The long journey home

It was an atmosphere of tension, each in their own world, each hoping desperately that the other wouldn't speak

Peter Edgerton
PETER EDGERTON

There was just enough rain on the windscreen to require use of the wipers but not quite enough to let them move freely without emitting a teeth-grinding squeak at every beat. John gripped the wheel a little too hard and peered wearily at the road ahead. These weren't the happiest of times. Beth stared gimlet-eyed at her phone, employing it as some kind of imaginary electronic shield, trying to process her wildly chaotic thoughts.

It was an atmosphere heavy with tension, each of them in their own world, each trying to see a way forward through the morass, each hoping desperately that the other wouldn't speak. As Beth continued tapping at something wholly inconsequential on her phone, her mind began to drift back, down along the decades to when she'd first met John, to when a gleaming future stretched out before them, to a time when they'd shared dreams, desires and, above all, passion. Truth be told, many of the goals they'd set themselves in those heady days had, in fact, become a reality; they'd been blessed with three beautiful children and had earned enough from his driving and her part-time teaching to buy a run-down farm house on the outskirts of town which they'd lovingly converted into a family home. For all of that success, however, the spark that had burned so brightly in the early years, had long been extinguished. Maybe it was achieving so much of what they had wanted that had dulled their desires, or maybe it was simply the passage of time. Either way Beth knew that they both needed to face the truth - it was over.

John's mind was also in overdrive, although he was battling with the rather more prosaic task of how to pay the bills. He hadn't been able to bring himself to tell his wife just how bad business had been. She'd given up her job recently, dedicating more of her time to taking care of the home and had just let him get on with things, not paying much attention to the accounts, presuming they were doing fine as usual. They weren't doing fine, though, not at all. In fact, they'd defaulted on the last two mortgage payments and the current month was heading the same way. Each time John imagined broaching the subject, he felt a cloying knot in his stomach and his grip on the wheel tightened further.

Eventually, after a forty-minute journey that seemed like an eternity, they pulled up in front of the farm house and Beth stepped out into the late evening drizzle, turning her collar against the deceptively cold breeze and leaning in towards John's window.

"How much is that?"

"Er, twenty-seven sixty, please." His voice was little more than a whisper. She handed him thirty, noticing for the first time his taxi licence and smiling wryly.

"John Whyte? That's actually my husband's name, except it's 'White' with an 'i', not a 'y'. Well, thank you very much, John Whyte. Keep the change. Good night."

She took out her keys and headed for the front door of her home. Tonight, she was going to tell him.

John drove back into town, hoping for one last fare. The rain was falling more heavily now, allowing the wipers to glide smoothly and silently over the windscreen. He gripped the wheel a little harder. Tonight, he was going to tell her.