He still has the taste of champagne in his mouth, this taste of apples cut with a rusty knife. His fingers are numb as they curl around the steering wheel, the smooth plastic steadying the slight tremor in his hands as they leave the city.
Manhattan is behind them, bright and dirty all at once. And even after thirty-four years, he’s still in awe of it. In awe of the neon lights and the steam rising through the drains as though everything beneath them is burning.
Vic Damone is on the radio, and it’s making him feel several stories high. He looks over at her, and thinks they should be dancing. They should be skipping across the rain-wet pavement so that dress she’s wearing actually moves. A dress like that isn’t made to be sat in. He wants to hear her laugh, wants to get some air under all those layers of silk and tulle as he spins her until she’s dizzy and clinging onto him like she used to.
But she is sitting quietly next to him, still as a doll, the passing light of Manhattan catching in her Cola-colored curls. Audrey Hepburn, the guys at the factory call her. Perfect. And she is. Absolutely perfect. Too perfect to touch. All curls and pearls and pink, pink lips. And even with a cigarette between her fingers she looks immaculate. Incorruptible.
She knows, he’s sure. Knows about the girls at the factory, the ones that look at him from over their machines. Good morning, Mr. Butler, they say as he walks past. Lovely day, isn’t it, Mr. Butler? And when he pulls their hair and kisses them on the neck, they say his name with a gasp.
“Careful, Richard,” she says, pointing to the curve in the road. She says it every time.
“I know, love,” he says. But it takes a moment for his hands to react, and then the back wheels are sliding across the wet tarmac. And it’s like trying to run across a marble floor in socks.
When the car turns the corner, the lamppost on the corner greets them, striking the front of the car first. It should be louder, he’s sure, more dramatic. And she should be screaming; he didn’t know she was so brave.
He doesn’t feel the glass as the windshield shatters, just watches, utterly rapt, as it falls on him like confetti.
It’s the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
He can’t move his legs.
There’s blood on her dress, he notes, like rose petals on the pale green silk. Her hands are on his face; he can feel them, her voice like a lighthouse luring him back to the shore.
“Richard? Richard? Are you okay?” she asks, the way she’d asked their son Michael that afternoon he’d fallen out of the tree house. “I thought we’d broken him, Richard,” she’d said that night when they returned from the Emergency Room. The house had been cold and he had watched her breath catch on the kitchen window like a tiny ghost as she had looked out at the offending tree in the yard. Limp streamers had hung from the ceiling; strange and vulgar, almost — like Christmas decorations in June — and Michael’s uncut birthday cake was still on the kitchen counter. “The only thing we’ve ever done right, Richard, and I thought we’d broken him.”
A battered Ford Pickup pulls up next to them. “Are you okay?” the man asks warily. But his face softens when he sees her, make-up ruined, as though someone has been drawing lines on her cheeks with a pencil.
“Please. My husband.”
“There’s a garage two miles from here. They have a pay phone,” the man says, and he’s breathless with something Richard knows isn’t fear.
“Don’t go, Mary,” he wants to say as she forces the door open.
But she does. And it is with a terrible pain in his heart that he watches her climb into the Pickup, his hand falling to the empty seat she leaves behind. The leather retains the heat of her, and when he looks up, watching with a defeated sigh as the Pickup pulls away, there is a piece of pale green silk caught in the door. It’s the last thing he sees before the Pickup slides out of view and he lets her go with a quiet reluctance, as though he’s lending a book to someone that he knows he will never see again.
Tanya Byrne is your typical London girl; she’s heard it all but she’s still listening. She likes to do the hoovering to David Bowie and has a weakness for Vonnegut and boys who wear glasses.
This is Every Day Fiction’s 1000th published story!