Bright lights blurred past the car speeding along the country road. Bill Marshall had one arm wrapped around Lizzie’s shoulders, the wind sprinting through his hair and he felt alive. The moonlight guided them along the road, contrasting with the electric streetlights. The roaring engine of his Lamborghini brought a comforting hum in the darkness, as it carried them through the night. Bill had grown up in this area and knew where to avoid the police. They wouldn’t be spoiling his fun.
Bill woke up from the same dream that he had been having for the last ten years. The last time he felt like he had belonged. He turned on his side and watched Lizzie sleep, her golden hair slowly turning grey. Bill had also lost most of his hair, except for a few tufts around his ears. When did they both get so old? A beeping broke the darkness and Lizzie thumped the alarm clock silent.
“I guess you’re working late today, as well?” Bill sighed out.
“You know I have to.” Lizzie sat up and as Bill stared into her face, he could still see a spark in her electric blue eyes that had made so attractive all those years ago.
“You’ve been working late since we were twenty-five. When are you going to take some time off?”
“When we can pay our rent without starving.” Lizzie threw the duvet back and swung her legs over the side.
“Do you remember that night in the lambo? That was a great time.”
“Yeah…yeah it was.” Lizzie agreed, before standing up and walking to the shower.
“I dreamt about it last night. I miss those times.”
“Bill, I need the car for work today. Make sure you leave enough time to get the bus for Jimmy’s go-kart lessons. It’s his qualifying race for the club league today. You can’t be late for that.” Lizzie looked briefly back at her husband, before closing the bathroom door.
Bill watched Jimmy zoom out ahead of him kicking up the smell of wet dust. Bill struggled to keep up with his son who was tearing towards the bus stop. He was a go-kart in himself.
“Keep up dad!” Jimmy called back.
Bill hobbled towards his son was running around the bus shelter, much to the amusement of the elderly woman and man in a suit who were also waiting for the bus.
“Is that your son?” The elderly woman asked.
“Yeah…that’s him.” Bill spluttered out. A moist stain was growing on his back and under his arms; he regretted taking out his heavy raincoat.
“I wished I had as much energy as him when I was his age.” The elderly woman laughed out.
“Don’t we all?” Bill agreed, watching Jimmy drive around the bus-shelter, weaving in and out of the other commuters, stepping on the brakes, flooring the gas. The bus pulled in just as Jimmy was gearing up for his final lap. He sped onto the bus and ran back forth in the corridor. Bill scanned his oyster card and sat down next to his son who was still running back and forth.
“Calm down, Jimmy. We’ll be there soon.”
“But dad…I want to be there now.”
Bill smiled in response and leaned his head against the window. The remnants of the morning’s rainshower trickled down the glass. He felt the engine’s vibrations grow, as the bus inched into the lunchtime traffic. Bill sighed, as he saw all of the cars and vans caught up in the spider’s web of the traffic.
“Dad, can’t you make the bus go any faster?”
“I wish I could, son, but looks like we’re stuck here for the moment.”
Jimmy sighed and carried on twitching in his seat. Bill turned his attention back to the window and stared out at the adjacent lane where cars were speeding past the traffic jam.
Bill and Jimmy rushed to the reception of the race track where Bill blamed the bus’s slowness for their impunctuality. Said that his wife was using the car. Bill wished Lizzie was here. Not only was the go-karting club a chance for children to socialise, but also their parents. Lizzie would anyway. Bill never felt comfortable. He just wanted the last minute checks to the karts to take place. And then they were off. Within seconds, the calm silence had been obliterated by the growls of engines, the spray of the surface water, the sizzling of rubber. Images of bright lights and empty roads crept into Bill’s vision. He shook his head and the images were overpowered by the screams and cheers of the parents next to him. Bill smiled at the intensity of this noise. He chuckled at the ridiculousness of the parents taking the races so seriously, when they were just casual races designed to instil some friendly competition into children. Bill shook his head and stood up and left. He could fit in some driving before Jimmy’s race was finished.
Bill caught the bus to the BMW showroom. He stepped onto the polished marble floor and looked at the German manufactured cars showing off their shiny new coats. In one corner lay a few toy cars and colouring pencils for bored children, whilst sitting behind desks were sales assistants pitching their latest deals and offers to interested customers. Bill saw an ageing man with a receding hairline and friendly blue eyes and approached him.
