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HEADLIGHTS — a fiction
Starfields and lampposts
A starfield of headlights and lampposts fly against us. Kids in the back, faces illuminated in flashes. It is cold tonight and the heating is pushed up high. I wonder about the quality of the air, warmed by the engine, picking up toxins, fuel particles, carbon monoxide. I turn down the temperature.
‘Getting hot?’ he asks. I shrug a response. ‘You haven’t spoken much.’ I shrug again. There is no need for words. Not really. There are miles ahead of us. No need to pave the way with speech.
‘You know,’ he offers, ‘we don’t have to be there for the whole time. We can go, show our faces and go back to the hotel. Nobody will mind, considering the circumstances.’ We overtake a truck. I look up at the cab, see the driver illuminated by dashboard fairy lights. How long has he been on the road? I heard that self-driving vehicles are being deployed all over the continent. I wonder how long he has left in his job before the machines take over. Does he stay awake at night, worrying about how he is going to feed his kids? Has he started evening classes, getting ready to learn a new trade for when he can no-longer do the night run? Can he see what is coming on the road ahead, or is he simply driving on, heading to the next junction blind like the rest of us?
‘Your dad called,’ he begins again. ‘Asked if we could see him Sunday. I think he wants us to go to church with him.’ I can feel him grinning at me in the dark, prodding at my response, the response he expects.
‘Anyway,’ he says, no-longer grinning. ‘I thought we might. Just this once, you know? Just because… you know. Be there for him.’ There is a pause while he waits for me, but I am lost among the stars. I picture myself among them, moving from light to light alongside us, communing with the dead. I can see inside the car, see the head of one of our daughter flopping against the headrest in the back seat. I see his phone suctioned to the glass, but the screen is off. He knows the way. He knows the turns ahead and the junctions ahead of us. He knows where we will arrive. I see my own face there, still in the car. I see her eyes and I see she knows. She knows everything of the way ahead and what will be waiting there.
We are still so far away and the road is night.