Had a fight with Maxie outside the music shop in Kentish Town and she backed her car into a lorry which neither of us had seen. We’d been too mad to notice things. Maxie was my girlfriend but we never seemed to be in sync. There was this taunting something about the way we were with one another. I hated it but couldn’t draw myself away. We were both unable to give in to the idea of failure; felt a desperate compulsion to carry on. We’d bought lock and stock into the idea of happy ever after.
In my head I escaped to the wild. It was ochre coloured and stretched for miles. I walked and got calmer, finally reaching an oasis. Of course, what I was really dreaming of was Little Sandy Desert in Western Australia. The oasis was the town of Wiluna where I spent my early years. I think I kept on reconstructing this because I wanted to get back to how I was then. I suppose the word is innocent. The place I was at in reality had no colour to it but dingy-dark. On top of everything else, I’d lost my job and couldn’t for the life of me seem to find another one. There was this picture in my mind of me and Maxie sitting together in a bottomless boat, murky water pouring in. The two of us drowning side by side.
But would there be any advantage in going back to the stretching yellow and the clear, wide sky? I mean, there isn’t anywhere to hide in that kind of terrain. You’re out in the open, an easy target. Because just lately, I’ve become somebody who needs a hiding place where I can roll myself away.
Maxie ended up in a wheelchair. Everybody we know blamed me and I blamed myself. I’d wanted to change the way we were together but hadn’t known how. After the accident my hurt feelings about the relationship got more intense. It flayed me alive seeing the straining muscles in Maxie’s arms as she propelled herself along and I wheeled her about myself more than she wanted to stop this happening. She was facing forward, away from me, so I didn’t have to see the pain lines around her eyes.
Her parents particularly blamed me for the accident and I suppose that’s more or less inevitable. They had this way of looking at me with lowered eyes, as if I was too vile to acknowledge openly. Which I couldn’t stand. Finally I started to rebel against my ‘bad guy’ image. Why did everybody take the attitude it was all my fault? Yes, I had been screwing Janine, the Pilates instructor at the gym where I used to go. I admit that. But Maxie was no angel either. There was that guy in the music shop. Did she think I was blind?
At Christmas things came to a head. There they were sitting in a row with paper hats on, looking at me with resentment. Gerry and Jackie, Maxie’s folks, on the sofa, and Maxie next to them under the bright-lit Christmas tree, in that damned wheelchair. Truth is, I felt she’d angled herself next to the twinkly-sparkly stuff to make me see the contrast. To punish me.
It was right then I pictured myself leaving. What a disgrace and a terrible thing to think of doing when you had a girlfriend in a wheelchair who couldn’t fend for herself, especially when the accident that had brought her down had been your fault. In spite of seeing all of this I looked at the three of them and knew I’d go. New Year, I upped and went. Didn’t feel good about it in the least.
If I’d hadn’t been so broke, would I have gone to back to Wiluna? The place had been so much on my mind lately. But no, I couldn’t avoid seeing the dismal truth. The sweet yellowness and the wide sky just weren’t right for the me I had become. What it all boiled down to was I could never have my youth back. The lost world of my dreams.
Now I am homeless. I crouch in my little Camden doorway, the darkest place I’ve been to yet; go over the possibility that the classic happy ending may only be a myth.
Fiction by JAY MERILL is recently published or forthcoming in 3:AM Magazine, Bunbury Magazine, The Casket of Fictional Delights, Crannog Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Galway Review, Hobart, Litro, Minor Literature[s], Platform for Prose, Story Shack and The Pygmy Giant. Jay has 2 short story collections published by Salt and was nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award and Edge Hill Prize. She has an Award from Arts Council England and is the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize. Jay lives in London and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing. You can find her on Twitter @JayMerill