Mark stepped out into the night at 03:00am and wandered up Yonge Street till he hit Sheppard. The yellow lamplight made his view a sepia-tinged old photograph with something like a 50Hz refresh. The flicker was noticeable, and was why he sometimes just preferred switching his vision off entirely.
Tonight had been a strange night. When they’d gotten to Janna’s home, she’d completely fallen apart on him. He’d half expected it though. Had to come after all these years of non-committal fucked-up-ness.
How strange that in one night, love thought lost and love made were not enough to prevent him from walking again into his past, sliding into the driver’s seat of a Fanged Jaguar left there for him, and speeding toward a promise he’d had to make. How strange that his carefully laid plans to kick old habits hadn’t even lasted a day.
I become the very person we both need me to not be, when I’m around you. It’s like you… you CAUSE everything.
He’d said that.
She’d stood there in silhouette, the night light faintly halo-ing the thinning tips of her ‘fro, and she hadn’t said a word. For once.
As the engine’s hum rose to meet his demands, his vision shook: road marks, paving, a lone and staggering drunkard; traffic signals and lamps… everything fed into a pattern recognition circuit that he’d had to hone practically since his teens. The things you could run over, and the things you could not. It shouldn’t have felt this familiar.
He began to laugh; quietly at first, and then roaring loud, with complete abandon.
He leaned a little within the goth-black leather cockpit, rounding a bend at a speed that made the trafficams turn heads and scan plates for invoices that would die mysteriously in transmission, never to be paid.
This one is for you Janna, he says to himself.
But there was that other thing… the nostalgia.
And the comfort that comes from a rigged bet:
The man in the Honda couldn’t have known Mark had grown up on these streets, many, many years ago. He couldn’t have known that the man with the dead eyes and the sassy gal was smearing lane markings to settle contractual out-clauses and dark net feuds, long before any of these tire kiddies had crawled out of their nappies to turn the glorious tradition of riding into teen-sport.
The 401 was a long-exposure paint-brush streak of light-blur on black. With a black shape to his left, in the fast lane. He let it stay with him, as they danced around the rare, hapless other sharers of the road. He let it stay with him until they got to the dead stretch between cities, when some internal model of the customized Honda and its presumed impact profiles began to flower in his imagination…
Hard left, and concrete tearing into metal.
Of course, the Honda was exo-skelled to the hilt, and they weren’t about to have lent him a Fanged Jag with any actual teeth, so all he had at this point was the mere advantage of experience.
And for some un-knowable reason, this night, it was scant consolation.
The feeling had crept up on him.
The drive itself was fine – hell, it was downright fun. It was the dueling ahead that he suddenly felt weary of. What memento was he going to leave this kid with? Broken legs, or worse? Cracked ribs? A cracked skull?
It occurred to him then, that he hadn’t been thinking. There was no contract here. No failsafes. No planning aforethought. There wasn’t even a point, just a promise to be left alone, really. Anybody could break that kind of a promise; words weren’t shit anymore.
He had spent months… years, trying to ready for just such a conflict with the self.
And it was in this long, long moment… pinned in turn to the median and being grated against it like some kind of unyielding, squealing block of metallic cheddar, that the insight came: the moment of stillness. The weary sense of enoughness.
There was this realization of infinite choice: the power of agency that he had carried within him all this time, but which he had been blind to, till now. I am a grown man, he thought. I can choose. He geared down enough to stop the vehicle entirely, just as Honda man – perhaps surprised by his gentle deceleration – overshot and swung almost at right angles into the Jaguar’s bonnet, which snarled the snarl of a wounded dog as Mark shuddered violently within.
It would have pleased his masters greatly, to see him now, Mark thought.
The poise. The deliberate grace of his exit from cocooned safety. The easy stride in the black night, to the middle lane of the highway. Had he not the gait of one who had finally gained self-mastery? They would confer amongst themselves on this, he was sure of it. Golden robed, soft-spoken; sprinkled behind him in far-flung Asian communes like breadcrumbs for a lost soul. Seven years of his fucking life.
Oh, he was in ‘the present moment’, all right.
He was as sure of it as he was of the chill in the air. Of the handle of the small emergency axe, grabbed from the glove-box. Just in case.Tags: Janna, Mark, The Treble