollars we don't have on a flannel hanky. The doctor looked him over with an increasingly pensive expression, then said, Not to worry, before her expression changed, and she added, Let's just keep an eye on things.
Keep an eye on things! Doctors say that when they don't want to be caught questioning themselves. Covers all their bases. Back when we were first married, the doctor who examined my broken ribs said the same thing. He gave my husband this sideways glance then said, Well, be sure to keep an eye on things. Doctors also like shaking my husband's hand when we leave for some reason. No exceptions. Even if he is sick and contagious. This one even complimented his new hanky. Tests should be back next week, the doctor whispered to the receptionist when she asked if we wanted to make another appointment.
Guess we'll just keep an eye on things until then.
Back in the car now, I have nothing to say, so I sit quietly with my feet on the dash. My husband has something to say, so he tells me to get my fucking feet off the dash. Just keep your eyes on the road, I say. So he repeats his request while punching each syllable into the horn. Glowing animal eyes shoot up from the ditch beside the road. My husband shakes his hand out the window, eyes on the road. I take my feet off the dash. Bet he's split his knuckles again.
I really hate living away from the city. Out here in the middle of nowhere. This country road recoils into shadows as our headlights struggle to keep chase. Makes it feel as though we're going nowhere. There's maybe one street light every five minutes. Otherwise, there's nothing to see.
We left the city because of me. Because I wanted to get away from it all. Not because my husband's cousin just happened to throw him a labouring job after he wound up unemployed, again. No, that was just a coincidence. One big happy coincidence. We moved out here because of me. Wish we could have actually moved to the middle of nowhere instead of this dump. Least that would be central to something. Living out here feels like living next to nothing. It took us nearly an hour to get to the party. Least the way back won't take so long if my husband keeps speeding like this.
The party was for my husband's cousin and his fiancée. They're getting married, married again. Getting married again is something you do when you crack middle age. Shuffling stepchildren and families like cards from different decks. Guess we better keep an eye on this one. Everyone seems certain that this marriage will be the one that sticks. Everyone except my husband. When he drinks, he acts like we're still friends. Whispers things to me about his family when he thinks they're out of range. Keep an eye on her, he said, she's been skimming from the old man for years. I reminded him that everyone under this goddamn roof would be living with the old man by now if he were still alive. We kept our distance for the rest of the night after that. Save that one for later, I suppose.
My husband grumbles, places both hands on the wheel to navigate a field of potholes. Just as he hangs his arm back out the window, the headlights catch another swarm, so he brings it back. Fucking council, he complains. Fucking council! he repeats when I fail to reply. Then he asks me what my problem is, and I say, I don't have a problem, so he says, Yeah right, so I say, Yeah that's right, so then he says, I'm always like this, so I say, You make me like this, so he wonders what he did to deserve this, so I tell him what he did to deserve this, so he takes his hand off the wheel and goes to slap me, but nearly loses control of the car and has to clamp back down.
I laugh. I tell him to just keep his eyes on the road. He snarls and hunches over the wheel, eyes fixed on the spotlit tarmac unfolding from the shadows. I can smell the wine on his breath from here. I glance at the speedometer. Way too fast. Imagine if he gets a nosebleed out here while cruising at these speeds, drunk, I'm sure. Maybe I should say something. Saying something might just save my life. But there will be no way of telling if the something I said actually saved my life, and I don't really have anything to say. I rest my head against the window and stare at my reflection until it splits in two.
Oh, fuck! My husband screams over screeching tyres as whatever he's hit goes over the windshield and pitches our car into a fishtail across the road. It spins maybe three times before skidding to a steaming halt across both lanes. What was that? I say. Then I think for a moment and add, What did you hit?
Nothing, my husband snaps. The windshield is cracked. Like, really cracked. Picture the branches of a tree or something. My head is spinning. My husband sits bolt upright in his seat. Split knuckles vivid against white skin wrapped around the wheel. His arms are so rigid that I go to touch him before pulling away when I notice all that wiry hair standing on end. Just some dumb animal, he says. Yep, sure, just some dumb animal, his voice cracks.
I call him an idiot. I call him a dumb animal. I ask him why he wasn't paying attention. I call him a drunk. Someone could have been killed. He could wind up in jail. Maybe he should be in jail.
But he just sits there, staring into the darkness.
Better go see, he says. I rub my head and say, What about me? I only realised how hard my face must have hit the window when I started yelling. Now my temples are throbbing. What about me!
My husband ignores me and steps from the car. I watch him follow our tyre tracks back down the road until the darkness has virtually swallowed him whole. I want to yell for him to just leave it, to get back in, put his foot down. Let's go! But my head is pounding down through my teeth. I turn to the rearview mirror and examine the little cut where my brow hit the glass. There's already the beginnings of a bruise. No one will believe what happened. Me wearing sunglasses indoors while he itches his scabbed knuckles. Yeah, just an accident, sure, just an accident, yeah.
What's taking him so long? I look back just as my husband heaves something into the ditch. Must have been a big one. He kicks something in after it. My blood goes cold. Was that a shoe? No. No way. Not a shoe. What would a shoe be doing all the way out here? My husband turns and sees me looking. He smiles. I snap my eyes away.
What was it? I ask as he climbs back into the car. Nothing, he says, nothing at all. I say, But what was it? I can hardly breathe. I can hear my heart pounding against my chest. Feel it beating in my cut forehead. He tells me it was just some dumb animal, that I should mind my own business, but before I can say anything, he turns to me and grins. Blood drips from his nostrils, runs down his white shirt, beads in his arm hair as he smears it aside.
Should we call someone? The only way I know I've even spoken is because my husband shakes his head. Ok, I say, ok then. We speed off just as fast as before. My husband is still smiling. There's blood running into his teeth. He doesn't look at me when I start to cry. He hands me his bloodstained hanky and tells me to keep my eyes on the goddamn road.
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