Sunday 12 May 2019

Forever Yours, Mr. Carter

Published in Volume 13 of the Cosumnes River Journal, May 2019
Sacramento, California

It’s him. It has to be him. I recognise the back of his silky, tousled hair, its tips brushing gently against the collar of his crisp, white shirt. I hear the charming chime of laughter escape his lips and see the way he adjusts his patterned tie, whilst swirling his blood-red wine around the glass that he holds so carefully between his fingertips. I can almost picture the confidence and charisma oozing out of the veins that snake underneath his cold, thick skin as he captures the attention of the Bambi-eyed female sitting opposite him. Her blue eyes, heavily surrounded by a black kohl liner, mist over in awe, her gaze fixated on the sunken dimples in his cheeks and the dark, sooty stubble scattered over his tanned chin. I know it’s him. Christian Carter.

My eyes are roaring flames, dancing and flitting around my surroundings. I don’t fit in here with my tangled hair and unflattering tracksuit, which displays the creases of the loose skin hanging around my stomach as a result of my pregnancy. I know it’s there for a reason. It’s there to remind me of what I did.

I’m slouched on a stool by the bar, glancing half-heartedly at the several empty glasses that are gathered around me. I trace my finger in and out of the grooves on the wooden surface, allowing my thoughts to drift. The beer has risen to my head. I told myself not to do this tonight.

“Can I get you another?” the lively barman asks me, grabbing the pint glasses, clinking them in unison. He already hovers near a clean glass because he knows what my answer will be. It won’t be any different from the countless times he’s asked me before. I nod and mumble something under my breath, fumbling in my pocket and pulling out a crumpled fiver.

I can’t help but stare at them. I should be sitting there, soaking up every inch of his caramel skin, breathing in his musky scent. I bought him that crisp, white shirt and that patterned tie. I was his everything - but now, everything is gone. I can’t let him see me. He warned me last time he would ring the police if this happened again. I promised, but I was crossing my fingers. I won’t leave him alone until I finish what I came to do.

I wrap my fingers around the fresh pint with such great force that froth spills over the edge and trickles between my fingers. There’s a shuffle of chairs and he helps her put on her jacket. Her butter-gold blouse brushes softly against his chest. She tosses her honey-coloured hair behind her shoulder, the tinkles of her giggles ringing in my ears. This is my chance; I have to take it. They head to the car park as I follow behind them, possessing what can only be classed as a sickening sense of excitement, my beer abandoned and waiting to surprise the barman. I lurk in the shadows, watching Christian swing his car keys between his fingertips and the lady totter in her patent heels, waiting for the slam of his navy BMW doors.

Despite being close to eleven at night, the temperature at the peak of June doesn’t fail to demonstrate its presence. The remnants of a muggy, unbearable heat lingers in the air, and along with the sour taste of beer in my mouth, I feel clammy and frustrated. I hear the rev of Christian’s engine - he always was a show off, after all - and the car purrs out of the pub.

I trail behind his car down an everlasting road, and one I don’t recognise. My head pounds. Several times, my vision becomes nothing more than a series of blurs, and the car swerves abruptly until I jerk the steering wheel back in control. I’ve always had a problem with alcohol. It’s why Christian divorced me. It’s how I lost my baby.

A few miles later, I see the warm glow of his rear lights vanish into a turning. I slow down and gradually make my way up the road, using a weakly-flickering lantern outside the property to guide me and, sure enough, the navy BMW is there – in prime position.

Hastily, I open the glove box. I rummage in a chaotic mess of empty pill bottles and prescriptions and rusting coins before I find what I’m looking for. I open the car door, inch by inch, and leave it open - it would make too much noise to shut it. If I’m seen, everything is over. I creep towards the BMW, twisting the cap of my tin of lighter fluid, and, using my other hand, slide open my matchbox, staring at the three single matches with dissatisfaction. I’ll have to sacrifice my midnight cigarette.

I have one chance to get this right - one chance to get my revenge. He left me when I needed him most. What’s more, he blamed it on me. My drinking and my smoking killed our baby, he told me.

To my delight, the backseat window is open slightly, and although I’m immersed in complete darkness, I gently tilt the tin’s nozzle into the car, feeling the weight of it decreasing as its contents soak the interior. I swipe the chosen match against the matchbox and an amber flame sparks immediately, curling around the wood, devouring it. Without a second thought, I toss it into the car, running towards the safety of my own. I crouch down, feeling the heat of the roaring flame against my skin.

A minute later, the fire is high in the air, licking up any remains. The front door swings open and Christian sprints out, shouting expletives that are silenced by the crackling of the raging fire. I notice the devastated look overcome his face as he watches his beloved BMW burning to pieces. I soak up every moment of his priceless despair. He realises how it feels to lose something you love.

I’m expecting his lady lover to run after him, but there’s no sign of Bambi-eyes. I think he realises this at the same time as I do, because his gaze turns hollow and meaningless. Then, I see it. Among the wreckage, I see a charred hand lying on the gravel.

                                                                                                                  Image: Maria Geller


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