The sunrise makes black outlines of the trees and I imagine they are the skeletons of dinosaurs, looming over everything. Just bones because their flesh died out when they did. They move so slowly they’re almost still, their black shapes against the sun. Like a time when they used to be. I drag them back into life, my feet tapping on the concrete outside my house, my breath dragging clouds. Pretend I’m smoking.
There was blood in my toothpaste this morning.
In the car on the way to work Derek is driving. He says that he used to sit on that bridge over the road and watch the cars flow underneath him like a river, with his legs hanging through the bars to stop him from falling in. He says that he used to close his eyes to pretend he was somewhere else, and pretend like it really was a river, or water, or the sea, and the cars would flow as he dreamt of being far off. Derek says this as we pour onto the freeway, like everyone else. By now he realises I’m not listening, and he second guesses himself, moves his lips when he thinks.
‘Goin’ to work today?’ Derek asks, one of those things we do. I tell him yes but imagine not going, imagine crunching my feet along the sand, feeling it between my toes. Finding a shell by the paw print of a dog that has been and gone, a shell like the one my mother had from her first trip to the beach. Derek smiles and looks ahead, humming to himself quietly.
Over the buzz of the tyres along the road, he presses at the radio and looks to me again, checks if I’m listening.
‘When I was younger,’ he says, the cars moving by his window like leaves in the wind. ‘I had a sister. But I was an only child. I had a dream once and she was in it, my sister, and her name was Stephanie. I liked her so much that I kept her, and I told everyone that she was my older sister.’ The sunlight shadows a bridge across the car, like a huge plane overhead. ‘But I got in trouble for lying though, you know? When they found out one day. I haven’t seen her since then.’
The dormant street lights guide our way towards buildings, like the city has its eyes closed in the day. Derek glints in the sun like a movie star and I tell him I don’t want to go to work today. I tell him that we know what will happen, we’ve done it all already. I tell him someone needs to drag us back into life. Kicking and screaming. I tell him I’ve seen her too, his sister.
‘Really?’ Derek asks, I nod, and we miss the exit, drifting against the tide of traffic.
My eyes close and open, like snap shots, but I try to stay awake against the rocking of the car, the lullaby of the engine. It fades out like a film. Derek tells me how he used to go fishing with his dad early in the morning and I fall into a dream where I can see the orange glow of the city at night and the bright spark of a tram cable above, but the tram is so much bigger than it should be, like a building rumbling along the tracks.
I wake up and see dry grass that I’ve never seen before, drought soaked, and I fade out again. I wake up and ask Derek something that he doesn’t answer. I wake up and Derek is gone, but then we are driving again.
My finger slides along the road on the map, and I hum a car noise to show where we are going. You can’t really hear it over the engine though. Derek is tearing his tie away from his neck as if it’s a tentacle strangling him and he releases it, flapping like a bird, out the window and onto the light coloured highway. That was his blue tie. He liked that one because he bought it from a tie shop, a shop that sold only ties. And socks as well, Derek told me. There was one time when Derek told me he doesn’t put the sun visor across, even when he can’t see. Blinds himself from what’s ahead.
I tell him how sometimes I like to go into people’s houses, when I stayed over, and I put spoons back in the cupboard the wrong way and use their shampoo to see how it made my hair feel and deliberately forget people’s names who I’d been introduced to before. He shakes his head from side to side with his teeth forced together, like he can’t stand it, but he laughs anyway.
I tell him how there was blood in my toothpaste today. He says don’t worry about it. So I don’t.
The sand is all along the beaches now, and I want to run towards the waves and leave my footprints in the afternoon shine.
We stop when it’s dark and the moon is doubled across the water. I tell him one day I’ll bring my wife here, and Derek says no you won’t. He says I don’t watch the kind of television shows girls like, straightens his shirt in the rear view mirror, his knees and elbows finding every surface. Sometimes I see her though. Laughing beside me or wiping my tears with a finger. Her head on my pillow, her hand on my stomach.
‘No,’ I say to Derek as he holds the dor open to the noisy bar. ‘No, I guess not.’
What happens next I honestly cannot say. What happens is we talk until we get louder and yell our conversation to these people we don’t know. What happens is Derek smiles and laughs at me as he grabs a man’s jacket and my panicked hands make fists. And what happens, though I can’t honestly say, is Derek feels the blood rush to his head and yells with his fist, just once, and we are back into the night with fear on our breaths, like it has a life of its own. And maybe it does.
Derek drives us through black figures that I can’t make out against the car lights, spitting dust from underneath the wheels. Headlights follow us onto roads we don’t know.
‘Turn the lights off,’ Derek yells, waving his hands at me, the headlights behind making shadows across the dashboard.
‘Turn them off, go down a side street.’ Derek tries to reach across and do it himself, me pushing my foot down harder. The cars shake in the mirror through dust and stones along the dirt road.
‘They’re following the tail lights, just turn them off.’ So I do, and we are accelerating into pure darkness. Night coming at us faster and faster, we turn down a barely marked street. Any moment we could slam into a tree. Send our bodies through the windshield. Drive off a cliff. And we wouldn’t know.
The shadowing lights don’t follow, get further away. Derek tells me to keep driving through the black, towards the moon. The car rattles and shakes, the wheels tumbling off the sides of the road. Derek clutches at his seat like a safety blanket. We stop, the wheels getting to heavy to continue. Derek sits in the night breeze, his loose hair blowing up towards the stars. My heart still catching up. He smiles, lies back onto the long grass. Leaves applaud us in the distance.
‘Hey,’ Derek says ‘I think we’re alive.’ The stars move slowly across. I hold one between my fingers.
I wake up and the blue sky is broken by clouds that shift in movements bigger than me. I wake up and the grass is flicking at my cheek, a seagull floating over, his feathers blowing, and I hear the sea washing away the sand, like it’s done forever. Waves carrying life. I wake up and know that today is not like yesterday.