The Roads Taken

By Blake Curran


I see her again, dawdling behind a truck. I hate the trucks, preferring to stay in the second or third lane over. I figure it’s safer than weaving in and out of the traffic. I know they say to stay in the left lane unless overtaking, but if I get pulled over I don’t see how they can argue with my logic.

I know it’s the same girl from uni because the car is so recognisable: it’s white but the road grime paints it a sort of grey, and it’s tiny—even smaller than my car— with frangipani stickers plastered on the back window. The most distinctive features are her numberplates, pink like her faded P’s. I slow down to let her move in front of me and out from behind the semitrailer because I know what it’s like to be treated as ‘just another P-plater’. I’d move over to the next lane completely but a dozen cars are overtaking me even though I’m doing the speed limit. She doesn’t move, leaving me to debate whether to flash my lights at her. Just as I decide against it and go to push harder on the accelerator, her indicators blink hopefully at me and I ease my foot back up. As she slides in smoothly, I watch to see if she waves in gratitude. I’m not sure whether she’s adjusting her rear vision mirror or not.

She reminds me of another girl, a different mirror.

It stood opposite her bedroom door, the surface dark and impenetrable. I wasn’t supposed to be in here, but I knew where she kept her spare set of keys and the temptation proved too much to resist. It was the mozzies and the darkness and the waiting that eventually drove me inside. I listened carefully to make sure that her house was still and quiet. All I could hear was the susurrus of eucalypt leaves brushing against her window. That was enough for me. I pulled off my shoes and drew her lilac covers back.

My teeth want to chatter, so I clench my jaw: the air-conditioner in this car doesn’t work, and neither does the heater. Though it’s worse when the windscreen fogs up and I have to wind the windows down. I should have put my jumper on before hopping in the car, but it’s too late now. Once we reach the top of the climb, I can see dark clouds gathering in the distance. She indicates to exit as I do the same. It’s a tight bend, and I brake harder than I normally would to give her more space. The car behind me overtakes us with a roar as soon as he can. We both merge into the righthand lane as it feeds us forward, paper boats in flooded gutters.


My car struggles to maintain ninety going up the hill, and I slow down a bit so it can drop a gear. She increases her distance until she reaches the crest and I lose sight of her. If I was driving a manual, I would have changed gear by now but this car has ideas of its own and I’ve no way to change its mind. Instead, I put up with its groan against gravity, even though the ascent isn’t very steep. Reaching the top, the car adjusts itself, and I follow the bend until it leads me to a shorter, steeper climb. I push harder on the pedal; I decide I’d rather go over the speed limit than under it. At least this way I’ll catch up to her, and the car can’t complain. I shiver as clouds obscure the sun. My hands clench the wheel so tightly that my knuckles jut from my skin in waxen ridges.

Her bed was colder than I thought it would be, and it took a conscious effort not to shiver. I pulled her Doona towards my chin. Last time I was here, Siobhan had wanted me to be: two bodies, heated by hormones. I shivered in ecstasy then, the cold driven away by our twin rushes of blood and adrenaline. This time though, her sheets were icy and her Doona settled around my lone body with cool grace. A perverse side of me hoped she would return early from her weekend away with the new boyfriend. The idea of being caught sent a thrill down my spine.

As I scan ahead, I feel a jolt when I realise I can no longer see her car. I follow the curvature of the road, certain that I will see her soon. I should have caught up to her by now, surely? I flick my indicator to move out of the terminating lane, remembering without looking that the roadwork zone has begun, and that I should slow down to sixty. I ease off the accelerator and let the car coast forward. Rounding another bend, I brake gently: a wearied worker holding a STOP sign halts a line of cars and trucks, and I pull up behind her. I feel like I can relax now—had I been tense before? As pathetic as it sounds, I think of her as my friend. If she were to break down and pull over, I’d stop in a heartbeat to help her. Or at least wait with her. I hate waiting alone.

I know I shouldn’t let myself get worked up so easily; it’s a fault of mine. I don’t think it’s anxiety, though. A friend of mine had that in high school, and she had panic attacks and cried a lot. I haven’t cried since … well, in a while. So I don’t think it’s anxiety, just me being socially uncoordinated. I take a deep breath through my nostrils because I remember something my PE teacher said about the nose filtering and warming the air. Right now I need as much warmth as I can get. The air is freezing.

