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(A short story of 5533 words)

Last Day of Summer

Literary

by Gareth Hill


September 10th 2001 - Chris and Annie are on the final leg of their road trip around the USA. Heading towards New York, the frayed edges of a relationship spawned from post-graduation euphoria are beginning to show as they confront the end of their summer and the swan-song of their youth. Aware that their lives are going to change, they face up to an uncertain future, completely unaware of the global events into which they are about to be propelled.


The deer.

It stares, transfixed; hypnotised by the on-rushing headlights.

On instinct Chris pulls down hard on the steering wheel, into the outside lane. The rear-view mirror suddenly awash with white light, the car behind almost on top of them, its horn loud – menacing. He swerves back inside; the deer, its trance broken, bolts into the trees and the safety of the forest. They fishtail then straighten up, as the other car speeds by; two red lights disappearing into the darkness. Annie’s head jolts against the side window, waking her. Simon & Garfunkel play on the stereo.

It’s late, past midnight. They’ve been on the road more than eight hours.

“What’s going on,” she asks.

Chris’ heart, hammering behind his ribs, throbbing up into his ears, competing with the music, blending with it. The road again quiet; no cars, no animals, no threat. He sucks in air, tries to catch his breath, regain his composure. Cool trickles of sweat leak from his armpits, inch down his side. He sees the exit sign. Sees the little pictures on the bottom corner, familiar visions of civilization; Golden arches and Motel 6. Eyes heavy, blinking – glancing across at his girlfriend, nodding back towards the road, towards the blackness beyond the arc of artificial light ahead. Simon & Garfunkel singing Richard Cory.

“We’re coming off here,” he says, another large sign looming up out of the darkness.

“Human again,” she says “You going in? It’s a good shower.”

Ten weeks on the road. They’d become shower connoisseurs; fierce critics of bad plumbing.

“Maybe.”

“I think you should.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She smiles, joins him on the bed, leans over and sniffs the air.

“Nothing.”

She’s wrapped in a white towel; her face glistening with moisturiser. He likes seeing her like this, seeing her the way no-one else sees her.

Another Night, another motel. After a while they blended into one. Straight from the movies. The first, after they left New York, was a two storied L-Shaped building on a side road close to the Interstate. They joked about the paper stretched over the toilet, the cellophane wrapped cups; joked about Norman Bates. They re-enacted the shower scene with a toothbrush, Annie squealed, laughing as he made the eek-eek sounds. She pulled him into the shower, soaking his t-shirt, kissing him under the jet of water. They had sex in the shower, later, in the bed. In the morning, they heard the pleasured cries of a couple in the room next door and laughed, aware that they must surely have been heard as well.

They’d left England at the start of July, new lovers on a whim of post-graduate liberation.

Ten weeks ago, 29 states ago. It felt longer but not long enough.

“Whatcha watching?” she says.

Their day had begun in Tennessee. Somewhere outside, beyond the trees and the six lanes of I-95, was Washington DC.

“Not sure.”

A chat-show host he didn’t know talking to a celeb he didn’t recognise. Staring at the screen without really paying attention, his mind elsewhere. He’d been listening to Annie in the bathroom, to the sound of the water, imagined her, head tilted back, eyes closed as the warm stream poured over her body, running through her hair. The brief contemplation to move, to go and join her; stopped by the thought that his appearance wouldn’t be welcomed. They were on the final leg; the journey north. In the morning they were heading back to New York. In a few days the flight back to England. Back to reality, as his dad would’ve probably said. He didn’t want to think about it...
 

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