The road was dotted with potholes and slick with rainwater and silage from the tractors. The wiry hedgerows came fast towards Patricia at each bend in the road and she had to yank on the steering wheel each time she approached a turn. With the dark canvas of the moonless sky overhead, she felt like a rat trapped in a tunnel maze. She didn’t know how fast she was going, didn’t dare look. She remembered reading somewhere that driving while exhausted was just as dangerous, if not more so, as driving under the influence of alcohol. Certainly she felt drained, struggling to coordinate her mind and limbs. But there was none of the carefree abandon one feels after a few drinks, just a tense agitation. How much further, she thought. She hadn’t seen a road sign now for miles. Was it really so important that she had this conversation with her now? Wouldn’t she just be proving her right by turning up in the middle of the night like this? Too impulsive, too emotional.
She opened the window, letting in a rush of cold air and the sound of the strained revolutions of the engine. She pressed down into the accelerator. Soon she began to shiver and tensed her jaw, almost expecting the leaves from the branches or the thorns from the hedgerow to reach into the car and tear at the skin of her cheeks. She reached for the car radio. A late-night retrospective show, she recognised the presenter’s transatlantic voice from a yoghurt advert on the television. Veering in and out of her lane, she nodded her head with jerks to the driving beats and synth bass of the early 1980s.
Patricia sat back and swept the hair from her eyes. She felt at the small egg-like lump on her forehead and winced. The seatbelt should have locked when she stamped on the brakes but instead, as the car skidded, her head connected violently with the steering wheel. In front of her, lit motionless by the dazzling beams of the headlights, stood unblinking, a large auburn fox. Although she was sure the animal couldn’t see her past the glare of the headlights, the defiance in his stare gave Patricia a profound sense of discomfort. There was menace in that gaze. A warning. Go no further. The radio was still playing, and the presenter was reading out dedication messages from the other demented, sleepless souls out there in the world.
Patricia began to laugh. Cautiously, she directed the vehicle into a three-point turn. The fox was still holding court in the middle of the road in her rear-view mirror. The pain in her head was acute, but she felt alert now. Peaceful. Maybe this would be something they would laugh about one day. Maybe this, she thought turning up the volume, will become our song.
Andy Warmington is a writer based in Northern Ireland, with short fiction published by Margo Collective and fiction and features in Honest Ulsterman magazine. He is currently working on his first novel between bouts of experimental cookery and looking after his 3-year old son.
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