It is a Saturday morning, just after eleven a.m.
You are standing in the street outside your house, wearing your work uniform. You can see your reflection in the driver-side door of your car. Your features are indistinct and distorted by the curving chassis, so that you look almost grotesque, like a funhouse-mirror image of your real self.
The thought of your own indistinctness makes your stomach lurch, and you reach out to steady yourself on the roof of the car. You had a late night last night, and this morning your breath smells faintly of whiskey. You take a deep shuddering breath and pull open the car door, bundling yourself inside like a miner shifting a sack of coal.
The door scrapes along the uneven pavement before closing behind you with a click.
Looking out through the windscreen, you notice that the morning has taken on a strange watery light, as if it were a badly-edited photograph on an instagram profile page. It is going to be humid today and you are already far too hot. You can feel your loose trousers crumpling and sticking to the damp skin of your thighs. Your shoes feel far too big, as if your feet might have shrunk during the night.
You shift uncomfortably in the seat and pull your seatbelt into place, snapping the strap across your chest before peeling it away from the sharp edge of your collarbone.
You roll down the window and fumble for the ignition.
The street is so quiet that you can hear birdsong from the park at the end of the road, and the hum of traffic on the main road sounds so faint, a fool might mistake it for running water.
Aside from the occasional day-glow jogger or fleece-and-wellies dog-walker, you are completely alone.
You twist the key in the ignition, and the engine roars into life. The radio splutters out an angsty pop song, the beat throbbing in perfect time with the pounding in your head. You wince as you turn the volume up instead of down. The power chords reach an almost unbearable crescendo, and you twist the volume knob anti-clockwise as hard as you can, until all the noise drains from the surrounding air, like a slowly deflating balloon.
You’ve got to stop drinking before work.
You pull the car out from its parking space and ease your way down the street, wing mirrors skirting perilously close to the rows of parked cars on either side of the road.
A dog-walker in a green fleece and black and white striped wellies stops to take a photo of you on their phone. You do your best not to notice, keeping your eyes on the road.
Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.
At the top of the street, on the junction that crosses the main road, you fiddle with the Sat Nav on your phone, taking the postcode from a creased email printout you’ve excavated from the bottom of your rucksack. The address is familiar to you; you’ve been there before at least a few times. You sniff hard, punching the postcode into the Sat Nav, and letting its soothing female voice guide you left, towards the town centre.
The first three sets of traffic lights stay green as you pass by, and you whizz past the square, attracting attention only when you have to slow down to let pedestrians cross near the old bridge.
An elderly man looks up to offer a friendly salute in your direction as he makes his way over the road. When he catches sight of you, he does one of those old-fashioned incredulous double-takes, the kind you see in vintage Bugs Bunny cartoons. You raise your fingers from the steering wheel in a wave of acknowledgement – taking care not to move your head too much lest you be violently sick – but the stranger doesn’t respond to your gesture. Instead, he slowly makes his way past you, craning his neck to stare.
When he reaches the opposite side of the pavement, the man stands, dumbfounded, his eyes still fixed on your face. As you pull away, you check your rear-view mirror, and watch as he visibly shakes himself out of his trance, before wandering away towards Poundland, the back of his head bobbing in residual disbelief.
In the beginning, you would have been embarrassed by this kind of attention but you’re used to it now. You check your make up in the rear-view mirror anyway, and arch a painted eyebrow in mock dismay. Like ‘Can you believe that guy?!’
The act of moving these parts of your face makes you feel queasy, and you vow never to drink again.
You’ve crossed the train tracks now, heading east, and the streets here are more residential. You pass children playing ball in a cul de sac and mothers pushing prams towards the bus stop, getting ready for mornings filled with errands in town and coffee shop gossip with friends.
You envy them.
In front of a corner shop, a boy on a bicycle spots you out of the corner of his eye, yells to his mates who mount their own bikes and give chase, following you for a few roads before realising that they're not in the least bit intimidating, and disappearing into a park somewhere near the library.
The feeling of sickness has subsided a little since you started your drive, but your mouth still tastes metallic, like the smell of pennies.
But there is a bottle of Lucozade is your backpack, and a packet of sausage rolls. You dig through the bag and pull its contents out onto the passenger seat. Tearing the packet with one hand, you carefully fold the first sausage roll into your mouth, making sure not to smudge your lipstick on the pastry as you chew.
You have mastered the art of eating while driving, and by the time you make it to the community centre, the bottle of Lucozade is empty, and your lap is littered with crumbs.
You have reached your destination.
You drive the car onto the gravel driveway, switch off the engine and brush the crumbs from your thighs onto the floor by your feet. You feel rejuvenated, and not a moment too soon.
You pull a yellow suitcase from the back seat of the car, and wrestle it on to your lap. Opening it, you make sure the helium pump is full, cocking it like a shotgun before pressing it back into its casing, amongst the coloured handkerchiefs.
You are pleased to see that you have everything you need.
In front of you, the community centre stands, a squat brick building, crouching in the road between semi-detached bungalows on one side, and small block of flats on the other. It is a nondescript place, and not at all where you would be on a Saturday, if you had the choice. But then, choice is just a matter of perspective, and you're here now: you might as well make the best of it.
You crane your neck and peer across to the front of the building. There is a huge banner hanging above the door, which reads ‘Happy Fifth Birthday Isaac’ and, judging from the screaming coming from inside, the party is already in full swing. You press the red rubber clown nose onto your face and adjust your curly blue wig. You check your make up in the rear-view mirror one last time, take a deep breath, and open the car door...
This piece of writing was based on a prompt we were given as part of the 'Haunts' theatre writing project with New Perspectives Theatre. The task was to write a piece of prose in Second Person, where the identity of the 'You' character was not immediately obvious, but gradually became clear as the story progressed. It was nice to write a bit of prose for a change, and challenge myself to write something I wouldn't normally write. Hope you like it!
|Wisbech on a sunny day|