It was dark and raining heavily as Emily got into the car. The streetlights threw distorted yellow reflections into the puddles, dancing with the rainfall. She gripped the steering wheel tightly and rested her forehead on it, her shoulders heaving. She cried for a few minutes before she looked up. In her rear view mirror she could see him standing in the open doorway, his arms folded. He was waiting for her to come back inside.
This wasn’t the first time this had happened. They had argued before, many times, always late at night, always when they were at his house, just the two of them. She threatened to leave him; he told her to go ahead. She would storm out of the house, sit in her car and cry and then, because she was too scared to drive in the dark, he would drag her back into the house and she wouldn’t resist because she knew she couldn’t go anywhere. He would mock her, tell her she was ridiculously cautious, a frightened little mouse, and then he would push her into the bedroom. She stared at her eyes reflected in the mirror and realised, with a kind of sudden, cold clarity, that there was no coincidence in the timing of those arguments. They never happened during the day because she would be brave enough to leave if the sun was shining. She gently touched the rising bruise on her cheek and wondered when, exactly, she had become a statistic.
In the rear view mirror, she saw an umbrella rise. He was coming out to her car. Obviously he didn’t want to get his hair wet. She took a deep breath and, without taking her eyes off the silhouette, pushed down the lock on her door. She glanced up as she turned the key. She could almost imagine the electric yellow of the streetlight as the sun, and drew some strength from it. She started the car, the windshield wipers swooshing across the screen in a steady rhythm which she suddenly found soothing, and then she drove away without looking back.
As she turned out of his street and drove down the hill, she took a deep breath and rubbed the sweaty palm of one hand on her skirt. Driving at night terrified her on a primal level that made her want to curl up and close her eyes, and she gripped the steering wheel so hard she half expected to find dents in it later. She flicked the indicator and turned out onto the main road. The side roads were a much quicker route home, but the main road was far better lit and made her feel safer. She drove slowly, the rain falling heavily now and swooshing off the side of her car in great floods with every sweep of the wipers.
She was about halfway home when she saw a large figure walking along the side of the road, shoulders drooping in a tired, melancholy way that seemed to be a reflection of her own feelings. The rain had left huge puddles, practically turning the road into a river, and she slowed down in consideration as she passed, not wanting to soak the pedestrian any further. As she slowed, the figure half turned and stuck a thumb out in the air, hopefully.
Emily stared at the hitch-hiking gorilla for a moment before pressing down on the brakes. The sensible, cautious part of her brain screamed at her as she rolled the passenger side window down a couple of inches. The gorilla loped up to the window.
“Hi,” said the gorilla in a muffled voice. “Thanks for stopping!”
She blinked and gestured at her face, hoping the gorilla would get the idea.
With clumsy fingers, the gorilla grabbed at his neck, finally managing to push the mask up on top of his head. Stooping, he looked in through the window. Emily stared, astonished.
“Daniel?” She leaned across in her seat, trying to see him better. “Daniel Mason? Is that you?”
He frowned and squinted at her. A passing car, going the other way, illuminated her face for a moment and he suddenly grinned.
“Emily Stokes! Of all people!”
She fumbled with the locks, reaching over to push the door open for him.
“Get in, quick, you’re soaked!”
He squeezed in through the door, his wet gorilla suit squelching as he sat down, and pulled the door shut behind him. Emily fiddled with switches, turning the heating up for him.
“So.” He turned to her, grinning. “D’you make a habit of picking up wet hitch-hiking gorillas?”
She laughed as she indicated, pulling out once more into the road as Daniel clipped his seatbelt in.
“Do you make a habit of walking through the rain in a gorilla suit?”
He looked abashed. “Touché.”
He pulled the mask off his head and stared at it despondently.
“You remember how I wanted to be an actor? I ended up a gorillagram. Tonight I got booked for a bogus party and when I got out there, they stole my car, my wallet and my keys. And, of course, my clothes, ’cause I’d gone and left them in the car.”
He looked at her. She took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on the road.
“What about you?” He spoke gently, and Emily suddenly became aware of her bruised cheek again. “What happened to you?”
“I walked into a…” The usual lie caught in her throat. A traffic light ahead turned red and she stopped, closing her eyes briefly and taking a deep breath before starting again.
“I walked out of an abusive relationship tonight,” she said. She felt strangely relieved to have said it out loud. It was as if it all became real and final as the words left her mouth. She stared ahead at the traffic lights, a little scared of her old friend’s reaction. When she finally sneaked a sideways glance at him, he smiled at her. In his eyes she saw a mix of sympathy and pride.
“I’m glad you did,” he said quietly.
She turned to look at him properly.
“Well,” he spoke quickly, shrugging and blushing, “If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have got a lift, would I!”
© Kari Fay
(Author’s Note: I’ve come down with a terrible cold and don’t feel like writing anything, so I dug this story out of my Google Docs… I wrote it in the summer of 2009, but I don’t think I’ve posted it already!)