The singing road by Anne Brooke

The road is singing again. Beth can hear it as she washes up her husband’s breakfast crockery at the kitchen sink. It’s a whisper in her head, something like the memory of a perfume she once wore.

She doesn’t wear it now.

When she looks out of the window, all she can see is the sunlight glittering on the bougainvillea and the way the road winds down to the ocean. Perhaps it’s the gulls she can hear, but she doesn’t think so. The sound is too rhythmic, too persistent. Besides she’s heard it before.

She sighs and shakes her head. She doesn’t want to acknowledge it. Six years married to Mike and she’s getting comfortable. After all, it was the road that led her here. To him. Why should it want to call her away now?

It’s true though that over the last few months she’s felt deadened. Telling herself this is where she’s meant to be hasn’t made it any more or less true.

She can’t bear the thought of hurting him.

‘No,’ she whispers. ‘No.’

At once, the singing stops. She brushes her hair back from her face and a sparkle of foam from the water lands on her cheek. Her head feels empty now. Funny how getting what you think you want can be the loneliest feeling of all. She’s never got used to that.

She doesn’t want to leave. Not after she’s tried so hard to stay.

It only takes a few moments to dry the crockery – Mike isn’t a big eater – and put the plates and mugs out of sight in the cupboard. She can still feel the gentleness of his kiss on her forehead. As he’d opened the door to leave for work, it was then that the road burst in upon her, making her heart beat faster and her blood cry out in protest. She must have made a sound – sighed or groaned perhaps – as he’d turned round and reached out to her, concern in his eyes. She’d simply smiled and kissed him, down-playing the situation – how could she explain what she has never understood herself? She felt tired, she’d rest and all would be well when he came home. That’s what she’d said and he’d believed her.

She hadn’t believed herself. The road’s song had stayed in her head, the small musical phrase echoing round her head for well over half an hour until she’d finally spoken aloud.

Still, she isn’t fooled. The road never stays quiet for long. This time she has to stop it. Before it floods through her so much that it will be impossible to deny its calling.

She’s never known how to do that.

All her life, she’s responded to what the road sings to her. Its music, its words, the humming in her head has been the foundation of all her decisions: where she lives; where she works, if she works; whom she sees. Up until Mike, it has been easy to walk away. Untangling her life from a job or even someone else’s existence has been like erasing the notes on a score sheet. When she walks away, the page is once more empty, ready for the road to sing her somewhere else. Sing her into being someone else.

But six years without the song has meant Beth has had to find her own way of living. She thought the road had finally let her go and she’s been happy to stay here in Mike’s home by the sea. Has been happy to live the kind of life he seems to want, be the wife he’s hoped for.

Or, rather, she thought she’d been happy. Now, this morning, even when the fear of the road’s song had risen within her, it had nonetheless made the colours of the sea dance more vividly on the horizon. The bougainvillea’s rich pinks and almost purples had glowed more richly, and she had felt the warmth and energy of her own skin encasing her.

She’d felt alive again. For the first time in months.

She shouldn’t be feeling like that. With a sigh, she puts all unanswerable questions to one side and begins her day.

It takes a while to find her rhythm. Usually she loves her garden, tending the plants she has chosen and seeing them thrive and bloom. Today, for as long as she ignores the song, she feels no joy in her fingertips at the touch of the soil.

When, near noon, she finally sits back and admits defeat – the earth will accept none of her ministrations this morning, she knows it – the road’s voice whispers in her ear and she gives into it at last in full measure.

There is always an emptiness within that nothing around you can complete, the road sings, each word reverberating in Beth’s blood over and over again until she can no longer distinguish where she ends and the song begins. You have tried to live in the shadows but the road is so much brighter. Walk towards the sun and I will be a rock for your feet and a direction for your desires. Come to me. Let me fill you, make you whole.

The words are what she herself makes them to be, but the song is always the same. An itch she cannot leave alone and which is never satisfied. Beth leans back, the sun stroking her face, and listens to the music. The release of it in her flesh makes her smile. Cry too, as she has not heard it for too long a time.

It is only when the sun begins to set that she understands how deeply she has been lost in the road’s calling. The sky is darkening and soon all the stars will glimmer and dance, speaking to her of history and how its echo remains always.

Funny how the day has brought no-one to her side. She thinks for the first time that, apart from Mike, she is truly alone. Perhaps the road has kept her this way while it’s waited for her to open her mind to the singing again. For a reason she can’t quite fathom, this thought almost causes her to cry once more.

Almost, but not quite. The road, however much it overpowers her, also makes her strong.

Mike. Soon he will be home and by then she must be gone. The song of the road is waiting. If she lets it slip by today, then tomorrow it may have moved on. There are no promises when or if it will sing to her again. She rises to her feet. Her dress is wet with rain she cannot recall and clings to her legs. She drifts through the house, picking up her wedding picture in the sitting room, a small jug in the kitchen that she once fell in love with at a summer fair, a jumper Mike wears often. This last she presses to her face to breathe in the scent of him. She must hold it in her mind for the months and years to follow.

The road brought her here to find him; it will take her and leave only her memory. She will write no note. Neither will she carry away anything that belonged to her when she was his. That part of their lives is over now. She is ready for the journey.

With a last, sudden flurry of wanting, she hurries to the door. Opens it just as the road’s song rises to its fullness in her. Its whiteness sings of adventure. She is gone.

Anne Brooke is the author of seven novels, numerous short stories and poems. She was shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Novel Award in 2006, longlisted for the Betty Bolingbroke-Kent Novel Award in 2005, and shortlisted for the Royal Literary Fund Awards in 2004 and the Asham Award for Women Writers in 2003. In addition, she has twice been the winner of the DSJT Charitable Trust Open Poetry Award. To find out more visit http://www.annebrooke.com and www.myspace.com/annebrooke. She also keeps a terrifyingly honest journal at http://annebrooke.blogspot.com.



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