She had been reading and stumbled across the article, a quote credited to Andrew Marvell – ‘But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.’ She ran cold and took the dishes back into the kitchen.
You can always tell when Joy Rushton is in a hurry, she shoots a look at the clock in that anxious way.
She washes her breakfast pots as if chasing time to catch a bus. Even so, she did see a glint of light way over on the distant hill. It happened to be a removal van, not that she could tell. It was riding on its brakes slowly descending Stony Hill Bank lane.
The telephone in the hallway cut the air ringing and breaking her out of that short-lived reverie.
“Hello?” Just dead air.
Giving it no more than a thought she returned the receiver.
At the table her handbag, small mirror and some make-up was set out on the tablecloth. Joy plumped up the sofa cushions, deciding to straighten the room but realised the time and rushed over to apply her make-up and get ready. She was intending to head down to the local shops and had to walk.
Joy never saw the man behind her while fixing her make-up. He sat on a favourite armchair, watching her, knowing she hasn’t noticed his presence. In fact anyone could have walked in on her these last days. Joy was growing more forgetful.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Joy.”
She swung around, staring, didn’t say anything then returning to her face picked up the lipstick.
Outside birdsong filters in but out-gunned by a builder’s compressor sending home a row of nails. Joy’s attention on the Grandfather clock. Such a laboured and clunking thing announcing each heavy moment. Joy sighed.
“You know, not your fault… Nobody to blame… We weren’t meant to have that time…”
“Couldn’t live that dream, eh?”
There was no answer, he returns to his thoughts.
“Life isn’t lonely, doesn’t need to be after all, I’m here.” He ponders, remembering to mention.
“It’s lonely though… here…”
He tries not to allow the mood to drop.
“You know, I see you everyday, popping in, making sure you’ve locked the door. I check around the place, while you sleep at night…
“In the day as well…
“I’ve seen you, stealing a nap…
“Don’t go to town, not just yet. Stop with me a little while.”
The letter on the bureau remained as left, open. A short brief confirmation of the diagnosis. Joy just stared at the words.
Meanwhile the removal van had made it down the torturous hill lane and approaching the town centre. It had something of an old classic look. A mossy green coloured livery with gold lettering advertising Shackleton & Son. Quite a vehicle, yet not really catching the eye of passers-by, who might have wondered looking it over, as to whether en route to a vintage car show.
It took the junction turning left into Victoria Road without so much a cautionary glance. It gained speed along the road tailgating the car in front.
Happen someone did catch it in the corner of their eye. Then gone, when they’d be curious to see what it was.
You couldn’t see the van driver, nor if there was a passenger. The three cars didn’t know it was running up behind. It closed in fast. They wouldn’t have known what hit them, maybe a glint of light in the rear view mirror.
The van ploughed straight into them running through all three. As if not there at all, it ran them down. They’d have never known.
No one saw or heard the collision.
No one saw the van.
No other driver would have known, no man, no woman, no child, no one witnessed a collision.
The three cars just continued on their journey.
There was a lady way up ahead ready to cross over to the traffic island. The lead driver had seen her and knew she was about to step out without thinking.
Joy Rushton stepped off the kerb straight into the path of the removal van. It hit her full on slamming into her.
It came out of nowhere and the last thing she would see was it charging at her. Just like it would have been for her husband when she was eloping and a passenger, with her lover at the wheel of his removal van.
Her house was just as she left it when returning.
In the armchair, the man waits. He gets up after a while and wanders around checking on things. He feels lonely and the house remains empty.
At the same time Joy wanders around the deserted house. All is still and quiet. Not even the sound of birds, no jack hammer, nothing. Life was going on, but existed outside this isolated place.
Both husband and wife drift around the empty house waiting for the living to return. Neither see each other, neither ever will.
story by John Riley