What’s the worst that can happen? He could hurt me, a lot. He could take a scalpel from the operating room and tear me to pieces. Wouldn’t even put it past him to do that. And I wouldn’t blame him either. If I hadn’t already placed all the blame on my Dad then I would probably have already started the cut, if not finished it.
Casey drove us back to her house and then we got out the car. I hugged her goodbye, rejected her offer to get a drink inside and got in the driver’s seat. Better to get this over with. It’s barely noon, I have more than enough time to get to Wexgate. It’s about an hour and a half away from Casey’s house. I could just go there and then come back. Avoid Westmeadow altogether, but Casey thinks there is something there. I don’t share the same optimism.
I switch the radio on and off more times than I can count on the way. I can’t stand the silence, but I also can’t stand the noise. I just don’t want to be here for this. I don’t want to let Casey down, and I suppose I’ve always known I’ll go back eventually. It’s not like I could avoid it forever. I’ve thought about it before, on long sleepless nights. It’s even been tempting a couple of times, especially after I published that big article. It would have been brilliant to go back and rub that in Dad’s face, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I pull into a couple of different service stations, both for the same reason. To delay my inevitable return. I can’t imagine the town has changed at all. Both times I got out of the car and paced around for a minute or two and then got back in and continued driving, wanting to turn back. I could just say there’s no story. She wouldn’t believe me, even though that’s the truth. I don’t even need to go back to see that. She knows it too, I’m sure of it. I suppose she thinks forcing me to go back will make me grow up a little bit. I suppose she thinks I’m just falling into the same old trap that my Dad did. Getting stuck in life and never really going anywhere. I need to just get on with this. I’ll drive straight to Westmeadow and just drive around. Just seeing the place will help, I’m sure.
The same old chewing gum flooded streets. The broken windows on every other house. The dark windows of the local pub, The Brown Bear, not letting me see in to check if Dad is inside. The old bus stop pole that’s bent and pointing towards the lower school. I suppose it would be a primary school now. It’s all going to be exactly the same. I’ll get that out of my system, and then I’ll go and see Ryan. He’ll beat me up, or shout at me. At best he’ll forgive me, making me feel even worse about it, and then I’ll come back. I don’t even need to stay the night. I’ll transfer Casey’s money back and tomorrow I’ll start on the article about how some towns never change. Never catch up with the times and that will be the end of it. I’ll find myself a proper job and actually start living.
I drive past Northampton about an hour later, and head towards Westmeadow. It’s a good thing I know roughly which way I’m going. I haven’t seen a sign for it yet. Wexgate yes, but not Westmeadow. Not that it’s that surprising. Westmeadow is pretty much just a glorified village. There is nothing noteworthy about it. It was a boring place to grow up and is probably still a boring place to live. It’s a town that will eventually just fall apart as people move away and no one will remember it.
The sun is still high up in the sky, even though it feels like days have passed since I left. I’ve decided I’m going to drive around Westmeadow first. I have more than enough times. Hours, more than enough time. I’m just going to drive down the main street a couple of times. The shops, the houses. See if I recognise anyone, and spot how much the place has changed. Then I’ll go, and drive passed the old house. See if Dad still lives there. I don’t know how I’ll figure that out without knocking on the door, which I’m not going to kid myself into thinking I’ll actually do that.
After that I’ll head into Wexgate and get something to eat. I’ll probably still have more than enough time to just see what I remember there and maybe find some place to stay. I don’t want to stay in Westmeadow, I know that much. The original plan of driving back down to London tonight is already out of the window. I’m already tired, with a splitting headache. I know it’s not going to be a good idea. I’ll just find some cheap place to stay and then drive back in the morning. A good night sleep will probably do me a world of good. New surroundings.
I can’t remember the sun ever being this bright. I know that’s stupid, but it just seems like everything is a degree brighter than normal. The heat burning my face is welcoming and I crack the window a little just to get a taste of that fresh air. When was the last time I was this far out of London? God it hasn’t been since
I almost want to scream out the window. Just scream and never stop, let out a deafening howl out onto the M1. It feels so good to be out of London, as if some kind of smothering blanket has been lifted. It feels so good to be moving about. The wind rattling around inside the car with me, waving my clothes, cooling me down. The radio belting out songs from my past. I guess Casey set up a playlist. I can’t help but to smile at everything.
I leave the M1 and start following the signs towards Wexgate, hoping that I’ll start recognising the place soon. I don’t have any data on my phone and can’t really use the maps on it. I drive past the large fields, as animals graze. After so many years in London, it’s hard to believe that roads can be this empty. Just me and the animals, as if some kind of plague has wiped out humanity. It’s refreshing not to hear the drum of traffic and to be able to breathe the fresh air, rather than fumes.
I drive past the turning to Wexgate and continue on down to Westmeadow. I know exactly where I’m going, I didn’t think I would, but everything has just slotted back into place. My memories all aligned to show me the way back home. I’m hungry, it’s only a little past noon and I’m already hungry. I had fish and chips for breakfast. I suppose I haven’t really eaten in the last couple of days. Just some scraps that have been left in the house. I don’t really want to get anything to eat in Westmeadow so that will just have to wait. I’ll leave around three, only a couple of hours away and then get something to eat.
The sun seems to be setting early today, as dark clouds take over the skies. It’s a little past one in the afternoon. It came out of nowhere. There was a chill in the air, and I had to close the window. The sun softens a little and then the sky started to darken. At first, I thought it was just the trees. They look like they hadn’t been cut in quite a long time and were looming over the car as it twisted down the small road.
Rain starts to pelt down on the windscreen, flooding my sight before I have a chance to start the wipers. Jesus, where did this come from? It was so sunny a minute ago, does God hate me? He can’t hate me, he doesn’t exist. Probably shouldn’t even think that, just in case. I hate driving in the rain, never had much practice. Never had a car, only learnt with Casey back in Uni at an intensive course. We shared one for a while in the second year, but I didn’t want to pay in the third. Didn’t think I needed a car in London with the underground and everything. Had nothing to do with the girl I was hanging around.
Slowing down and taking my time, I still make it to the Westmeadow sign by half one. I’m starving now. I could just pop into the shop when I get there and grab a sandwich. I’m sure I won’t bump into anyone I used to know. God, no one would remember me anyway. Not a chance in hell. I barely recognise myself in the mirror these days. Much shorter hair, receding hairline to boot. The chubbiness in my cheeks has disappeared and there’s a sense of constant tiredness in my eyes.