Authors: Nick Alexander
Nick Alexander was born in Margate, and has lived and worked in the UK, the USA and France. When he isn't writing, he is the editor of the gay literature site BIGfib.com. His latest novel,
The Case of the Missing Boyfriend,
was an eBook bestseller in early 2011, netting sixty thousand downloads and reaching number 1 on Amazon. Nick lives in the southern French Alps with two mogs, a couple of goldfish and a complete set of Pedro Almodovar films. Visit his website at
First published in Great Britain in 2005 by BIGfib Books.
Thanks to Fay Weldon for encouraging me when it most counted. Special thanks to Davey, with-out whom Tom would have been speechless, to Rosemary and Liz for their help with the final manuscript and to Claire at Turnaround for her help with getting the book out into the wider world. Thanks to everyone who has filled my life with these stories and to everyone who shared their memories with me when I ran out of ideas. Thanks to Apple computer for making such wonderful reliable work tools, and to BIGfib Books for making this book a reality.
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
A son, remembering packed lunches and childhood picnics, makes a flask of coffee for his mother and tells her to be sure to drink it as she undertakes the long drive back to England. He is worried about her leaving, for she is not, emotionally speaking, in the best of ways.
But she reassures him. “I don't know how I'll be when I get there, but the drive will do me good,” she says.
As he waves her off, he has one last moment of hesitation, but his boyfriend slides an arm around his waist and says, “
Don't worry she'll be fine
He hands the flask of coffee through the window, kisses his mother on the cheek and, as she drives away, he makes a meow sound, mimicking Riley, the caged cat next to her on the passenger seat.
As Sarah drives, she marvels at her convincing acting.
“He shouldn't have let me go,” she thinks briefly. “He should have realised.”
She discounts this as a bad thought. It's not her son's fault after all if he can't read her mind, is it? It couldn't really be his fault if his imagination isn't big enough to see the terror of driving back alone to all that mess. Could it?
After half an hour on the monotonous Italian motorway the cat quietens and Sarah's mind drifts over the absurdly dramatic events of the last few months. Her shocking realisation that she didn't, or perhaps
really loved her husband of 27 years,
and then in the middle of that crisis, her son's revelation â¦
And now this so-called holiday. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire”, she thinks.
Away from Pete and the terrible drama of “home”, to be sure. But two weeks of trying to get her mind around the fact of those two together, trying to think about her son, trying find a new way of relating to him while also trying not to think about it; specifically trying not to think about the sex thing, the reality of their two bodies together.
But more than anything else, she has spent the time trying not to think about what she will do when she gets back,
she gets back to Wolverhampton.
As she drives past motorway exits for Monaco, Nice, then Antibes, she pictures each of those places, memories from 20 years ago, before Pete decided to hate travelling. She is tempted to leave the motorway and re-visit them all, to never go home. She wonders if French hotels take cats and briefly her hatred focuses on Riley; it becomes the cat's fault she can't do what she wants.
The desire not to return to Wolverhampton is overpowering. She could just carry on, just drive and drive until â¦
Until what though? Until her bank account is empty? Until
their accounts are empty?
The future strikes her as deep and dark and endless, and she wonders if she can face it.
“Am I capable of doing any of this?” she asks out loud. But what is the alternative?
As tears well up in her eyes it starts to rain. She swallows determinedly and in strangely symmetrical
acts, she brushes away the tears and flicks on the windscreen wipers.
A sign shows that she will have to change motorways soon, to turn the wheel and swing north towards home, or continue straight-on towards Marseille, Perpignan, Barcelona.
A tiny smile spreads across her face as she contemplates the choices. Wolverhampton or Barcelona. It seems absurd that she will choose England as she knows she must.
Outside it gets darker and the rain gets harder and starts to hammer against the windscreen. She flicks on the radio, which glows cosily and scans briefly before settling on FIP FM. A woman is talking with a late night voice even though it is mid-afternoon. Sarah doesn't understand the actual words but the language, the foreign-ness of it sounds beautiful.
Another sign announces the beginning of the A7 and she braces herself to turn the wheel towards home. To turn her wheel away from the adventures she always dreamt of, and towards the resumption of her life in Wolverhampton, her trips to the shops with her husband, and to establishing some kind of platonic relationship with the man she secretly loved all these years.
It's still too painful to even
his name. Having had his life of adventures without her he has now returned and will be living down the road! “
” she thinks. “
She thinks about what it means, this turning of the steering wheel, for turning onto the A7 is hugely symbolic.
It is the final and ultimate acceptance of her ordinariness. It is acknowledging, once and for all,
that at 56 she isn't going to become anything else. That it's too late for adventures, too late to leave Pete, and too late for the lover. Only she doesn't feel old inside; inside she doesn't feel like it should be too late at all.
She glances at the cat. “It's not a life of Riley at all,” she tells it.
The cat replies with a plaintive
and Sarah nods.
“You know that already huh?” she says.
As she stares out through the windscreen at the road, her eyes start to tear again, and through two layers of running water it's hard to see the road works.
As she enters a tunnel, a sign tells her to move to the right-hand lane for the A7, so she waits until the end of the road works and then slows and slips in behind a truck.
“Am I doing this then?” she asks, suddenly shocked by the loudness of her voice as the noise of the rain bashing against the windscreen ceases.
The tears start to flow again and she's having trouble seeing in the darkness of the tunnel. She puts on her hazard lights and starts to slow and shift onto the hard shoulder.
As the car halts, only feet before the exit from the tunnel, she thinks of another option she hasn't considered â turning around and going back. But it's not really an option; her son will be flying home at the end of the week and his
She swallows and re-phrases the thought. His
will be heading back to wherever it is his parents live, and another different family will bring their own set of hopes and fears into the villa.
She pulls a tissue from her sleeve and blows her
nose. She opens the cat's cage, but it doesn't move. As she reaches into the glove compartment for the flask of coffee, a passing truck blares its horns at her, and she is momentarily aware of the danger of where she has chosen to stop, glad yet again that she traded the tiny Daihatsu for a Volvo.
“OK, just a minute,” she mutters, filling the cup and trying to consider her options.
“But I don't want to do any of it,” she thinks. “I'm sick of it. I'm tired of it all.”
A motorcyclist with a dirty visor is travelling back from a romantic weekend.
Riding much too fast in his haste to be home, he misjudges the bend inside the tunnel, misses the grey Volvo parked on the hard-shoulder but clips the crash barrier beyond, loses control and skids across the tarmac, out of the tunnel and into the safety of the bushes.
delivery truck, with a tired driver who spent the weekend arguing with his wife, swerves to avoid the motorcycle and starts to skid and jack-knife across the glossy wetness of the three lanes.
Behind him, a juggernaut swerves bravely towards the hard shoulder and for a moment the reactive, nervy driver thinks that he might make it. For a few exhilarating seconds he thinks that he might be able to squeeze his huge articulated truck through the tiny space, but as he glides through the gap with only the slightest of scrapes, as he squeezes past the yellow
truck on the left, and the crash barrier on the right, he sees a parked Volvo on the hard shoulder, then glimpses the aterrified eyes of the woman within. As he ploughs into, then over her grey Volvo, sweat
pours from every pore of his body.