The Holiday

Ribbon-like lengths of black asphalt stretched towards the horizon divided by strips of white. It reminded him of continuous liquorice allsorts. The rear view mirror reflected the same strip of asphalt forming an optical illusion of the road entering at the front of the car and departing via the mirror. He began counting the white markers lining the road, giving up after two hundred and fifty-seven. The odometer ticked over the rolling kilometres as it if it were clocking over days and weeks and months and years.

In air conditioned comfort the back seat occupants of the car, the elder girl and younger boy, were asleep or lost in headphones. In the passenger seat his wife of seventeen years slept with her pillow squashed between the seat belt and the window.

Their first family holiday in almost three years, a summer vacation to the beach, was to be a pressure release. And he noted it was sorely needed. In the weeks leading up to their holiday there had been difficulties with work for him, overdue university assignments for her, children getting sick and her mother taking a fall. Nothing was broken but it added one more burden.

The night before brought out the mother of all stand-up arguments over the slightest of issues. They argued whether to pack the baking dish to make a lasagne or not worry and have spaghetti bolognese instead. He retreated, simmering and cursing under his breath. She broke down in tears. The baking dish simply ignited the dry gun powder. Packing the car that morning had been a cool affair. Manners were pleasant yet the tension remained unresolved.

The retreating road in the rear view mirror gave him a new perspective. It wasn’t just last night or the preceding weeks. It stretched back into months, years. The radio had long turned to static in mimicry of the tyres’ running along the road. Songs faded and receded into the past, their tunes and melodies forgotten, swallowed by the harsh cry of unintelligible noise. He reached down and turned it into silence.

Looking into the rear view mirror his eldest daughter had retreated into headphones.

“Your music is not real music,” she said at the start of the journey when he suggested Led Zeppelin as the road trip soundtrack. He couldn’t tell if she was awake or asleep under cheap service station sunglasses.

“Do you want the window socks on?” he had asked.

“Dad, I’m not a baby anymore,” she retorted.

You’re right, he thought. The favoured pink of her room had faded into autumnal, earthy tones. At least she hadn’t gone all black yet, he smirked to himself, thinking of the black he wore during his heavy metal phase. But she was right. His little girl was on the threshold of burgeoning adulthood. She still let him tuck her in at night and kiss her on the cheek but public demonstrations of fatherly affection were out. He cherished those nights when she curled into his lap, trying to take the form of the family cat, resting her head against his shoulder on her way to bed.

His little man was sound asleep, head back, mouth open to catch flies as his mother would say, and lips stained by the remnants of the chocolate treat to keep him quiet and amused. The comic book teetered on his lap, held by a loose hand. He looked forward to times of rough and tumble on the beach with his son, throwing stones down the river and riding their bikes along the foreshore.

As the car swept passed billboards he superimposed snapshots from his memory. Pictures of his wife, back when she was simply a girlfriend. A bride and groom radiant in their smiles. Candid snaps at family functions. The African plains and beaches in Thailand. A red-faced newborn suckling at the breast. Faltering steps of a toddler. First day of kindergarten. Sports events and dance recitals. On every billboard and sign post a new flashback.

Time, like the road, unwound. As the road moved on and on and he felt the distance from his wife despite the fact she was within arm’s reach. Glancing over he took in her sleeping form. Brunette curls were pulled into a loose pony tail hanging over her shoulder. He followed the line of her hair down the straps of her singlet top and bra while the seat belt accentuated the curvature of her breasts. He couldn’t think of the last time her breasts really excited him. Formulaic, calendared sex factored into the various appointments, schedules and activities. He, no they, needed a spark, something to help them refocus.

Reaching over he pushed back the hem of his wife’s shorts and rested his hand on her bare knee before squeezing it gently. Stirring at his touch she roused. Stretching like a cat before rubbing the sleep from her eyes she covered his hand with hers.

“Are we there yet?”

“Almost.” He squeezed her knee again. “Listen, I’m sorry about the argument last night,” he said.

“I’m sorry, too. It’s been a tough little while hasn’t it?”

“It’s been tough for quite some time. Are we ok?”

She found the metallic tang of the air conditioning cloying. She would down the window and let the wind tussle her hair as he waited on her response. The fresh summer air tumbled in, swirling like a spirit through the confines of the car. Across the verge of the highway black and white shapes moved in the afternoon light, a continually shifting pattern of abstract negatives moving towards the milking shed, udders shifting uncomfortably.

She dangled her forearm out the window letting the saltiness of the coastal air rush over her before it dashed into the slipstream of brake lights. Turning her head she smiled broadly.