I tap out an impatient staccato on the wheel, attempting to drum a bit of the cold away. I’m tired. Stressed, too. The usual. Her brake lights go out, and I slowly take my foot off the brake, letting the car edge forward on its own. The queue rolls forward slowly, uncertainly.

As I drew the Doona tighter around myself, its emptiness subsiding around me, I peered out at her bedroom, which lacked only her. Her mirror revealed no secrets: its dark surface remained still and flat. I remember the day she bought that mirror. I was with her, one of the few outings we ever made in public. She thought it was too awkward with our age gap, even though I told her I didn’t care and asked her if she’d ever seen The Reader. She had to borrow her brother’s ute to bring the oversized looking glass home from the antique shop. I helped her carry it in. It was awkward and bulky, and I reckoned it would have been easier for me to manage it by myself, but she disagreed. It was a tiny moment, an infinitesimal argument that seemed in jest, but to me was the beginning of an unravelling.

The cars steadily separate from each other, the gaps between them lengthening as they speed up. I let her move away from me before I start to press down on the accelerator. Smoothly, gradually. If there was one thing Dad taught me, it was to go easy on the pedals. I was taught in a manual. Dad’s idea of coordination involved precision and balance—and rightly so. Looking back, his teaching was invaluable, but at the time it just seemed annoying and complicated. Even though I now drive an automatic, I’ve never forgotten to be gentle with the pedals.

Rolling over, I pressed my face against her pillow. I breathed her scent in: cinnamon, that Wonderstruck perfume (even though she hated Taylor Swift) and a hint of some no-name fabric softener. Inhaling deeply through my nose, the mixture of scents comforted me with its familiarity. I remember when I first bought her the perfume: it was a joke and I expected her to regift it. I told her just that, actually. It was a dumb thing to say, but—perhaps out of spite—she claimed she liked it, and wore it constantly, even after I told her I preferred her other perfume. Lying in her desolate bed, I only liked the smell because I was used to it.

I realise that the girl from uni is stuck behind another truck. The single lane has turned into a double, and I wonder why she doesn’t overtake. My hatred of the trucks outweighs my desire to save her again and so, checking my blind spot, I overtake both her and the truck. I cruise along until I reach the motorway.


I don’t notice she’s followed me until we’re overtaken by a wave of traffic. It starts to rain and the windscreen wipers beat methodically, madly: a metronome amidst the orchestra of the storm. I can barely make her out in the rear vision mirror, but I know she’s there, keeping me company.

Cracking the windows as the glass fogs up, I hunch forward and tighten my grip on the wheel. I hate low visibility driving almost as much as I hate the trucks or waiting alone. At least it’s not nighttime as well. That’s the worst. Just as suddenly, we’re out of the storm, sluicing through the sky’s spit. I slow the windscreen wipers; they dance to a slower beat now, a lull before the crescendo and big finish. I wonder if there will actually be a climax.

I woke in her bed feeling taut and sick, dizzy with disorientation. My mouth was furry and dry. It took me a jarring moment to realise where I was, but then the world lurched into focus and I stared at the ceiling, flaky with peeling paint. The light fixture I’d forgotten to turn off glowed in the centre of the room, and I shifted my gaze. She must have changed it recently. Before, a single light bulb had hung there, unadorned. Now it lived inside a plastic cage, painted to look like wood. I supposed that was the trend now. The shape of the cage cast a strange shadow against the grey light of dawn all around the room, but the far wall was the most striking: a collage of photographs dissected into lit faces. With barely a glance, I knew I was no longer a feature among them. Those days were gone, bid farewell with screams and tears, with guilt and shame. I felt as though I had been left with a welt across my face, and lying in her bed was the equivalent of tentatively feeling my cheek to assess the damage. It was still sore.

I attempt to peer into her windscreen, craning my neck to extract the best view from the tiny rear vision mirror, but the tint—rippling darkly behind the rivulets of rain—hides her from me.

I sat on the edge of the bed and put my shoes back on. Standing up, I moved towards the mirror and attempted to smooth out my crinkled clothes as best I could. I surveyed the room for a final time before leaving her house. I left the bed unmade and put the spare keys underneath a different pot plant.

I indicate to exit, hoping she’ll do the same. Peeling away from her, I watch in the rear vision mirror as she continues on her way, perhaps to Liverpool, or further. She gets smaller in bursts as my gaze flicks between the rear vision mirror and the windscreen. I can’t help but think that there’s a deeper reason behind the placement of this little mirror, a flash of what’s behind me amongst all that’s ahead.