You could say I’m an unhappy guy. I just want to blot out the days, smoke away the nights and dump my beloved books into the ocean. Books used to be my everything, but now they simply bore me – I can hardly read a paragraph my senses are so dulled. I have better days, it’s true, because I’m essentially free. I can choose when I wake – I have no alarms, no commitments, but sleeping in my car, that I’ve called home since the divorce, can be a real drag.
The car itself is okay – compact but with decent legroom, low mileage and it can run and run.
But I want my old life back.
I think of my ex, Julia, as I flip down the car’s sun visor and slide open the mirror. I pull out my electric shaver and glide it along the grooves of my chin. And then I recall shaving in our bathroom at home – wiping the moisture from the mirror as Julia stepped out of the shower wrapping herself in a towel, avoiding my gaze, giving me the silent treatment. I should have foreseen what was to come.
Now I wait for Julia in my car outside my old home, and I brush my teeth with a dry toothbrush, spitting saliva out of my window. Around 8am, Julia trots down the long steps of our Georgian house, and walks the couple of blocks to the university we both used to work at, until they fired me.
Julia doesn’t seem to have anyone else in her life, but I can’t be sure, of course. I haven’t seen her cosying up to another man in the three months since our split. She’s predictable – visits the same coffee shops and bars with the same circle of friends and her bedroom lights are always out before midnight.
Secretly, I have hope for us.
My car idles outside the university as Julia walks up the front path where the red and yellow leaves have been piled up and swept onto the grass. And then she’s gone.
My passenger door opens and in jumps my girlfriend, Crystal. She leans in for a kiss and I reciprocate reluctantly.
“Are you stalking me? Ha!” she says.
“I’m waiting for someone.”
“Ok, Mr Grumpy, I just wanted to say hello.”
There’s a prolonged silence where I check my fuel gauge and wait for the clock on my dashboard to change. Crystal flicks through a textbook she finds on the back seat. Ripped pages flutter onto the floor where crushed beer cans and the odd empty whiskey bottle lay in a mess.
I grip the steering wheel as blood drains from my fingers.
“Anything else I can do for you, Crystal?” I say.
“I don’t understand you. I’ve tried to defend you to people, but I’m realising you’ve got a real nasty streak.”
“Oh yeah?” I sigh. “How interesting.”
“Fuck you, Harry.”
Crystal climbs out and slams the door behind her. She should treat the car with some more respect, I seduced her in the passenger seat after all.
I’ve got a splitting headache – outrageous stabbing pains shooting through my temples, so I rifle around for some painkillers in my glove box. It’s loaded with junk and all I find is a half full sheet of crazy pills I took a few months ago when things were becoming hectic. I’d just lost my wife and my job at university because I’d slept with Crystal, my student, who I’m pretty sure I never even liked.
I remember threatening Julia with a nail file after she’d confronted me about the affair and then I collapsed on our bed in tears, begging her not to tell anyone. But she did and I lost everything. I haven’t talked to her since, except through the lawyers.
I’m feeling weird waves of energy moving through my body and so to be on the safe side I knock back a decent dose of the crazy pills, sinking my teeth into the chalky tablets. I feel something dark coming on.
I see Julia walking back home at the end of the day. She’s alone and it’s time to confront her. But as my mouth begins to froth, I decide to follow her a little in my car to build up courage. Before I know it though, I slam my foot on the accelerator and crash into a side railing, toppling a plastic bollard on my way. I hear a ringing in my ears that slowly dissipates and then there’s Julia yelling at me, jabbing her finger against the window.
I climb out of the car and she beats me on my arm with her fists, “You could have fucking killed me,” she screams.
I say, calmly, “I’m not quite myself today. In fact, I feel a little ill.”
“Oh, ya think?” Julia says, planting her hands on her hips.
I get back into my car and gun the engine, making a quick exit from the scene as I ignore students aiming their phones at me like weapons, filming and texting malicious gossip all over the globe.
Luckily my car is unscathed – except for a cracked side mirror and a smashed headlight. And just then it becomes glaringly obvious that my car is much more than just a machine. It’s my church where I pray to the universe when things get strange. It’s my rubbish bin, my sound system, my bedroom. It’s my library too, because soon enough I’ll crack open the boot and simply gorge on the assortment of literature I’ve stashed there. And one day, who knows, my wheels might kill, sending my enemies to oblivion.
But for now, I’ll cloak myself in my aluminium sanctuary, and with a full tank of gas, I’ll glide far away from here, away from the wreckage of my life, and fall apart in peace.
Image – Google images
8 thoughts on “Sanctuary by Tim Frank ”
I appreciate your talent for making the reader care about not necessarily the most likable characters in the world–as we have here. Well done and quite brave.
Great pace, brilliant tone and his self-inflicted, self-pity was done very well.
All the best my fine friend.
Love the simplicity of your writing. The pared down style gives a real sense of gravitas to the piece. As Leila said, perhaps not the most likeable character, but the protagonist feels very real and true to life. Good, solid, very well crafted, honest writing.
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Thanks for your comments guys!
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Harsh yet engaging. I particularly liked his referring to the car as a “church.” I’ve found depression brings on this sort spiritual thinking.
At least Harry has righted himself enough to put some distance between himself and his past life. Hopefully his wheels never find his enemies. Nicely done.
MC has company (younger me), although not quite that self-destructive. Although on the other side of the Atlantic (based on British useage), I hear you brother. I hestitated to give this a like based on the bleakness, but it is real.
As someone who has lived in a car, I am wondering .. what model was it he he. Good details, re: legroom and a full tank of gas are very important for the car dweller. The protagonist wasn’t a train wreck, he was a car wreck, and for his girlfriend Crystal maybe you could add “meth,” because this guy seemed to go with his impulses even into the substances. It’s no wonder books are boring to him now!