“We’re ok.”

23 responses to “The Holiday

  1. My first #fridayflash for a little while. Been out of the game for a bit working on a story for an anthology. For a number of reasons it sucked me dry. This was a chance to “prime the pump” and get the words moving again.
    This is not a great return to form; it’s a little pedestrian, but it has me back in the flow.
    Hope you find something to enjoy in it.

  2. We worry about pedestrian yes, especially when in the domestic realm (I’m writing such a novel now) but there is authenticity and a light loving, touch to this. It is a celebration of what is ordinary but at the heart of everything, and there is nothing wrong with that. All the evidence of your writing skill, a consistent, poetic voice that we recognise and I at least always enjoy spending time reading, it’s all still there. You’ve got it and you won’t lose it.

  3. Pedestrian is fine, especially when there’s a resolution like this. It gives hope to people with similar issues IRL.

    Kind of spooky: we’re getting ready to go to the mountains for a long weekend. We’re looking forward to getting away from stuff for a while… and of course, Mrs. Fetched’s mom fell and broke a rib yesterday. Seems like she always has some kind of crisis when we go somewhere. But we’re OK.

  4. They’ll be okay if they work to be okay, which is an ample lesson to any family. Some days I utterly forget it myself.

  5. This is a nice little slice of life.

  6. Hopefully this is the wake up call they needed and their marriage will be back on track. I didn’t see this as pedestrian–I saw it as an excellent slice-of-life. I’m sure many, many people go through this same thing, but also many don’t have that nice talk, what will hopefully be a nice resolution.

  7. I think it was beautifully written. Well done :).

  8. Deanna Schrayer

    So glad you decided to post this week Adam – this is outstanding work, nowhere near “pedestrian”. The lyricism glides the reader along this family’s road of life, and quite joyfully at that!

    I’m amazed at how many details sound exactly like our family – I’m the wife that squeezes the pillow between the seat belt and the window, and I must have the window down, AC or no. And the children…the only difference is that I have two sons and no daughters. Amazing coincidences!

    Good luck to you with the shorts and I hope you’ll continue to post #fridayflash. I always enjoy your work!

  9. It may be pedestrian, but it is also very very sweet!

  10. Alright, Adam’s back doing what he does best. I found myself lost as if on a long regional drive myself. Places, recollections and personal philosophies slipping by until all the clutter filling my head was left behind. You nail this one.

  11. Lovely to see you back, Adam. Wonderful symbolism around the fresh air being let into the car.

  12. I agree wholeheartedly with Alisson, you haven’t lost your touch at all.

    You got me wondering if they were all dead, with the flash back references, but I like your ending better. (a lot better, actually)

    Just one comment, in the first sentence you used the word stretch twice. Maybe a different word would apply in one of the situations?

  13. See I don’t view this as pedestrian in the slightest. It’s in the language, the small observed details and the images that makes it anything but pedestrian. Excellent story telling conjuring up rich, 3-dimensional characters and their relationships. It has a breadth of emotional intelligence and that’s all anyone can ask of a writer

  14. I’m glad you’re back and I thought this was a fantastic piece. The memories unwinding with the road felt very real. I’ve always thought driving on the open road seemed to clear the head a bit. And who hasn’t experienced that pre-trip argument that seems to put a chill on the start of the trip?

  15. I really liked this piece, it touched on a reality that exists for many. Tied up in life, busy earning a living, bringing up kids, to make time for each other, then a gap in the fabric of the relationship appears – and the need to mend it before it’s too late.

    You wrote this piece skilfully, taking us into the thoughts of the husband and the relationships of each of the family members. Very nice!

  16. I agree with Marc, the richness of the language and the relationships make this anything but pedestrian. So glad you’re back!

  17. Michelle Teys

    Not pedestrian…beautifully constructed…. the pathos of “ok” whether you meant it or not, is a reflection on the lives of so many.

  18. I agree with almost everyone else, this is a lovely and controlled piece of writing. I found his placing his hand on her leg very touching: we know things will be ok at this point.
    All writing, any writing is worthwhile, and if it good quality like this, all the better.

  19. You have a masterful power of description here, effortlessly blending concrete scenery into deeper meaning. You managed to make a trip to the shore feel as though it trully encompasses seventeen years of marriage and all that comes with that and you sum up all the emotions and the fears so easily. It felt very real to me. Excellent job.

  20. Pingback: The #FridayFlash Report – Vol3. #1 | Friday Flash » Friday Flash

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