Emptiness on the Road


The world is a dark haze with no clear frame of reference. A sour mixture of fear and self-loathing circles its way through my body, leaving a cold sweat in its wake. It leaves it’s trail under my eyes. Through the balding tyres of my rusting Toyota Corona, I can feel every slight bump and indentation in the road. The Morse Code of tarmac under my feet spells out my section of the Pacific Highway, always in desperate need of repair. I remember liking that feeling. It is clear-cut in a world of ambiguity and that night my stomach bunched with uncertainty.

The radio’s blaring, reception jumpy, but it’s the opposite of silence and just as seductive. The green light of the dash helps soothe me into numbness. As the white lines speed past and then blur, the numbness leads down to vagueness, and from there to the past.

I could still feel it all. That fading sensation of cool plastic phone in my hand. Those sharp words, sharp enough to cut all involved. My anger echoing out and across the concrete steps, reverberating in my ears. Then the feeling of the ridged steering wheel – I grasp it tightly in one hand, the papery roughness of a map in the other.

The little red light stabs at the corner of my eye, vying for the attention of my jumbled thoughts. It stabs and stabs, over and over, slowly dragging back the earlier fear and completing its metamorphosis into something new. First myself and then my car. Something adrenaline-fuelled. Something empty.

I glance desperately at my map. A turnoff’s coming and I need to decide quickly. Side road, main road. Side road, main road. Side road, main road. Dividing my hazy attention, I follow the side route with an unsteady finger and then with an unsteady car. I speed wildly, burning more vapour. I drive, but uncertainty makes me crazy and I turn back halfway along.

My tired eyes need bright lights by the roadside. They need novelty-sized numbers and grit-like bits of meat and pastry in my hand. That stale, reheated taste. At 2 a.m. they’ll be tiny bits of familiar Heaven to my slowly burning tastebuds.

The rumble of a passing semi jars me back to reality. I speed up again, fear coiling in my guts. The distant lights blur. My eyes dry out, the lids droop, then they water, but I have to keep them open. Time-and-space blur in the little compartment of my sedan. Think Star Trek, mid-warp, as the lights bend and the stars jump.

Behind me I hear a slow rumble. Ahead bright lights and large numbers jump from behind a sign, into my face, right at the whites of my eyes.

I wrench at the handbrake.

My chest shudders with surprise and one final fear.

From behind, an airhorn sounds loudly.

My car skids across the road, turning slightly, flinging me towards salvation.

It judders to a halt on white concrete.

I breathe in.

I have barely breathed out before the semi-trailer that nearly slammed into my car slows to a stop in the bay beside it.

I look up.

The driver and I will have words …

As soon as I can breathe again.

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