Harold drove alone Into the night. It was always at night. She couldn’t stand there with her hands on her flat hips and glare at him with burrowing eyes that wordlessly accused him of some unknown crime that was nevertheless obvious to anybody but an idiot like him – no, she couldn’t do any of that in the daylight.

It was always at night.

He drove along a dark rural road slick with rain in that way that swallowed up the headlights so he couldn’t actually see the road. The dull smudges of the road’s centerline hid beneath the sheen of rain soaking the asphalt. His only real clue was the rough and vaguely green weeds and grass along the edge of the road. If somebody came down the road from the other side, he probably would have been in their lane. And if so, would he be able to swerve fast enough to dodge the other driver or would he swerve so fast the tires would lose their grip, kick the car into a headlong skid and then let it flip over end-to-end until it careened into the brush?

It was these sorts of thoughts he appreciated most as he drove along, because they distracted him from the heart-wrenching fury that she always planted in his mind, sewing it shut with her words, like thread and needle biting and ripping into his skull. Thoughts of flipping cars boiled out of his mind and spilled out onto the road, cascading away in diminishing waves of fascination.

She hated him. He knew that much. What he didn’t know was why. And that’s what drove him out of the house that night. That’s what drove him out of the house every night he slammed the door hard enough to shake the foyer walls and stomp out to the car. He always sat in the car for several minutes, taking deep breaths so he didn’t tear out of the driveway in a state of utter rage only to kill himself on the road and take away the bread winner that they both knew she depended upon.

Was that it? Did she resent that? He thought about that as his gaze wandered along the slick blurs of light the drooping metal poles scribbled across the wet asphalt. She had always said that she wanted to stay at home and raise their daughter. She seemed committed to that mission, certainly. She spent more money than he thought was necessary on books, toys, clothes and lessons of every variety. it warmed his heart to see her doting on the girl and it outright melted on those nights when he stood just outside his daughter’s room and heard his wife singing her to sleep. It was the one time when her voice sounded beautiful to him. She had never sung for him, of course, but there was a universal transcendence in the voice of a mother singing to her child. It seeped through the door like ether, and for those precious moments, he felt love for them both.

She seemed to be happy as a mother. It was just the wife part she didn’t seem to enjoy all that much.

As he drove along, Harold realized that he was always the one who left. He was always the one who left the turmoil behind to bathe his mind in the sedative of driving. Looking at houses he would never be able to afford, but still imagining some different version of his family living in those houses – as if there were a parallel universe where, if they just changed a few things, they could be the loving happy family that adorned too many T.V. commercials. It was still a dream. It still seemed possible.

But he was always the one who left and he wondered, perhaps for the first time, what it was like for Margaret to be left with Amelia, swimming in her own anger and frustration and somehow having to keep that from spilling over into their daughter’s consciousness.

A sullen sense of remorse came over him as he realized that wasn’t possible. Amelia must have known how her own mother felt. They were together constantly, and there had to be some intuitive, almost telepathic bond, where the girl would know that her mother was frustrated, angry, sad. Heart-broken.

Because of him.

His mouth fell open as he thought about that and he saw his wife tending to some senseless chore like re-stacking dishes, trying to take her mind off the turmoil while Amelia hovered in the kitchen, eyeing her mother with waiting eyes, knowing to keep quiet until her mother could once again show her a tender smile and brush away her fear with the soothing touch of her mother’s hand.

And so, he decided that next time he would let her go. He would hand her the keys and offer to let her go drive through the country and unburden her mind of the turmoil that he seemed to perpetually bring into her life.

That wasn’t so selfish, was it?

©2021 Michael J Lawrence

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