Peter Burns

In the Rear-view.

 

The needle hits ninety and, still, we’re not fast enough. Christ, they’re screaming up our arses.

‘Floor it, Jim,’ goes Stu, his head, in the rear-view mirror, twisting.

And Frank says, ‘Get us clear, you get another ten percent.’

‘From who?’ goes Stu, neck sprung loose.

Frank says, ‘Both of us.’

I shift into fifth, force the pedal to the floor. Everything blurs while thoughts reverse.

Awake in a half-empty bed with a full-on hangover. She wanted me out of her sight the previous night. Come morning she crashes through the spare room door, screeching: ‘Sacked? Constant lateness? Call yerself the man’o the house?’

‘Come on Glenda, that’s a bit…’

‘What? A bit strong? You’ve not been a man since Billy was born, you ain’t…’

No. Shift from it. Slows you down.

In the rear-view, distance grows between us.

‘That’s it Jimbo, we’re losin’ them,’ goes Stu.

Frank says, ‘We ain’t there yet. Need to shake free before hittin’ the farmhouse.’

In the rear-view, expanding emptiness. Bare fields, straggled trees. A solitary road streaks through it. A road that started thirty years ago, when I was twelve.

 

First punch took the wind from me, put me on my knees.

‘Up! Face me like a man. How can you defend yerself outside if you can’t at home?’

Next one made my head ring. Seconds out. Darkness in.

Ran the old fucker off my road years ago. Yet, no matter how fast I shift, how far I go, when the tyres are screeching and the engines are stressed he appears in the rear-view snarling for a fight.

‘Shit,’ goes Stu, the back of his head, in the rear-view, bobbing up and down, side-to-side. ‘Chopper overhead. We’re fucked.’

Frank says, ‘Pull-yer-fuckin’-self-together. Ain’t over yet.’

 

She worked every night and he drank what she earned. Monday to Sunday. So, I worked every off-the-book, in-the-hand, by-the-hour, job I could. First motor was a Honda. Fitted it out, tuned it up, showed it off, at the stock car racing. Then wrecked it. But I learn as fast as I drive.

Weekdays he could slam me against the wall as hard as he liked. Come the weekend I pounded the accelerator and shifted free from his shit. Started at fifteen years old. Had to falsify an extra three years to make it legal.

A turn comes. Slowing down I look in the rear-view. They’re gaining. It’s all going tits up and face down on the ground.

Glenda’s father was the best of the best. A legend. Problem was, he hated me anywhere near him. And his daughter. Cocky little bastard, he called me. Always. Never by name. This, in a sport where not being cocky could leave you dead, or, worse, a vegetable.

We turn the bend, and another one, up ahead, flies sharply to the right.

At sixteen, I popped the question and, like popping the hood, felt her throb at my touch, felt the keenness of her ticking over.

 

Frank says, ‘Get us across that field, towards those woods.’

‘Can you do it, Jim?’ Stu goes, head between chairs.

And Frank says, ‘Sit-the-fuck-back. We ain’t gonna know ‘til we try.’

 

After careering down the M8, I asked if we could get married over the engine. They laughed. It was the anvil or nothing.

Past Franks’ baggy red face and tight set mouth, a large ditch runs, breaking our entry onto farmland.

We moved into a caravan behind the racetrack. Owned by a fellow speed-freak. Never told the old fucker where. Felt sorry for the old dear, though. A casualty of war, hit by not-so-friendly fire. But Glenda’s old man was soon on my slipstream. What I escaped from home he paid me back in lieu. All those beatings from the old fucker, all those crashes on the track, none marked my face the way he did.

The violence before was out of hatred, self-hatred at that. This violence was from love. And he loved his daughter, I can tell you.

Lights howl in the rear-view. I half-shut my eyes, narrow them out.

‘Fuckin’ eyes on the road,’ Stu goes.

And Frank says, ‘Fuckin’-shut-it-arsehole. Jim, get us shot of these cops.’

I nod, clench my teeth.

Glenda hates stock car racing. Dragged along by her mother since she were a nipper. Grew up seeing people wrecked. She niggled me constantly about giving it up and getting a job. Eventually, I went to work on a car assembly line. Another favour from a fellow racer.

I floor the pedal and feel vibrations up my legs, in my guts, through my chest and around my heart.

Life in the caravan was no holiday for her. I never felt freer. Riding the circuit, coming back to the caravan muddied and bloodied, made me proud as any man could be.

The car factory was prison. Racing was freedom. But Glenda had me working weekends to save for a home of our own.

We got a mortgage, bought a house, had a kid and settled for a family car. Not fast but reliable. Life shifted into cruise-mode. I drank, putting distance between where I was and where I wanted to be. Years blurred, like the tarmac now. Didn’t see the signs about the twisting turns of life. Should have focused on negotiating the long curve of aging. But I crashed on ahead. Now, I drive to pay off the house. To keep Glenda.

 

The ditch meets us head on.

‘Fuck,’ goes Stu. ‘We ain’t gonna make it.’

Frank says, ‘We better. I ain’t goin’ back inside.’

The car lurches. Emptiness between wheels and road echoes in my guts. The bonnet strikes the wire fence, it bends before snapping. The motor’s velocity snaps with it. We roll down into muddy rainwater.

Swirling inside, free from the bag beside Stu, the money taunts us. Faces laugh as they pass.

Howling and flashing above, I look to the rear-view. I no longer see what’s behind me, because a fifty spot’s clung to it from which the Queen smiles coldly. She knows what’s in front of me.

And it’s all at her pleasure. SLQ

 

©2015 Peter Burns

 

In the Rear-View by Peter Burns won third prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (February 2015)

 

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