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Thunder Road

by  scriever

Posted: Friday, December 02, 2016
Word Count: 904
Summary: For the flash challenge: a short story with a soundtrack. Set in the 1980s, to go by the songs.




The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves. Behind her, as she runs down the path, Roy Orbison sings about the lonely. Then, to anyone watching from the house, she simply disappears. One minute there, next minute - gone. In reality, she had taken a dive into the shrubbery. Which is where she is now, watching the house, face a perfect signifier of fear. A single tear tracks down a cheek.

After a while - five minutes? Ten? An hour? - she moves again, slowly, cautiously. She has an ugly bruise, high up on her left cheek, near the eye. That wasn't there before, was it? When the screen door slammed behind her, when she ran from the house. The radio's still playing, a Springsteen song now. Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul. The music helps. She edges closer to the house.

Then she stops. Leans back against the smooth bark of an acer tree, slides down, until she's sitting, splay-legged on the grass, head in her hands. There's a sobbing sound. It goes on for some time. Then she wipes her eyes with her hands, the base of her thumbs, wipes her nose with the back of her right hand, gestures that make her look even younger than her 22 years. I'm a mess, she thinks. Get a grip. But she doesn't move. Gingerly, her left hand touches the bruise, which is dark blue now, explores its contour. She presses down on the centre of the disfigurement to her otherwise perfect youthfulness, winces, then does it again, as if seeking the pain. She sits there for a long time, remembering. When they moved in to their little house, full of love and hope. The laughter, the sex, the shared moments of wild abandon. The boring times, the arguments. Their lives. Together forever, they used to say.

She looks down at her dress. It's stained with something. Looks a little like ketchup. She knows what it is. A deep breath, then she's standing. She edges on to the path, facing the screen door. The radio plays on. She doesn't know this song. To go back in, or turn and walk away? Or to run, as fast as she can, to run until she can run no more? That's what she feels like doing. She looks towards the dusty road, has a sudden vision of a new life, in a new town. She sees herself as a waitress in a diner. But she turns back towards the house. She has to know.

She reaches for the handle. Holds it, then lets go again. Turns away. Then, with a sudden movement she's standing in the porch. There's no noise from the house. Has someone turned the radio off? No, here it comes again. Robert Palmer sings: Your lights are on, but you're not home. She likes this one, and for some reason it gives her a little confidence.

The living room’s a mess. But then it normally is. They were never good a cleaning, domestic stuff. Didn’t seem important, compared to the other, fun stuff there was to do. She stands for a while, until the song ends, listens for any other sounds in the silence. The door to the hallway’s open. She heads for it, as another song starts up: I want to know what love is. Me too, she thinks.

The door to the kitchen’s closed. What’s in there, apart from the radio? What will she find? She spends some time staring at the handle. Her left hand, shaking, finds the bruise again. She's almost paralysed by fear but her right hand reaches out. She holds the door closed for a full minute, the handle depressed. The door opens a crack. Van halen's Jump sounds jaunty, almost like normality. You got to roll with the punches and get to what's real. Good advice, David Lee. The door swings fully open, and she can see that the kitchen is.. empty. She wasn’t expecting that. This is where it happened, where she left him, on the floor. She stands where he fell. There’s a dark stain on the worn lino, nothing more.

She moves more quickly now, through the house. The bedroom, where he started hitting her. Empty. Bathroom. Empty. She’s back in the living room. Where did he go? Did someone turn up, help him, pull the knife out, the knife she grabbed, wild with fear and panic, and plunged into his neck? She hears the back door open. Unthinking, she rushes to the kitchen. He’s there, standing motionless, left arm strapped to his chest, right hand gripping a baseball bat. ‘Tried to kill me, bitch’, he says, and swings the length of wood. It connects with the side of her head. She’s just conscious of him standing over her, raising the baseball bat. The last thing she hears is the radio. A song she'd always hated. Too emotional, too melodramatic. Once upon a time I was falling in love, but now I’m only falling apart. Nothing more to say. Total eclipse


The Soundtrack

Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
Only The Lonely – Roy Orbison
I’m On Fire – Bruce Springsteen
Addicted To Love – Robert Palmer
I Want To Know What Love Is - Foreigner
Jump – Van Halen
Total Eclipse of The Heart – Bonnie Tyler