by Miki Byrne
David Garland pushed his fingertips into his temples. He felt woozy. Blinked as if waking from a deep sleep. Why was he standing outside the residency where his daughter lived? Disorientation washed over him. There was no memory of driving here. Yet, amongst the fragmented thoughts he knew he had to be somewhere. The urgency of this knowledge was at odds with his dazed mind. Perhaps if he sat down with Julianne for a minute his head would clear. He had a deadline to keep. Surely a minute wouldn’t hurt. Things felt so dislocated and fatigue seeped along every limb.
He pressed the bell with Julianne’s name on it. Although the college was only on the other side of town Julianne had wanted her independence and he and Jackie had respected that. There was no sound of a doorbell and time ticked by, governed by his strange internal need to be moving.
David walked round to her window, second along, ground floor. Juliennes’ blind was up and in a lamps glow he could see her, his lovely, intelligent daughter, hunched over her keyboard. In the distance a siren howled, melancholy in its rise and fall. David tapped the window.
‘Jules, Jules! It’s me, C’mon’. She had the small earpieces of her MP3 player plugged into her head. She couldn’t hear him.
The urge, the need to be somewhere swamped him again. God. Why couldn’t he remember? Knuckling his eyes he stumbled on. As he walked the dizziness ebbed and flowed like the waves of a spring tide flinging itself upon the empty beach that was his memory. It seemed like no time before he realized he was standing outside his ex-wife’s house.
Surely, this wasn’t where he was planning on coming? Sure, he and Jackie still had a good friendship but he couldn’t remember arranging to meet her tonight. It was as if someone had taken scissors to his thoughts and left him with only the tiny scraps that had fallen to the floor. His head seemed to be floating as if it were detached from his neck. The knock on Jackie’s door gained no response, so, as he had with Julianne, he walked to the window and tapped hard on the pane. Jackie was on the settee. Her friend Paula was beside her and judging by the wine, chocolates and a box of tissues they were having one of their girly chic-flick nights.
He must have got it wrong. She would never have invited him round on…what day was it? He struggled to grasp the day but it slid away from him like a fish through weeds of amnesia. Why can’t I remember! He was near to tears. Did I pass out, get plastered drunk? Did someone spike my drink? Maybe he had stopped off for one with Gary after work. He just didn’t know and that urgent ‘got to be somewhere’ feeling enveloped him with such power that he tore his eyes away from the window and pushed himself to go on. In the distance, the siren swelled on the air, coming closer.
It felt like a mere eye-blink before David found that he was on the M5 slip road a quarter-mile from his home, in the middle of the road. The airstream of an ambulance passed him, siren in full throat. It pushed him onto the verge. Brake lights glowed ahead of him. David hurried forward, his head felt clearer yet more muddied at the same time. Here. This was his destination. Ahead, an articulated lorry was skewed at an angle blocking the slip-road with a blue car twisted grotesquely under its cabin. The car looked familiar and beside it on the glistening tarmac lay a body. Two paramedics strode purposefully forward. They and David arrived together. As he stood at the body’s feet he felt faint, as if he were in the first surreal seconds of an anaesthetic. He began to fall forward, landing with unexpected and exquisite gentleness upon the corpse. Instead of horror he felt a seconds’ sense of arrival, of being where he needed to be. Then he heard the paramedic say:
‘This one’s DOA Steve. Better call it in.
Miki Byrne is the author of Nice Bits & Hissy-fits. She reads her work at festivals, on TV and radio.