“Ah, Mr. Marshall. Will you be buying this week or just sampling?”
“Here we go again, Arthur. Do you really have to call me that?”
“I’m just being professional. You might be my brother-in-law, but I still have to address you formally.”
“If you insist. Well, like I tell you every week, Arthur, Lizzie wants me to make an informal decision. She wants me to try as many cars as I can, before we decide.”
“Does she want that or do you?”
“Mr Marshall, I could be serving customers that are looking to buy a car today.”
“Well, if I could drive one that might help us make up our minds.”
“You know I can’t allow that.”
“Let’s see the cars anyway. Who knows? Today might be your lucky day.” Bill watched Arthur sigh and lead him into the showroom. Bill knew that he would never turn away a customer. Arthur stood next to a sleek, black BMW that dominates the room and saw low, but mighty. Bill’s focus accelerated past Arthur explaining the technical details and instead he started smelling petrol. The engine’s growls were filling his head. The wind was sprinting through his hair, the quietness of the road enveloped him. The streetlamps began to blur and Bill turned to the blonde sitting next to him. With her arms raised high and ecstasy on her face. The wind snatched away her laughter.
Bill shook his head, as Arthur’s voice overpowered the engine’s roars.
“Yeah, sorry, what did you say?”
“I asked, whether you would you want to accompany me in the BMW? We’ll go for a drive around the block.”
Bill’s eyes widened. “I need to get Jimmy. I completely forgot. I need to go.”
Arthur threw his hands into the air. “You left your son at the races again? How long is this going to continue? I’m not covering for you again.
Bill turned back to his brother-in-law. “I screwed up okay! Just cover for me one more time. Please. I need to get the bus.”
Jimmy didn’t say a single word on the bus ride home. When Bill unlocked the door, he manouevered around Lizzie and motored up the stairs.
“Oh, hi Lizzie, what are you doing back so early?”
“I got one of the girls to cover the rest of my shift and I’ll do one of hers next week. But, that’s not important, what’s wrong with Jimmy?”
Bill shook his head. “He won’t talk to me.”
Lizzie sighed. “I’ll go see what’s wrong.”
“I’ll make lunch, although I’m not sure whether he’ll be any more talkative with you.” Bill pushed hot air out of his mouth and headed down into the kitchen, whilst his wife headed up to Jimmy’s room.
Once there, he gripped onto a chair, as he fought to keep the tears at bay. Sweat began to moistening his brow.
Each creak of the stairs made Bill’s heart beat faster. He slapped himself around the face and stood out of the chair.
“Come on, man. Pull yourself together.”
He got down on his hands and knees and opened a cupboard to take out some frying pans that were wedged together at the back. He reached out and scrambled for the handle and pulled. Bill bit his lip, as the frying pan didn’t move. He tugged again, but the pan refused to shift. He grabbed the handle with his other hand and gave it a ferocious yank. Bill fell onto his backside as the pan came free, along with countless other cooking utensils that skittered across the floor.
“You know, it’d’ve been much easier if you had taken everything out first and then gotten the frying pan?”
Bill sighed and stood up. He put the pan on the cooker and turned towards Lizzie. “Yeah that’d’ve made sense.” He mumbled.
“Jimmy told me what happened. Where were you?”
“I’m going to fry some eggs and bacon for lunch.” Bill walked towards the fridge.
“Bill, where were you?”
“Actually, I should clean this mess up first.” Bill dropped to his haunches and started picking up the cooking pots and baking trays.
“William, where were you?”
“You only call me William when you’re angry.”
“Angry? I’m furious. Your son won his qualifier today, he’s going to have his first league race next week, but he came home in tears. Now tell me, where the hell were you?”
Bill shrugged his shoulders. “I…I just had some errands, some stuff to do.”
“Stuff? What stuff is more important than your son?”
Bill watched his wife’s eyes turn an icy blue, as they stood in silence. Outside it had started raining again and a cold wind forced its way inside.
“William? Where did you go?”
“I messed up, okay. When I sat down to watch the races, I realised that I didn’t have my phone or wallet on me. I figured they must have slipped out, whilst we were on the bus, so I went down to the station to see whether they’d been handed in.”
“Jimmy said you haven’t been there at least five other times. Did your phone and wallet slip out of your pocket all those times too?”
