When Frank got back from the bathroom I was standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing a couple of glasses under the cold tap.
Wednesday October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
When Frank got back from the bathroom I was standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing a couple of glasses under the cold tap. It was an old terraced house, the kitchen facing out into the longer part of an ‘L’ shaped yard. As I let the cold water run against my fingers, between the slats of the Venetian blind I could see my reflection staring at back at me, and inside it, the pale negative of next door’s illuminated kitchen window above the waist-high fence that ran between our gardens. As Frank sat down, pulling out a chair nearest the hall, I saw the light go out. The tap was still running.
‘I thought I’d fix us some drinks,’ I said, switching off the tap, drying the glasses, first his and then mine. I took down the bottle of Bourbon I kept in the cereals cupboard, enjoying the smooth popping sound as I pulled out the cork. ‘I would do something about the light,’ I said. It was too bright. ‘But its this or the dark.’ Frank smiled. ‘And I only have tall glasses.’
Frank was my younger brother, although sometimes it felt the other way around. He emanated a sense of calm. And his hair was receding, quicker than mine. He was thin, tall, but still provoked a sense of solidity. He sat a little uneasily in his chair, wearily askance, as though, grateful for the invitation to sit, he was determined to appear comfortable.
‘I also don’t have any ice.’ I took up the chair opposite. There was a hollow thudding sound from upstairs. Our bedroom was directly above the kitchen and that was the sound of Clare moving around.
‘Its really fine,’ Frank said. ‘We don’t need ice.’
We’d been to the cinema, me, Clare and Frank. Frank was staying over before driving back to Southampton in the morning. It was a weeknight, but this wasn’t so unusual since he’d broken up with Tessa. I’d liked Tessa. Shy girl, but warm enough once you got to know her. And sporty, not like Frank, although lately he’d started cycling again, something we used to do as teenagers.
Frank took a slug of bourbon. He started to tell me about something that had happened when he’d been out driving late one night. It sounded plausible enough. Frank was a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, so often worked odd shifts, through the night, or very early in the morning. It was after one of his shifts, and he’d been driving home.
‘There was hardly anything else on the road. Its good then. Nothing in the way.’ He paused, taking another sip of bourbon. As he was talking I refilled his glass. ‘Which was I why I noticed this other car behind me. It had started out quite a way back, and I thought it was odd because it never seemed to catch up with me. I wasn’t going very fast, feeling pretty spaced after my shift, but with nothing else around there was nothing to stop him speeding past. Or her.’
‘Was it a him or a her?’
I took a sip of my own drink, wincing a little with the burn.
‘I couldn’t tell – they were too far back. But I couldn’t see why they weren’t hurrying past. But I thought “never mind“. Except they were there for ages. Just pootling along behind me.’
‘But you don’t think anything of it, right? They might be doing the same as you. A nightshift worker or something.’
‘Exactly. But it felt weird, because I noticed that they were taking all the same turns as me. That sounds weird, I know.’
‘A little,’ I said.
‘But it was every single one.’
‘Maybe they were going where you were going.’
‘Could be. That’s what I said to myself, anyway. But it seemed weird. I mean, one of us driving home at four in the morning to this one place where we both live is slightly uncommon, but two of us, from the same road, the same street both being out at the time? It seemed unlikely.’
‘And you’re sure it was the same car?’
We were both empty, so I filled up our glasses again. Through the kitchen window I could see a light had come on at one of the upstairs windows of the house opposite. In a heartbeat it was out again.
‘Positive. Because it got nearer.’
‘So who was it? Was it a man or a woman?’
‘I still couldn’t tell. The glare of the headlight made it too hard to see. It was definitely one person. Not two. But I couldn’t see any more. It was a silhouette.’
‘So, what did you do? Did it turn out to be one of your neighbours?’
Frank leaned forward in his chair, shifting his weight from one side to the other, ruffling his hair with the hand that wasn’t holding the glass.
‘I decided to test him. I decided to go a different way.’
‘But you could have ended up changing your route to his actual route.’
Frank didn’t answer at first. He just stared blankly back at me.
‘I mean, if you had gone your normal way you might have lost him. I suppose I just mean that you might, by co-incidence, have gone his way.’
Frank considered this for a moment, and then he said:
‘I see. Maybe. But I did something else as well. I was coming up to this T junction. So what I did was, I indicated to go right, way before I got to it. And the guy behind me, he indicates right too. So far, so inevitable. But what I did, you see…
‘… is you went the other way?’
‘Right. I turned left. Even though I’d indicated right. I figured that there was nothing else on the road. There was no harm. I wanted to see what he’d do.’
‘And he turned left?’
‘He did. It was then I knew he was following me.’
‘’Following’ maybe a bit strong, eh?’
‘How else do you explain it?’
‘I can’t, I suppose. So then what did you do?’
‘I decided to test him again. And in the same way. I did it twice more. Indicating one way, and then, without any warning, doing the exact opposite. And every time he did the same. I was beginning to freak out at this point. So the next thing – I don’t really know why I did this – I think I just wanted to outrun him, to get away somehow – I started to drive away from where I was supposed to be going. Just turned off the main road, onto all these little side roads, B roads. Not going anywhere in particular. Just driving away.’
‘Away where though?’
‘I don’t know. But I started going faster too. Really putting my foot down. And he speeded up too. It was almost as if we were racing. And every turn, every roundabout, there he was. And its pitch black remember. Its night. And there are no lights in the country. After forty minutes, I was shitting myself. ‘
‘Well, all told. Since I’d noticed. It’s a twenty minute drive from my house to the hospital.’
‘I guess.’ That upstairs light had come on in the house opposite again. I glanced over at the clock on the oven. It was a few minutes before eleven.
‘So what happened?’
‘After a few more minutes I realised that I’d worked my way back around to town. And it was nearly five. There was a little bit of light in the sky. And we hit some traffic. We came to this big roundabout, and there were a couple of other cars waiting at the lights. I reckon that must have spooked him. Because as I came off at my exit I noticed he wasn’t there any more. I couldn’t believe it. So much so that I even doubled back to the roundabout. Went around again. Just to see if he was there.’
‘But he wasn’t?’
‘No, thank fuck. Freaked me out though. When I got home, as I parked in my normal space, I even looked back up and down the road to see if anyone was there. And when I got inside. I was peeking out o my bedroom curtains. It was nearly completely light by now.’
‘Tell me about it.’ He tipped his glass forward, holding at an angle, rested on the edge of the base.
‘You want another?’
‘Sure,’ he said.
‘Lets go and sit in the living room though.’