Although a response to David Egger’s short story, this continuation has been written so as to be readable in isolation from the original text.
She stormed into the hallway to catch the beams of her son’s headlights bringing life to the stained glass flowers embedded in her front door. Maria winced her eyes shut and began to mouth her argument with small, sputtering lips. She sighed hard and released the drunken spittle that had been clinging for dear life in between them. She watched it fly ahead of her before wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her nightgown. Yet she felt more moisture crawling and creeping down her body. She took a moment. Brian was still in the car. Was he afraid to come inside? He fucking should be, she thought to herself. She looked around. Ah! It was the drink, of course. She wiped her mouth against her right arm, failing to remember that she was still holding a tumbler of gin and red wine, which she had spilled on her cleavage and nightgown.
She knew that no matter what she had to say to her son, it would be more convincing if she wasn’t holding a still-sizable measure of alcohol. But it was too late: Brian’s key was in the door. It fit perfectly the first time. There was so scraping or dragging it across the vicinity of the lock. He must be sober. The door opened, squeaking comically, almost mockingly. His naturally pale face revealed itself in the light of the hallway. He pursed his dark red lips. His blue eyes shone with worry. He apologised immediately, but it wasn’t enough. Of course it wasn’t enough! She launched into her monologue. It was a lengthy, surprisingly verbose affair, with various peaks of hyperbolically-related misery, although Maria took care to maintain a consistently grim tone throughout. It was only halfway through a fiercely delivered anecdote about her unbearably bleak adolescence that she thought to ask Brian where he had actually been all this time.
Brian toyed with the idea of a monosyllabic response, but decided against it. He respected his mother. Even now, with lipstick on her teeth and that cursed potion of hers in hand, he recognised the woman who on many occasions had promised that she would always love him. The woman who encouraged his eccentricities, no matter how it may have isolated him from his peers in the long run. At least he was happy in himself. He was in his element as he drove around the city that evening. He didn’t go far, just up and down the A23 to Brixton. It was at most forty-five minutes from his home in East Croydon. He liked it. He especially liked taking it with Anne. He couldn’t tell her why, and she didn’t ask. That was just her way. All buttoned up, in both personality and style. She enjoyed his ramblings though, he could tell. They worked well together. As he waxed on about his love for Julian Assange, or how he thought the Alien franchise was driven into the ground by a fundamental ignorance to what made the first two films so great, and as Anne nodded and laughed at the right moments, Brian felt like a provider. He felt like a man.
He omitted Anne from the story, but everything else was accounted for. He told his mother about dinner. He told her about how his friends wanted to try to get alcohol afterwards, an activity he politely excused himself from. He told her about the drive. He told her about running out of petrol in the middle of Brixton. He told her how much he panicked when he realised that he was stranded. And he simply had to tell her how it took him an inexplicable amount of time to remember that his father lived in Clapham, within a quarter of a mile of the scene on Acre Lane.
What he didn’t tell her about was how, alone after dinner, Anne held his hand on the way to his car. Nor did he tell her about the teardrop-shaped community garden in Stockwell where they stopped, and stared at the bricks arranged on the ground to spell the word “RESPECT”. He couldn’t tell her how Anne hummed the melody of the Aretha Franklin song of the same name, and how they both laughed, gloriously. Most frustratingly, he couldn’t tell her how, at the first sign that the pair were stranded, he sent her home in a taxi. She tried to argue, and seemed quite determined to stay, but he insisted on calling one, not to mention paying for it. Once again, the man provided for the woman. He thought Maria would be proud to know that.
But of course Maria was still preoccupied with the expurgated version of the tale.
“You ran out of petrol?” She said, breathlessly. “Are you mad? We only filled up that tank yesterday!”
She was irate, and Brian had no justification. He kept silent, and looked to the floor. His mother noticed that the glass flowers were still illuminated. “And for Christ’s sake, boy, would you turn off your headlights? You’ll drain the battery and all next.”
Brian looked up, looking more apologetic than ever.
“That’s not my car, mum.”