“Lizzie, he’s in a go-kart. Do you know how fast they go? The audience are just a blur for him.”
“So first you lie to me and then you say Jimmy was lying. What the hell’s wrong with you?”
Bill scuttled back to the cupboard and replaced some of the cooking pots.
“William, were you at the BMW showroom?”
“We already have a car. Why would we need another one?”
Lizzie shook her head and picked up a wooden spoon that was lying on the floor. “You know what? Jimmy and I are going to go out for lunch. We’ll give you some time to get your facts straight. Actually, why don’t you take the car somewhere? Go meet up with Arthur and just go fishing or something for the weekend.”
A line swung through the air and landed on the water leaving an orange float bobbing on top. Small ripples spread across the surface of the water. Bill set the rod down on a stand and flopped into his deck chair. He watched as a swan slowed itself midflight in preparation for landing on the lake below. Its wings beat back and forth, as it skipped across the water, before settling to a. At the far side of the lake, browning trees shivered in the wind. Bill took out a bottle of beer from the cooler and flicked it open. He stretched out and stared at the lake. He was looking forward to spending the weekend here.
“Think we’ll catch much today?” He asked over his shoulder.
Arthur sighed and set his own rod in the stand. “Bill. Now that we’re away from Lizzie and Jimmy and just by ourselves. We need to talk.”
“Well, for starters, what did you think would happen? Did you really think you would get away with it?”
Bill stood the bottle on the ground and turned to his friend. “Do you know what Lizzie asked me? She asked me whether I had been at the BMW showroom. Where would that idea even come from?”
“She asked me and I told her.” Arthur turned away from Bill and started pacing around the campsite.
“I understand…you did what you thought was right. I can’t blame you for that.” Bill knew this to be true. There was no use getting angry over it.
“Lizzie told me she knew nothing about getting another car, so why were you there, Bill?”
Bill saw his float jerk and went to grab the fishing rod.
“Leave the rod and answer the question.”
“But I’m going to lose it…”
“Let it go.”
Bill backed away from the vibrating rod and stared at the dying splashes and ripples. “For Chrissakes Arthur, we came here to fish.”
“No. You came here to fish! I came here to get some answers for my sister. Now, stop avoiding the issue!”
“Do you want to know why I did it? Why I continued doing it? I’m scared, Arthur. I’m tired…I want to get out…I want to escape. I want life like it was.”
“Arthur, I lost everything…the business, the car, our way of moving on and through. I remember when Lizzie and I were first dating…all those long nights in the Lambo, I’ve never felt happier, more alive and now, everything’s different. Now…Lizzie’s got her car and her job and I’m stuck taking the bus.” Bill ripped a leaf of a tree and pulled it apart in his hands.
“Is this what this is about? You being a house-husband? You think my sister’s emasculating you?”
“No! Of course not…it’s just, just we had freedom and now, now we’re stuck.” Bill shook his head and walked towards the car park.
“Where are you going?”
“I need to clear my head. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Bill slammed the door and beat the driving wheel. He exhaled, as he relaxed into the seat. He wrenched the key in the ignition and yanked the car into gear. Bill looked over his shoulder and reversed onto the road before slowly putting his foot down.
Bill had forgotten how much he loved driving. Of course, Lizzie’s Vauxhall Corsa was nothing like his old Lamborghini, but at least it was something. At least he could feel the engine’s strength, as it slowly climbed to its full capacity. Granted, it wasn’t a convertible, but at least there was a sunroof. Bill looked at the wing-mirror and merged into the adjacent lane. He glanced up at the sky and sighed at the overcast light. It was such a contrast from the clear nights all those years ago. Back when they had the roads all to themselves, where they weren’t surrounded by flashes of red. Back when they could slice through the silent night and didn’t have to hear angry honks and four-letter words. Back when Lizzie was blonde and Bill still had all of his hair. He sighed, as he approached a roundabout and eased on the brake. He shifted the car down a gear and put on his right-turn signal.
“I didn’t expect to see you back here.”
“You were right. I was just looking for a way out. I was being a stupid kid. I’m…I’m sorry.”
Arthur smiled. “I’m happy to hear you say that. Lizzie will be happy.”
“Do you think she’s still mad at me?”
“Of course she is, don’t you know my sister? but you can make it up to her. Take Jimmy to his first round race on Friday and be there to see him win. Bill, you will be there, won’t you?”
