There was the dopp thud of two strangers dropping onto the back seat, and the door closed with a thump. Through the silence that followed, I could make out the gloppy sound of snogging. I stared down at the meter. Another twenty pence ticked over.
‘Where to?’ I asked, driving off from the rank. He slurred something that I couldn’t catch. ‘Say again, mate?’
‘He said Two thousand and six,’ said the girl. Her voice seemed familiar, but not the address. Was it a night club?
‘Is that in Luton?’ I glanced in the rear-view mirror. He looked like a bloke from an old school photograph. The shape of the mouth, line across the brow…
I had to flick my eyes back to the road. I knew him. But who was he?
‘Two Thousand and Six,’ he said, and although the words were spoken softly, I felt as if I’d been punched in the stomach. I looked back again.
It was my own face. A bit younger, but on the back seat, it was… me.
I faced the road, gripping the wheel I bit into my lip to stem the tremor creeping through my body.
I moved my head to check out who she was. But I already knew. It was Clare of course. My gut tightened. And there we were. Me and Clare, together, on the back seat.
My fists held the wheel so tightly I could hardly steer. Neither could I understand. Me and Clare? It was too weird. Two thousand and six, I found myself mouthing, but all I could hear was the blood pumping; pumping in my ears. And I drove, as if with a purpose, straight over the crossroads, straight over the mini-roundabouts, onto a long, dark road out of town.
He leaned forward between the seats. ‘So you’re doing this, now?’ I might have nodded. ‘That mug-shot makes you look really serious, you know.’
‘And a bit dodgy, too,’ she added. So good to hear her voice again. I looked down at the hackney badge above the meter. She was right. It wasn’t really a face you could trust. Not anymore.
‘Yeah, I’m doing this.’ I might have said it. I might have just thought it.
We were out on the bypass. Waves of orange light washed through the car, and with each passing glow I stole a tense look in the mirror. I wanted to see her face again, but all I could see of Clare, was a cheek that rose and fell beneath the mass of blonde hair lying across his shoulder.
‘Is she… okay?’ I asked.
‘Clare’s fine.’ He sighed, and pulled her closer. ‘She was a bit upset when you didn’t say goodbye. But she soon got over it. Anyway, how about you? How are you doing these days?’
I waited for the meter to tick over another twenty pence as I thought about how best to answer that.
Two Thousand and Six. I had everything going for me back then. I had Clare. We had each other. I thought I had the world at my feet, and, really, I felt invincible – so invincible that it had never occurred to me to look behind, to see what was catching up with me.
‘I’m good,’ I lied, blinking to hold back the wave that pulsed behind my eyeballs. Gripping the wheel tighter, I drove into the vast memory of night.
Paul Alexander is inspired by characters and events that have touched his life – from the curious to the uncanny. He is currently working towards publication for a collection of flash and short fiction. He lives and works in Southampton.
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net