I'm sharing this chapter in it's unedited, first-draft form. In fact, I've just this minute finished writing it. Ignore the typos. This extract will no doubt change quite a bit during subsequent drafts. But I think it has something. I think I've managed to capture a mood, a moment, that I was aiming for...
Chapter Eight: It Was Like This
I remember being in the car with my dad. I must have been eight or nine years old. I have no idea where my mother was – it was just me and my dad, out for a drive, or maybe going somewhere specific, perhaps to visit someone. I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. We were in the car, just me and him. That’s what matters here.
The sky was growing dark outside the car windows. I have a vague notion that it was late in the year, but not quite winter. We were alone on the road; one of those freak pockets of traffic-free driving. On either side of the car, the bleak moors stretched for miles. I think we were heading towards
or we might have been returning from Manchester
to Leeds. Again, this isn’t important. Just
the darkening sky, the empty road, the moors…they’re important.
I glanced sideways, at my dad, and saw that he was frowning. He was staring straight ahead, through the windscreen, but in the reflected light of the dashboard I could see the worry-lines on his face. His forehead was creased. His mouth was a tight slit in his face. He might have been worried, or scared. I think he might have been scared.
This was a few months before my parents split up. I didn’t know why they broke up back then, but I do now: my mother was having an affair with a work colleague. It started slowly, with clandestine lunches, a quick drink after work, and then developed into illicit sex in badly-decorated hotel rooms during weekend conferences. Then there were no conferences; they were just a lie to facilitate the sex.
I think my dad knew about the affair for a long time before he confronted my mother. What held him back – the thing that stopped him from asking her outright – was me, what it would do to me if their marriage broke apart.
So he kept it in, held it back, probably lay staring at the ceiling instead of sleeping at night, and listening to my mother’s deep breathing next to him.
That day in the car, surrounded by the shadowed moors, I stared at him and felt a terrible tightness in my chest. I started to cry, but silently. I didn’t want him to know that I knew he was hurting. That was the extent of my insight: I could sense his pain, and it caused me pain, too.
We sat there for what felt like hours, but was really, in all probability, just the space of few minutes, him staring out at the road, his face knitted in a scared frown, and me staring at him, tears flowing down my cheeks.
Then headlights flared on the road ahead, and my dad blinked. I turned away, lifted a hand and rubbed my face, drying the tears. The headlights grew brighter, came closer. They were on full-beam. My dad started flashing his headlights, trying to signal to the other driver that he needed to dip his lights. The other driver sounded his horn, but he dipped the lights as he passed us on the other side of the road, heading in the direction from which we’d come.
“Fuck,” said my dad. It was the only time I ever heard him swear. “That idiot is going to get someone killed.” He turned towards me. His cheeks were wet. I hadn’t noticed before, but he’d been crying too. He smiled. It was the saddest smile I think I’ve ever seen.
I didn’t say a word. I just sat there, feeling closer to my dad than ever before, yet aware that there was an immeasurable gap between us. For some reason, this small incident had opened up a channel, forged a connection. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. It was just one of those things, those tiny moments were the universe tilts towards you, giving you an insight that makes no sense, but feels good anyway.
My dad is dead now. He’s been gone a long time – too many years for me to want to count them. But whenever I think of him – when I remember what kind of man he was – I call up that time, that place, that moment in the car, when we shared something strange and intangible but neither of us possessed the knowledge or the understanding to speak of it.