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Andy’s been sick all day. He’s burning up. Maybe it’s something he ate. Or maybe he’s had too much sun. He sits there saying nothing for a long time and then starts humming real loud or makes a sort of weird groaning sound. I can tell he’s going over and over something in his head and no matter how far he gets away from it, he always ends up right back where he started. He begins to squirm and wriggle, plays with his hair, gnaws at his fingers – I think he’s going to eat himself alive. It’s driving me to distraction.

Perhaps it’s time I got somebody to take a look at him. It wouldn’t be hard. I could drop him off and pick him up later when he was fixed. I should have done it ages ago. There have been plenty of times when he needed some roadside assistance, not the sort of help I could give him.

Like that time when he lost his motor.

I remember stepping out of the elevator into the underground car park and finding an empty space where the car was meant to be. I thought we might have forgotten where we’d left it but no, Andy always knew where it was supposed to be. He never forgot things like that. It was his way of keeping the world fixed and stable. He had a very good memory most of the time.

Of course, it didn’t work if people moved things without telling him. He couldn’t cope with that. He stood in the empty space where the car had been parked and looked around, looked at me, stared at the oily stains seeping into the concrete floor. It was as if by being there, he might somehow will the car back into its rightful place. He spent a lot of time in that car park.

I never did find out what happened next. For weeks, I saw nothing of him – no calls, no visits – and I made no attempt to contact him. There didn’t seem to be any point. After all, what would we do? Stay at home and watch telly? Catch a bus? It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t much but it was certainly different. That’s all there was to it. I soon got used to being without him. I didn’t miss him at all. No gaps, no emptiness. I could barely remember that he’d existed. I was kidding myself though. I should have known better than to think that was the end.

One day, I’m walking down the street and I hear the sound of a motor behind me, a deep rumble that reverberates through the air, vibrating within me. There are other people walking towards me but they’re not looking at the car – they’re looking at me as if they can tell that the sound is meant for me, that it’s using a frequency only I can pick up.

I walk on and the sound follows me. Eventually Andy draws level in the car and leans across to open the passenger door. I move towards it and then hesitate at the last moment. It’s not that I don’t want to get in. I just want to be sure that if I get in this time, there’s going to be no getting out, no going back. This time it’s for keeps.

It’s funny how things can change around. Sometimes that happens. It hardly seems like his car any more, and he doesn’t even notice. He’s letting it all go, learning to forget. He’s got other things on his mind. Other places. Other people. He’ll be getting out soon. He will.



So we decide to stop. We enter a roadhouse car park at speed and skid to a halt beside the only other vehicle, a large campervan, one of these mobile homes from home. I like to park close to other vehicles. It looks more friendly that way. This time I park so close that Andy will have to get out on my side. When I turn the engine off, it suddenly seems very quiet. We sit and listen to the tick-tick of the cooling motor for a while.

Inside the roadhouse, it is dark and empty apart from the two inhabitants of the campervan. There are gingham tablecloths and country farmhouse chairs. The walls are covered with pictures of natural wonders from around the world. A Saharan sand dune. A Polynesian atoll. A limestone grotto. I stand in the doorway and listen to the squeak and crash of the screen door shutting behind us. It reminds me of something far away and long ago.

We sit at one of the rustic tables. The campervan people – a man and a small boy – are sitting behind Andy so I am able to watch them while pretending to look at Andy and read the menu at the same time.

A waitress comes along and Andy starts doing his stuff, quizzing her about the orange juice, how much sugar it has, how many preservatives, whether it’s made from concentrate and so on. Finally, he orders a ginger beer. I get the same. All this time I’m pretending to take part but really I’m listening to the man and the boy.

‘Yes son.’
‘Where’s Mommy?’
‘Well son, Mommy had to go away for a while. She’ll be back soon.’
‘Does that mean we don’t have to clean the fly screens any more?’
‘Mommy makes us clean the fly screens.’
‘Does she? I mean, no, I guess not then.’

Silence. The waitress brings the ginger beer. I stare at the poster of the sand dune and try to imagine sinking up to my waist in the soft sand, waiting for somebody to come and pull me out or for the wind to blow the sand over and cover me. I want to be a dune that grows bigger and bigger.

‘Yes son.’
‘Why do we have to clean the fly screens?’
‘Well... I dunno, I guess so they don’t get blocked up with flies all the time.’
‘Why Daddy?’
‘So the fresh air can get in, that’s why. Eat your eggs, son.’

Andy is sucking on his bottle of ginger beer, watching me from behind his sunglasses. I know he’s watching me but I don’t care. The coolness of the interior has calmed him down a lot. He looks pale and small again, apart from the big red spot in the middle of his forehead. When he sucks and raises his eyebrows, deep furrows appear, by-passing the spot. That’s right. That’s his spot alright, it’s where he belongs, where nobody can reach him. No roads lead there and there’s no way out. The sea is blue and the grass is green.

The way I figure it, he never wanted to leave the city in the first place. He wasn’t seeking a final exit, the right way out. He was happy simply jumping lights and testing the limits, playing his little car games. He could lose himself in the city, get stuck in a jam, caught on camera, pay the toll. He doesn’t want to be here. You see, it was my idea all along. That’s right. I’m the one who got us here.

‘What is it son?’
‘Will we have to clean the fly screens when Mommy gets back?’
‘No son. No more screens.’

Out in the car park, I make my way towards the car and then toss the keys to Andy. He makes a reflex catch and looks at them curiously, as if they’re pagan artefacts or something. He’s going to drive now. I want to see how far he can take me.