“Wild Lamborghinis couldn’t drag me away,” the two men stood in silence, before Bill nodded towards the fishing rods, “they been biting?”
“They haven’t stopped.”
Bill’s float jerked back and forth and he rushed towards the rod and started wrestling with his catch. Arthur stood there watching him.
At the end of the weekend, Bill and Arthur drove back to Bill’s house, where Lizzie and Jimmy were waiting for them. As Bill opened the door, his wife shot him a glance. The two men joined their family on the sofa. As usual, Jimmy was twitching, whilst Lizzie just looked on. Bill tried to guess what she was thinking, but couldn’t.
Arthur cleared his throat. “I guess I’ll start. Bill and I had a good chat over the weekend and we think we’ve come to a decision.
“I’m listening.” Lizzie was still refusing to make eye contact with Bill.
“I realise that what I did was wrong. I lied to you and I wasn’t there for Jimmy, but that’s not going to happen again. I’ll take Jimmy to his first race and I’ll be there to see you win, little man.”
A small smile crept onto Lizzie’s face. “Thanks, Bill.”
“Are we okay?”
“I…yeah…yeah we are. I’ll take the bus to work on Friday, so you can drive Jimmy to the racetrack.”
Bill noticed that Lizzie had barely looked at him, whilst she was speaking. “Are you sure we’re okay?”
“Yeah…yeah,” Lizzie’s lip started quivering, her voice began breaking, “if you…you c-can do this, then we might be.”
Bill nodded. There was nothing left to say.
Bill trudged through the rest of the week and on Friday he was watching Jimmy fidget in the seat next to him. Bill smiled at this and pressed down on the gas. They had left in plenty of time and were making good progress to the race course. Bill sighed in contentment and looked up at the sky. The overcast sky shone a diffused light downwards onto the tarmac below making everything bright but dull. Bill returned his attention to the road and took a brief glance at his internal mirror.
“How are you feeling, Jimmy?”
“You nervous about the race?”
“A little. What you said to mum…you will be there, won’t you? You won’t leave?”
Bill looked downwards at his son. “Of course I will. I told your mum and I’m telling you, I’m going to watch you win that race.”
And they were off. Bill watched his son accelerate up the first straight and turn around the corner. Around him all of the parents were still screaming and cheering, deafening out the engines of the go-karts. Bill shook his head at these people. He wanted his son to win, but he didn’t have to scream to the heavens about it. He looked back out at the race track and watched his son disappear into a tunnel. Further down one competitor sharply cut off another one causing a furious torrent of abuse from one of the dads in the crowd. Jimmy emerged from the tunnel weaving in and out of the other drivers and coming up on first place, whilst the parents were yelling for their children to go faster and faster. Bill rubbed his face. He shook his head again and started feeling in his pocket for his keys. He stood up and started moving towards the exit.
Bill slammed the door shut and collapsed into the seat. There was no way he could stay there. He had to get out. All of those parents were like spectators in a colosseum shouting for the losing gladiator to be executed. He couldn’t be part of that. Bill stuck his keys into the ignition and the car jolted into life. He manoeuvred out of the car park and onto the main road. He glanced at his side mirror and pressed down on the accelerator. Bill looked in his internal mirror and thought about Jimmy. He needed someone better. Bill bit his lip and brought himself up to the speed limit. He needed to drive. He returned his gaze to the road and locked his eyes on the horizon.
It took me way too long to write this. So, I started writing this for a contest which required you to write a story based on a song. The song I chose to write about was Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car,’ which I’ve recently fallen in love with. I originally started writing this when I was bored in a creative writing lecture, but unfortunately didn’t finish it until long after the contest had closed. When writing this, I moved away from the theme of generational poverty that’s present within ‘Fast Car’ and more towards the car being a symbol of freedom and escape. Bill is very much a character who likes to live in the fast lane and keep busy and isn’t suited to a suburban, stay-at-home life.
As far as the ending goes, I always wanted to have it with Bill running away. It is evident that he is a bad father who’s driven by his own insecurities and I just felt it would be too unrealistic for a character like that to change in such a radical way. In terms of acknowledgements, where would I be without my own little editor Jazmin who gave this a great beta-read and plenty of things to think about and also my friend Louis who gave me lots of helpful knowledge about fishing, even if I didn’t really use your information. I still appreciate your help Louster!