artwork for Kay Sexton's short story

The Girl on the Wrong Road
Kay Sexton

Driving back late. Somewhere between work and home, between exhausted and committed, between fury and resignation.

Road closed. Diversion onto back roads, into lost dreams, around unspoken issues. Tyres hissing. Headlights illuminating nothing. Hands clamping wheel.

She’s there. Not there. There. Not there.

A girl. In a field. Waving … or dancing?

There. Not there. There. Not there.

Between gaps in the hedge, she’s antic in the headlights, veering from ahead to alongside as the road follows the land’s rib.

Blonde. Long fair hair moving as she … jumps.

Dances?

Alone.

In a field.

Slowing down, craning to see, hands yellow and old in the dashboard light, like bone on the outside as well as the inside.

One eye ahead, one straining to see. Is she trying to attract attention? Yes, clearly. But—

But why?

That girl. Being that girl, so long ago.

Somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister. Have you seen this girl?

For seeing … for … looking at.

Dancing in a field. Singing in cars. Travelling with strangers. Beer from bottles. Pills from handbags. Lipstick from jeans pocket, mirror never far away. In a bathroom, behind a bar, a wing mirror. Somebody’s black reflective pupils, darker than the night.

That girl. To be seen. To be seen as …

Does she need help?

The fug of the car like the in-breath of death. It blends expensive conditioner for coloured hair—hide the grey, signature perfume—because you’re worth it and sugar-free mints—because sugar isn’t. A non-human, non-living odour.

Ahead, the microwave dinner. The ailing mother-to-be visited alternate weekends. The man friend to be lukewarm about at the opera.

She’s there. Not there. There. Not there. Rearview mirror now. Hair flying, face pale, a disc of blankness.

Pull over. Turn round. Call the police.

And none of these things happen. Fingers curl round the steering wheel, eyes strain for the diversion signs, breath dies and lives in the unnatural atmosphere of the car’s shell.

Having been that girl. Having seen that girl.

It is—perhaps—better to be her. To not become not her.

There. Not there. There. Not there.

In a field. In the dark. Forever.



Kay Sexton’s Comments

I wanted to play with the idea that shame is usually associated with the recklessness of youth, but that shame can also be related to, and contained within, the “safer,” “saner” life that is in itself an abdication of living. Something like survivor guilt arising from having become somebody to whom risk no longer applies.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 48 | Fall/Winter 2016 | The Shame Issue