The city was melting. The view from the window was a series of distorted flashes, buildings flew past. The occasional people were just thick and thin dark shapes showed up by street lights or set against the warm rays of homes, or pubs. It was a wet, cold night. The rain kicked at the pavements and drove people towards the lights. Even if I kicked at the door, somehow unravelled myself from the tight bands and managed to get it open, I’d die on the road.
Tying my hands was only so that I wouldn’t open the door if we had to stop at the lights, he’d said, not that we stopped at many. It was getting darker outside and the windows of the Audi were tinted so no one would have looked in and seen my awkward pose inside. He’d put the seatbelt around me gently, moved past my bruising arm from where he’d grabbed me at the front door. My mouth still ached and the pain spread across my cheeks and peaked at my jaw. I was past terror; my body and mind had started to shut down, block out, tune out, even my stomach had stopped its continual internal jittering.
The reason for my rush from car to front door at night had actually happened; someone had emerged from the ready-in-waiting Crime Watch scene hedge. The hand over my mouth, the gasp for breath, the dragging across the driveway, my heels scratching against the paving leaving marks, the plaster running down my throat from the hand on my face, until we were back in my own car.
The gag had been pulled off once we had gathered enough speed. He’d pulled it away from my mouth somewhere near Liverpool John Lennon Airport. We were heading along the river, following it, watching it dip in the distance between waters. The black waters that were waiting to take me down, waves like watery hands that would soon pour into my throat and replace the charred dryness.
The key was never to let people get away if you could. That’s what he kept saying. He’d said it at the funeral in a drunken blurry conversation. But he’d said it again now. I had tried to get away too often. But not today.
The car made a low droning sound. The engine was like a bee bursting through a room trying to escape or an agitated wasp ready to sting.
At the next set of lights, he issued a low warning to me. If I move he will crash the car into the nearest wall. He doesn’t care what happens to him. I will never make it out if I try anything. We headed on. My head banged against the window as the car took a sudden lurch, the cold pain a reminder that I was still here; I was not dissolving.
The sky dipped to the side, folds of colour with prominent pink as the car swerved and we headed over grass towards the waterfront. The smell of petrol dotted across the car left over from the revving before he shut all the windows, shut me in. My stomach heaved with it. The tinge of apple from the plastic fruit bobbing under the mirror is against the clogging oil. Both fight for space as I breathed in and out again in a choke of white chards.
The skyline ahead seemed to be waving in big folds of dark hills, up and down, with lights and cranes and ships. The other side was always waiting to be built.
He drove until we almost hit the bollard, the big chunks of iron that start on the pavement after the grass. There was a careful pull between them, a practised manoeuvre, an awareness that this particular bollard was wider and caved in on one side, allowing a car to just get in.
He’d been here before. Saliva clogged in my mouth and mixed with the blood from where I bit my tongue when the hand gripped over me. He’d been here before. Perhaps he walked up and down the pavement, under the twinkling lights of the street lamp, felt the hard ground against his pacing, his planning, watched the clouds jump and stretch themselves across the sky like they are now.
A photo fell from the visor and fluttered down by my feet. I can make out the Eiffel Tower in the background and my own smiling face as one half. But that picture was a lie in so many ways. I’d taken mine out of the frame and tore it up into little pieces only yesterday, when I still had choices.
The car shuddered to a stop. He turned the lights off. It was just us and the river with life behind us and beyond it.
Someone on the other side of the river, in my position, would have the right view. They would have the two Cathedrals, the RadioCityTower, and the new buildings that had sprung up and rooted around Liverpool One like shards of glass heading for the heavens, all poking up from the blackness and setting against the pink sky like familiar friends.
But all I wanted was my Mum. It was always the same, like my mind could never get used to the fact that this was impossible.
Yet this thought started a fight in me, bringing the terror again, but with it some power to fight, to try.
A reflex, a weak one from my tired throat brought out the pointless words.
But it was a start. It had unsettled him and moments later I had a plan.