Maria let this sink in for a moment. Just a moment, before striding past her son and out the door. She should have known this wasn’t his car. As if his feeble Ford Corolla could emit such a blinding stream of light! She had just left her porch before she once again came to realise she had brought her glass out with her. She set it down next to her cornucopia of flowerpots of various sizes, colours and textures. She strode over to the car in her driveway. Brian’s father was in the front seat. Brian’s father and his Audi A3 saloon. She could hear his window descending gracefully, presumably at the touch of a button.
There were superficial similarities between Mark and his son. They shared thick lips, blue eyes and glossy, floppy black hair. And although the former’s was now laced with spindly grey threads, at fifty-seven he was only too happy to have maintained its volume. He tucked the dangling strands of his fringe behind his ears and flashed his ex-wife a generous grin. She remained stony faced. Maybe that was her secret, he wondered. There was hardly a wrinkle in sight, and her body looked as good as ever.
“I take it you found him then?”
Maria began to buckle at the knees, but only slightly. She could feel the tears and emotions percolating inside of her. She needed to avoid eye contact, so she looked up to the night sky. The black canvas was studded with small, sharp gems – not unlike the wedding ring she refused to give back.
“Maria? What’s wrong? He’s home. He’s safe.”
Maria knew she had to let it out.
“But I was so worried, Mark. I was sitting there all night, just thinking—”
“And drinking.” Mark smiled cheekily. Maria was taken aback, but recovered quickly.
“Yeah, I had a few drinks. So what? I was alone, Mark. Do you know what that feels like?”
Mark hung his head. Here it comes, he thought.
“I was alone all night. Every night, in fact. I spend every night alone. And you only see him every other weekend so you can’t possibly understand how it felt to have lost him. He’s all I have.”
Mark wanted so badly to yell, to scream until it hurt both of them. It was true that he only saw his son every other week, but that was because of work. He loved Brian beyond words. When he received the call that night, he had just got back from a business trip to Liverpool. He spent four hours on the train each way, and worked like a dog all day preparing a pitch for the agency. He hadn’t showered or eaten. But when he got that call, it was if he was possessed. Almost involuntarily, he found himself in his car on his way to Acre Lane, with a length of rope to secure to his son’s car (which now sat in his driveway). He didn’t feel mad, or even inconvenienced. He just did what he had to do. It was as natural an action as breathing.
“He’s all I have, too, Maria.”
Maria scoffed at this.
“You have her. That redhead.” Maria knew the woman’s name. She simply couldn’t bring herself to say it. Mark didn’t answer. He rubbed the knuckles of his right hand against his stubble. It comforted him. It always had. Maria pressed him for a response. He spoke, looking ahead.
Maria’s blood flew through her body, upstream to her head, like a school of salmon on steroids. Her whole mind buzzed, sparking hot, kinetic energy that first confined itself to her head before moving down her body. It moved down, and down, and even lower, until…
The front door flew open. It was Brian. He was irate. His pale visage was now spoiled by a splash of red. He yelled from the porch.
“Could you two stop fighting?”
Mark was ready to apologise. He even opened his mouth to speak but stopped when he saw Maria march over to the porch. Brian stepped back a little when he saw her approach, but she had no qualms with sticking her head through the doorway to receive his full attention.
“Listen, Brian. I’m not mad about this evening. Not as mad as I thought I’d be – or should be – anyway. How about I take a drive with your father, and we call it even.”
“Where are you going to go?” Her son asked, confused.
Where, indeed. Back to the start? Back to the glory days of their marriage? How was Maria to know? She simply kissed her son on the forehead and waved him goodbye. Brian was left stupefied on the porch, although he was grateful to have been left in one piece. He would sleep quite well that night.
Maria returned to Mark’s car, this time taking to the passenger seat. He asked her what she was doing, and she answered him by removing her nightgown. Underneath she wore a silk-like nightdress from Primark. In the reflective surfaces of her home, she saw it as a costume she had unwittingly donned in the wake of her divorce, that of a sad spinster stuck in an emotional cul-de-sac. But in the hungry eyes of her ex-husband, she could tell she was now something new. For tonight, anyway.