Two a.m. and the wheels crunching the gravel comfort me. I sink into the pillow and savour the soothing rhythmic rolling of the stones.
Six days ago I called the cops. Again the next day. They were not interested. Said I was a fool. They get too many calls about cars taken from driveways in the early hours. But few saying they are back after two hours, especially for three days running. ‘You’re becoming irritating,’ they said.
The third time it was 2.30 a.m. I told them the Corolla took off with nobody in the driver’s seat. A different guy wrote it down in monotone wheezing. At 4.35 a.m. the pissed-off cop questioned my age, medication, and whether I engaged in retirement activities. He made it clear it was the last call.
Each morning I searched the car. Nothing damaged. Nothing taken. Loose change still there. Fuel was going down. I took a note of the mileage. Each trip was 38 miles.
Waiting in bed, I heard the car leaving; a slow roll to the roadway, a long hesitation before pulling out. There’s no traffic that time in the morning. It was the way Joanne drove. I replayed the memory of her driving off to town each day. Painful, and pleasurable.
Day seven I convinced myself Joanne was back. The car held no fear that morning. She had moved the driver’s seat forward and adjusted the mirror. I drove to town, and switched on the radio. The news station preset had changed to Joanne’s classical music channel. I indulged in a rare laugh, a practice I had forgotten. Still cannot remember if I thought it or spoke out loud about my loneliness.
In town, I bought a map. On the kitchen table I traced out a 19-mile arc. Inland was wooded countryside. The opposite direction led to the Pacific coastline, and the cliff-top road beyond Harper Point. We picnicked there a year earlier, Joanne spotted a cormorant nesting in the cliff-face. Moving closer to the edge to take a picture, she tripped and hurtled into the ocean. They never found her body and I never recovered my spirit. Continuing had become a day step at a time.
I understood what Joanne wanted. After the late summer sun had long rested below the horizon, I sat in the passenger seat of the Corolla, and waited.
Two fifteen am. the car started, smoothed the gravel driveway and onto the road. With all fear gone, I was contended.
After twenty minutes, we slowed and climbed the coast road. I closed my eyes and relaxed into the headrest. Ocean air and the rushing of waves lulled me to sleep.
There was no return journey.
Dan Keeble hails from the South East of the UK and has enjoyed success with online and print publications of short fiction and humorous articles.