AN OPEN PEN CHRISTMAS: As we drove a kind of madness came upon us

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As we drove a kind of madness came upon us so that we didn’t regret what we had done. In fact we never did regret it. We didn’t have time. From then on there was never a moment long enough to allow us reflect to consider the solemn awfulness of what had happened. What had happened to us. Been done by us. I used to think that if we had just stopped and considered pulled up by the side of the road one day and thought, a horrible realisation would have arrived. And I think now that the moving was deliberate. Exhausting and necessary.

But to explain so that someone could understand appreciate the tenor of our mistakes and the urgency of our flight I would have to go back very far right back to the point from which we were fleeing when we took to the coastal road when I was only nineteen. And for you to understand truly would require a genuine effort to appreciate our mode of thought and very particular circumstances. An openness and sympathy which in my experience is rare indeed. So rare that I have experienced it perhaps once or twice in the past five months of our flight and on neither of those occasions did I stop long enough to consider carefully and truly the people I suspected had it in them. They helped us long enough to know that it would cost them. But I truly think that they did not live to regret it, from my consideration of their understanding. Of us and the tenor of our experience. But they did not live, and that is true too.

To go back by five months is not an easy thing.

On the coastal roads the days were very very short and the faster we drove towards the sun the quicker it leant into the sea. At that time we set our pace by the length of the day. We had a little time. Those days we drove through many nights and at the side of the road great lumps of snow gathered wanting to lean but always tumbling.

With five months distance I can see we picked a bad time to take to flight. The drive was hard. At times we ran about on compact ice and I gripped myself in silencing despair. But I dared not drive and had nothing to offer but the smallness of my demands. I was driven and it made more sense that way. In the night days of our first driving when things dawned and did not dawn we also set the limits of our understanding. Don’t look that way we always said, when our gaze glanced the tops of gaudy trees. We always looked ahead or towards the sea. Never back or at each other which was the same.

We didn’t pick the time of year ourselves but it was a cruel time to do what we did. The light had a kind of hardness to it with little sympathy. The weather tried to slow our pace but we set it as swift as the coming down of night. We set it just about as fast as we could go.

Yes those first night days were about the worst when we drove so fast to stop the snow from settling with our wheels.  The cold has its way of keeping the living moving, just as it stops the dead and makes them linger.

When we took the coastal road it seemed the natural way to go. Away from everything away maybe even from the madness that had come upon us. Something about the time of year something about all the coming together had made us recognise in each other a need to pull apart. On the road we were each alone with trying not to think of what we’d done and at that time of year too.

Wrong is wrong and bad is bad but driving through the snow, winds at our flank that didn’t see us and kept going through it made the wrongness of it a matter of practicalities of lack of planning you couldn’t plan a thing like that though they might say otherwise if they could say. We stopped when we had to stop only long enough to put it down to timing, never longer.

Looking back I’m not sure either of us thought we’d make it but not knowing where we were heading makes it hard to judge. The coastal road stretched forever as far as anyone knew and as far as we planned we planned to go beyond that. When we rarely saw others they always wanted to greet us but eventually we put that down to the time of year and greeted them peaceably back. It was a bad time of year to have done what we’d done but we were always friendly. Took what was offered. Never more.

The coastal road went through the fir forest more than once and when it did bushes of holly far taller than I had seen before scraped themselves along our windows with messages we couldn’t grasp but felt we knew and he said without turning round this is only going to get harder to get through and as he said very little it was something I remembered. And actually the road took us back towards the sea that I liked to watch but that wasn’t what he had meant at all.

Looking back five months is likely longer than he thought we’d get at all. But we never considered turning back, only pursuing flight until we forgot what we were trying to outrun. We had a silence battered only by the sea and noisy coldness of the ground, we had a lack of expectations, we had an absence of hope so grand it didn’t need acknowledging. We cut ourselves free and yet refused to drift. We had both been heavy a very long time and then with all the coming together on the cusp of weighting ourselves down even more with food and comfort – ours or other people’s – we glanced across and caught each other’s need to pull away.

What takes an instant can prove hard to sustain. A thing to learn at nineteen. What takes an instant can be harder to shake off, that too. We took an instant and we dragged it out behind us as we drove the coastal road felt it bounce and shudder and scrape behind us as we went. We never looked but it was tethered there it swung wide with every corner pulling in the direction we wouldn’t go colliding with banks of snow that cascaded in our wake.

Now I am twenty and I see the road from June’s approach I am more hopeful for the flight. We’ll keep the pace and when we find ourselves at Christmas’s edge we’ll have got far past it by then.

In Spring the days are longer they give more time and light and once or twice I’ve seen him take deep long breaths I’d never seen before. Spring is busy with other things it asks much less of you and all the snow and wind that tried to block our way is dissipating and the further we go the further people are. The pace is exhausting and necessary but all around us things are waking up and taking flight casting off the things that held them to the ground. This sense of company is energising funny to have it now and not at that cruel time of year we left.

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SARAH W

lives, works, studies and writes in London.

Sarah’s Christmas song for Open Pen:

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