Car headlights at night

Length: 5 minute read

This short story originated from a writing prompt: a car is driving along at night through the rain, then stops suddenly and turns around. It was published in Bristol Noir in February 2024.


She was leaving him, leaving Henry and his spiteful remarks, leaving him for good. The decision was final, there was no going back. She tightened her grip on the steering wheel and kept her eyes fixed on the dark lane ahead, which was slick from the winter rainstorm.

She should have done this years ago. She’d considered it many times, particularly after he’d belittled her in public or berated her incompetence. His favourite past-time was pointing out her minor mistakes and insisting she repeat the task to his satisfaction. If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

Truthfully, their marriage had been doomed from the start. They had too little in common. She wondered now what she had ever seen in him. A kind smile? A sparkle in his eyes? A surprisingly tender touch? No, nothing like that. His smile was a smirk. His eyes were dark and greedy. He had all the tenderness of a raw turnip.

He’d worn a nice suit, which had impressed her, and he’d stood up when she’d arrived at the table, which she’d found rather gallant. But the main reason she’d said yes was because he’d been infatuated with her, and she’d been flattered. Pursuit from a besotted male was not something she had been used to. Yet here was a man who appeared to like her and was tolerable enough to be around. So, why not? That had been her precise first thought the moment he had proposed: Why not?

It had not taken her 20 years to realise she’d made a terrible mistake, but it had taken her that long to gather the courage to do something about it. So here she was, leaving him.

They’d been sitting at the dining room table when she’d informed him. He was slopping up the last of a spaghetti Bolognese ready-meal, one she’d prepared for him earlier. He snorted and spluttered before breaking out his curse words, despite him knowing full well how much she hated swearing.

When he collapsed, he grabbed hold of the tablecloth in a pathetic attempt to save himself and only succeeded in hauling the crockery along with him as he crashed to the floor. Her favourite dinner service, ruined for future parties.

He lay there like a stranded guppy, gasping for air as his face puffed up like a strawberry blancmange. While he continued to flap around on the carpet, she popped upstairs to fetch her overnight bag. When she returned, she was miffed to find he was still huffing away down there. His will to live had almost impressed her. Finally, she’d admitted defeat and left before he’d fully expired. She supposed this might delay his time of death and aid her alibi, but it was hardly a satisfactory turn of events. After all, what if he survived? More to the point, why had he survived? Had the list of ingredients on the ready meal lied about the amount of peanut oil it contained? While she had splashed in a little more for good measure, clearly, it had not been enough. Yet now, as she considered it, the most likely explanation became all-too clear: for all these years, Henry had been exaggerating the severity of his nut allergy. How typical of the man.

All right, it was time to confess: she had made a mistake. There was no use pretending otherwise. A minute or two with an occasional cushion—the burgundy damask one, perhaps—and she wouldn’t be in this mess. How much effort would it have taken to press that cushion against Henry’s bloated face until he’d finished writhing? Barely any. But she’d always been squeamish about that type of thing; Henry used to mock her for looking away when the lions devoured the gazelles on those awful nature programs he loved. If only she’d gritted her teeth and got on with it—like she had whenever Henry had become amorous—it would have all been over in a heartbeat. And now it was too late.

Or was it? Could she not return home and finish the job, so to speak? Or would that be too risky? Yes, better to stick to the plan and trust in the power of the peanuts.

She drove on, the car’s wheels sloshing through the puddles.

With a loud tut, she stepped on the brakes. No, this simply would not do. The uncertainty was intolerable. She turned the car around.

She had not changed her mind. She was still leaving him, just not quite yet. Henry had been right: if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing properly.

S.G. Parker

16th February, 2024


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