A twist of her wrist and the car shuddered to life. The throaty rumbling of the engine momentarily startled her. She hadn't expected it to start; it was old and she was used to things not working. She gripped the steering wheel, knuckles burning white.
"OK. Now," she instructed, "just drive the car. Just drive the car. Just. Drive. The. Car."
She stepped on the accelerator. The engine roared, but the car remained stationary. First, panic - "No. No… No… NO!" - then, relieved realization; she hadn't put the car in DRIVE. She cursed her own stupidity and shifted the gear stick. It settled into place with a clunk. The car lurched forward, churning up a thick, brown cloud of dust. At the same time, she felt the weight of doubt, like a ball and chain, holding her back. But, no. It was now or never. She had to go. She had to go or she would be stuck here forever. She had to go or she would die here, without ever having lived. She couldn't look back. She mustn't look back.
She glanced in the rear-view mirror.
"No… No… NO!" She yelled, hitting the steering wheel with the palm of her hand. She scolded herself for being weak. She must never look back. It was over. Over. From now on, this place was dead to her. It was no longer home. For the time being, she was homeless. She thought of all the trite sayings she'd heard over the years: ‘Home is Where the Heart is.’ ‘Home Sweet Home.’ ‘There's No Place Like Home.’ She considered the meaning of the word 'home' - A place where one lives? A place where one feels safe? Yes, she had lived here, but no, she’d never felt safe.
Salvation was a small town, the kind of town outsiders often saw through the rose-tinted glasses of romanticized nostalgia; a town forgotten by time, with white picket fences, unlocked doors and friendly locals. But the reality was far less idyllic. The white picket fences needed painting and repair. The unlocked doors and the so-called friendly locals – residents who felt it was their business to know everybody’s business – made Salvation a gossipy, judgmental community, one completely devoid of privacy and personal space. In her opinion, there’d been far more suitable names – Stagnation, Suffocation, Strangulation – but she’d always kept those to herself, until this afternoon.
“This place, it’s killing me. I have to get out. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe with all these hands around my throat.”
The memory replayed. It clouded her mind - a stubborn storm of thought, a tempest she couldn’t shake.
“What did you say?” he slurred, grabbing another beer from the refrigerator - his fifth of the hour. He popped the metal cap from the bottle and flung it at her face. She flinched and turned away. The cap bounced off her head and clattered to the floor. He scoffed. “Pick that up,” he said.
But she didn’t move.
“You hear me? I told you to pick it up.”
She felt the burning heat of his glare and thought, ‘If you do this, life will never be the same. If you do this, there’ll be no going back.’
She returned his glare. “I heard you,” she said.
His eyes narrowed and he stepped close. “Then. Pick. It. Up,” he hissed. Spit flew from his lips with each punctuated syllable. His speech was slow, shaky, angry.
‘If you do this…’
But she already knew.
‘Life will never…’
She was going to do it.
‘No going back…’
She straightened up, looked him firmly in the eye and said, “No.”
The pain from the blow was momentarily blinding and she crumpled to the floor. When her vision cleared, she saw him standing over her with clenched fists. She reached up and fumbled for the edge of the countertop, finding it with the pads of her fingers. Using the wooden surface as support, she pulled herself to her feet. She was dazed, but determined, and when the second blow came, she was ready.
She ducked and grabbed the kettle – heavy and full of water – and swung it at him. The rounded metal connected with the side of his head, making a musical, watery gong sound. To her surprise, he fell straight to the floor. She hadn’t expected it to work; he was strong and she was used to things not working. But he was sprawled on the floor, out cold. She knew she had to act fast. She grabbed some money, a change of clothes and the key to the car.
Now she was on a long, empty road - tires crunching over the gritty surface of the tarmac below, sky stretching, blue and wide, above. She rolled down the window, letting the wind play with her hair, and she thought, ‘This must be what freedom feels like’. She breathed in, deep, and briefly closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she caught sight of something in the rear-view mirror. In the distance, in the middle of the road, stood a girl - a vision of herself – a girl with the same face, clothes and hair. The girl looked panicked and distraught.
Her heart lurched and she gasped, slamming on the brakes. The car stopped. She considered turning around and going back. But then she thought, ‘You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. You can only save yourself.’
She took her foot off the brake and pressed it down on the accelerator. As the car picked up speed, she glanced in the rear-view mirror. The girl was gone.
She fixed her eyes on the road ahead and never looked back again.
Written by: Angela DeRay
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe