Being stuck in traffic is an unfortunate side effect of living in a city. I love Perth but there’s not a lot I hate more than a traffic jam.
Music usually helps though.
This story is called Heavy Traffic, I hope you like it.
“Three’s my lucky number
And fortune comes in threes”
– Massive Attack
“Can we talk about it at least?”, Harry’s hands gripped the steering wheel.
“No.” Jamie’s reply was quiet and distant. The humming of the engine played backing track to the awkward tension that filled the shell of the Getz. Traffic was backed up miles down the Garrett Freeway. Harry had wanted to take the ring road and skirt around the road which was at a standstill but Jamie had protested. “That way takes too long,” she had complained, her voice a high-pitched whinge, “just take the freeway it’ll be fine”. The radio had sided with Harry on this one but he didn’t want to ruin the atmosphere. They had been in good spirits until the traffic jam. The unpleasantness of the last few days had been forgotten, or at least brushed aside and hidden, and they had been shopping for a rug at Ikea. Harry disliked Ikea in general, too many people, too much of the kitchen department and not enough of the lounges. It had always disturbed him that the display toilets required a sign telling people not to defecate in them. How many times did that happen before the sign was a necessity? People were animals he thought to himself. Once upon a time many years ago he would have voiced his thought to Jamie, who would have giggled and joked with him about the stupidity of society. These days he kept his thoughts to himself, as she had requested of him a multitude of times. People had begun to get out of their cars and stretch their tired legs, wandering between the metal bubbles that lined up from whatever accident was causing the disruption. Jamie was on her phone, tapping away at the glass screen. Perhaps she was playing a game, or perhaps she was talking to Jordan, Harry thought. She had been in the shower when he snooped. He shouldn’t have done it and he knew that, but when it had buzzed violently on the coffee table and the name Jordan had popped up he couldn’t resist having a peek. Her lock code was a pattern in the shape of an ’N’ and he swiped it, missing the first time but getting it the second. Her messaging app opened and Harry scrolled up, and up, and up, seeing the blue and green bubbles back and forth, each one ending the same, “xoxoxo”. As far as Harry could remember that sequence of letters meant ‘hugs and kisses’, but he couldn’t be entirely sure. His phone was a Nokia that had buttons instead of a touchscreen. He didn’t understand iPhones and he didn’t particularly want to. They were expensive, fragile and they caused too much trouble. His Nokia did him fine. His stomach felt as though acid was burning through the lining, he pictured Jamie and Jordan (who was a muscle-bound, tattooed hunk with a strong Spanish accent in his imagination) kissing, caressing each other and then more. He locked the phone and decided that he would confront her about it when she returned from the shower. Five minutes later she walked in wrapped in a white towel, not as beautiful as when they first met but not as happy either. She frowned at him and picked up her phone. Her finger made the ’N’ shape and she pressed the screen a few times. Sitting down at her dresser she started organising her after-shower products into a factory line in front of her. Harry couldn’t see her face but her cheeks were sticking out and he guessed she was smiling at something. He hadn’t read the texts thoroughly and now he wished he had. Perhaps he would have been able to come up with a really clever line to shock her into realisation that he knew. But instead he stayed watching television, listening half to what Adam Bartlett was predicting for the football game on Sunday and half to the gentle tapping of Jamie’s fingers texting away.
“An accident on the Garrett freeway has caused massive queues heading all the way back to High Road so if you’re heading in that direction you may want to change your course. The ring road is busy but moving far quicker than the traffic on Garrett. Thanks to everybody who sent in that report and if you are stuck in that jam here’s an old favourite to help pass the time” The delicate voice of Morten Harket cut through the 80’s synth pop that had been quietly playing behind Mike the four o’clock show host’s voice. “Talking away, I don’t know what, I’m to say…”, Harry didn’t mind this song but it had been overplayed recently after a short spell as an acapella sensation group’s signature song. Harry worked in the music industry, he disliked the mainstream radio stations and only ever listened to 45.5 fm, “Real radio, no repeats, requests taken”. Jamie reached out and twisted the volume nearly all the way down. He glanced to her attempting to convey annoyance but she never even took her eyes from her phone.
“Who are you talking to?”
“Sue from work.”
“Oh is everything ok?”
“Mhmm.” Jamie didn’t want to talk, that much was apparent. Harry wasn’t sure what it was, was it that she had been wrong about the traffic? Surely not, even Jamie wasn’t that petty. He caught sight of the screen of her phone whilst she dug around in her bag for a tissue. A string of blue text messages rose up and out of the screen. Harry guessed that meant Jordan wasn’t replying. He did his best to hide the smug smile that he felt tugging at the corners of his mouth. The traffic still wasn’t moving. Jamie blew her nose and went back to her phone. Harry made a wish that Jordan was dead somewhere, crushed by gym equipment maybe. Or maybe he overdosed on steroids and he would be found in his apartment or house with a needle in his groin. Harry knew he shouldn’t think that way, his mother had taught him better than that, but this Jordan, whoever he was, was taking Jamie from him and although he felt little or no love for her anymore she was still his. Jamie locked her phone and opened the door.
“I’m going for a walk.”
“Ok, I’ll come wi-“ The door slammed shut before he could finish.
Harry and Jamie had met after they both left university. Both were working part-time in a restaurant, waiting on tables, washing dishes, mopping floors, basically doing anything to make up some money. Harry had been talking to Sergei the Latvian sous chef one evening when his boss had walked in informing them of a new waitress he had hired. The boss was a sleazy old bloke who’s wife had pretty much banned him from hiring girls so the news was unexpected. Sergei checked his reflection in the shiny surface of the pan he was using to prepare a soup for that evenings starters. Harry had watched in great amusement as he tipped can after can of supermarket cream of tomato soup into the pan, “It easy to be a chef!” he had exclaimed, “open can. Pour can, serve in big bowl with bit of plant on top and people they seem happy.” It was true, Harry frequently served meals that could be quite easily made in a microwave for a few dollars but because they were presented on a big plate or a wooden serving board people forked out twenty, sometimes thirty dollars. Sergei brushed his hair to one side of his face where it stuck to his skin, sweaty and greasy. Harry was fond of Sergei. He was a heavy smoker and a lazy worker but his attitude to life was nothing short of genius. “It matters to me not” he would say, shrugging his shoulders and grinning a stale, yellowed grin. Harry had laughed at him and wandered out to the serving area, casually checking his reflection in the glass of the ovens as he went. There was no guarantee that this new waitress would be attractive but it was worth preparing, just in case. Jamie had been standing by the cash register with the boss going over reservations and the check-in procedure. The first thing Harry noticed was that she was smiling. Nobody smiled when they were around the boss, he was a dick. But there she was, mouth gently turned up at the edges smiling the sort of smile one might see a mother making as she fondly looked at her child playing.
“Ah Harrison, this is Jamie,” the boss had used his full name again, even after a million requests for him to use Harry the boss still refused.
“Harry,” he corrected the boss and held out his hand.
“Jamie, nice to meet you Harrison,” she winked at him. She had winked at him. Harry smiled, amused by her response.
“Now Harrison, you take young Miss Jamie here to the kitchen and show her the ropes, and tell Sergei that if I catch him smoking in the doorway again I’ll fire him” Harry nodded and walked to the kitchen with Jamie.
“So where you from?” He asked, keeping his eyes fixed above the neckline. His peripheral vision teased him with a rough view of a skinny body falling to long elegant legs but he resisted the temptation to look.
“Originally I’m from Princetown but I’ve been here for university for the past four years. Think I might stay. You?”
“Born and bred here,” he smiled, never sure whether to be proud of that or not. It wasn’t that he disliked Windwood Lakes, it was a beautiful place to grow up and live, it was just that he felt anxious about his lack of worldly experience. “Did you say you studied here? Which Uni?”
“Windwood Institute of Technology” she replied.
“That’s where I studied!” he exclaimed, a little too excited.
She giggled and flashed him a toothy smile, he paused a moment and felt as though he had just fallen in love. Another smile and a giggle further towards the kitchen confirmed to Harry that, he had indeed, just fallen in love. They reached the metal chains that formed a curtain between the dining hall and the kitchen and Harry turned to Jamie, who stood around a foot smaller than him and said “Now, you’re about to meet Sergei, I felt like a warning was in order.” He smiled at her and she smiled back, they stayed for a second before she pushed through the chains and Harry heard Sergei’s voice, deep and smooth “Wowee, hello pretty lady, my name Sergei”, Harry snorted in suppressed laughter and followed her in, his head swimming.
Harry stayed in the car, turning the radio up again. Phil Collins was crooning away, “Do you remember, do you remember the worry, how could I ever forget…”. Jamie had wandered ahead of the car past the land cruiser parked in front of them. He had lost sight of her as she walked away. If he had followed it would have only angered her more. “You need to know when not to talk”, she would say, giving him that same look of disgust that she seemed to perpetually wear on her once smiley face. Harry realised that he couldn’t remember the last time she had smiled because of him. It was a dagger of sadness through his body. “I can feel it calling in the air tonight”, sang Mr Collins, the drums smashing away. Harry loved this song so he turned it off. There was no way he would let it become associated with feelings like this. He was always very careful in what he listened to. ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie for example was a song which he very rarely listened to. When his mother had been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and died only a week later that was the song the radio was playing on the way home. Now whenever he heard it he was taken back to that time of heartbreak and anguish. ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ by Bobby Mcferrin (often wrongly attributed to Bob Marley, a fact that had once interested Jamie but now caused her to roll her eyes if mentioned), reminded Harry of his father working on his car. The starter motor had gone on the fritz and he had spent half the day with his arms deep inside the belly of the engine, muttering and cursing. Harry had watched, a seven-year-old in awe of the mechanical genius that was the car and in more awe at the brand new swears he would get to try out on his friends at school. The song had come on the wind up radio perched on the hood of the car and Harry’s dad had lifted his head up, hands on his hips, and chuckled. “He’s got a point hey Harry”, Harry had smiled, not fully understanding what his father meant but wanting to join in on the joke. ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ took Harry to that age of innocence, in which the only drama was deciding who to call a ‘shitpile’ first. Jamie wandered back into view. She was checking her phone again, looking a mixture of worried and annoyed. For the second time that afternoon Harry found himself feeling rather smug and envisioning the hulking mass of Jordan collapsed after an agonising death. He saw the blood trickling from the wounds on his head as his souped up sports car burst into flames, the crumpled wreck trapping him to burn to death. He had felt a twinge of guilt the last time he thought these things, but this time, looking at Jamie’s face, more concerned than she had been over him in a long time, he found that the guilt faded. “I hope the fucker is dead, or better yet, onto the next young bimbo mesmerised by his steroid induced muscles”, Harry muttered to himself. Jamie opened the car door making him jump, she must have been moving while he was talking.
“It was fine.”
“Could you see the front?” Harry asked.
“Cars are moving up ahead.” She said. Harry nodded his head, about to ask again if they could talk about whatever it was that was upsetting her. But then people were returning to their cars in a hurry. The line had started to move and engines revved up all around them. Jamie went back to her phone, just staring at the black reflective surface now.
“Are you ok?” Harry asked.
“I’m fine. Line’s moving” A cold response but one he had expected. He lifted his foot allowing the clutch to rise up and the engine engage. His right foot revved the engine and they began to creep forward. The line was long, at least two miles according to the radio, but the progress was steady.
“They must have cleared the lanes. If it was an accident at least.”
Jamie hummed an absent agreement. Her thumb slid slowly over the locked phone as she stared out of the window. Harry had been waiting for the right time to talk to her about the man at the other end of the line and he figured now was as good as any.
“I know, Jamie” He kept his eyes on the steadily advancing traffic ahead of him.
“I know you know.”
After their first shift together Harry and Jamie had shared a cigarette and then a cab. Neither of them could drive but taxis were not expensive in the Lakes. They had flirted incessantly on the journey through the woods back to the main town. The taxi driver had been talking in Arab on the phone so he hadn’t taken much notice of the frisky youngsters in the back of his cab. By the time they arrived at town they were kissing passionately and when the driver asked where Harry had wanted to be taken next Jamie had answered for him. They both climbed from the car, hands all over each other and Harry had paid the driver, giving him a generous tip, purely by accident. He would wake up the next morning to find next to no money left in his wallet but it wouldn’t matter. Nothing would matter anymore, as long as he had Jamie. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” he thought the following morning. But as the years passed by he started to collect songs that reminded him of her and only her. Sam Cooke’s ‘Wonderful World’ played a big part in the first part of their life together. Embarrassingly for Harry, who felt that the story behind it was too private to reveal, Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’ would always remind him of their second anniversary, (he had performed an awkward and apparently hilarious strip tease, ripping his favourite white shirt dramatically). Their five year anniversary had been looming when Harry saw the text messages on Jamie’s phone. The Everly Brother’s ’Cathy’s Clown’ would forever take him back to that gut-wrenching feeling of guilt and loss. Guilt because he shouldn’t have looked and loss because he did look. She had climbed into bed next to Harry that night, not kissing him or hugging him like she used to and turned off the light. She was facing away from him and the soft glow of her phone lit her side of the bed. He shifted and the glow disappeared, only to return when he lay still again. Eventually he heard her breath get deeper and slower. He silently wept and fell asleep with her. “Don’t you think it’s kinda sad that you’re treating me so bad? Or don’t you even care?” sang the Everly Brothers in his dreams.
Three days later, Harry and Jamie crept forwards in their Getz (the only car they could afford on their single income, Jamie had lost her job around a year ago).
“You know I know?” Harry was incredulous, how could she be so calm about this?
“Of course I know. Saturday after I came back from my shower you’d been snooping through my phone. I can’t believe you went through my phone.” She sounded pissed off.
“What? You’re cheating on me and you’re getting mad at me?” Harry was getting angry now, his hands gripped the steering wheel hard and he had to remind himself to look at the road. Jamie’s face had gone bright red.
“How fucking dare you! I’m not cheating on you, you fucking asshole!” She was practically screaming at him, he was shocked.
“Nothing’s happened.” She said. Harry didn’t believe her. Her eyes got ‘darty’ when she lied and now they looked like she was watching a pinball bounce around. Plus he had read the texts. She was lying about something that he knew to be true.
“I saw the texts Jamie, I know you’ve been seeing him.” He was calm as he spoke to her, not wanting to make this into a screaming match. Her voice stumbled and hesitated for a second as her brain tried to come up with a valid excuse for the messages. He turned back to the road, feeling tears in his eyes but forcing them down. The traffic was still moving steadily, the speedometer showed five miles an hour. After what seemed like hours Jamie spoke,
“You’ve been so stressed out lately, you pretty much ignore me. What did you expect?” He nearly laughed, the tears returned but he somehow stopped them. He spoke past the lump in his throat.
“What did I expect? I expected you to stay faithful! Is that too much to fucking ask?”
She shrugged. Now Harry did laugh. He shook his head. Around the side of the Land Cruiser Harry saw an ambulance, its lights flashing. There were just two lanes open. His thoughts went to the bodybuilder shape of Jordan, his hair slicked back with gel, his sunglasses balanced on his big obnoxious nose and his tan giving him the complexion of an Arab. He wished that he would drive past the car and see his body drooping lifeless from the doorframe, his bones broken and blood running down the road into the drain. Suddenly Jamie screamed, a piercing shrill shriek. HE slammed on the brakes and turned to her. Her hands covered her mouth and she was scrambling for the door.
“What is it? What’s wrong Jamie?” Harry shouted.
She didn’t hear him. She opened the door and ran to the wrecked car by the side of the road making the same agonised scream she had made before. A well dressed businessman type was laying on his back on the verge. Paramedics were standing over him taking notes as a man in black placed a sheet over his body. Jamie ran straight into the arms of a policeman who started shouting at her. Harry jumped from the car and ran towards her.
“Jamie what the fuck are you doing?”
“It’s Jordan!” she screamed, “It’s Jordan!” then she collapsed into a fit of tears. Harry looked at the mans face as the sheet was placed gently over it. He was clean-shaven, handsome and mature looking. Nothing like the muscle man Harry had imagined. He looked to Jamie on the floor, screaming and crying. He had never seen her so distraught. He turned and walked back to his car. He open the door, got inside and drove away. As he drove away the smugness returned, welling up inside him. He prayed for the first time since he was a little boy, “Thankyou God”. He smiled and turned off the freeway, the traffic cleared and he sped away on the open road.
© Breyon Gibbs and breyongibbs, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Breyon Gibbs and breyon.gibbs with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.