A Life in Red

By Amalasuntha

And then the gun went off.  Like a mortgage for a sandcastle you’re probably thinking that it was extravagant and ultimately pointless, but there it was.  Soon after that first one and for a good time after, Madam Dunrebusse wore red; red scarves, red gloves, red underwear, red and red and red.  Morris drives, she reads signs: Want cheaper insurance? Visit Tony Goodman’s garage and buy a new Chrysler; Singles Dating Opportunity; FreshFields New Homes; Stop.  She realises that Morris Schioppi is uglier than homemade soap.  After a while the radio goes Ssssssshhhhhh, soothing her thoughts with soporific lullaby.  She watches the street lights blink in and out of existence.

And there they were, racing away.  Away from all things familiar, away from all connections and into the unknown.  Watching street lights flash, up and past and up and past, blink, blink, blink, regular as the heartbeat of a mouse, taking them into the darker corners of the night.  Because of that gun.  That tiny little sound which changed everything.  Once she had heard that first one, she couldn’t go back, that tiny little sound got into her head as a sly demanding addiction and she couldn’t go long without it.  Morris shared it, and shared her with it; they were never alone with that sound and the compulsion which went with it.  The preparation, breath held in heart stopping anticipation, the sudden deafness and smear of movement and then the adrenaline, the blur and the release and the get-away.  Clean, of course: couldn’t do it any other way.  Wouldn’t ever do it any other way.  Morris had showed her at first, the first baby steps and practices in the yard, the straights and the corners and what to do if…  They practiced scenarios out there in the dust until they became familiar enough to dream about.  And now…  And now this one was no different.  Made money they had, she reflected, watching Morris face illuminate and go dark, the shadows pooling and expanding like tides breathing.  Easy money now.  Almost too easy, and she knew she should stop them now, stop whilst they were ahead, whilst they remained free and unbeaten.  But maybe they would always be the draw of another, one more, just for old time’s sake and the addiction would quietly push them both back to the sound of the gun and the rush afterwards.

Dawn found them far away and the start of this venture far behind them.  She felt guilty, and welcomed it like a stranger.  Should she have chosen this life?  A dangerous one at that, but maybe the only one.  Morris had shown her it was possible, possible to make a living from doing this, not day in day out, but a steady living.  Living out of bags, across the length and breadth of the country, staying a while, not long, small places and small things.  Buy replacements for things which ran out, or broke, and nothing more.  A very Zen way someone had once said.  Had that been her father? She couldn’t remember.  When the money ran low they made a contact and made some more.  They pulled into a fuel stop, distant and distinct, the cars honing in like vultures on a desert cadaver.  Morris killed the engine and stepped out, dust rasping under his trainers.  She felt a sparkle of vulnerability once the engine was off and the white noise ghost sound filled her ears.  He wasn’t long, paying the bill in small notes and change, small talk, small personality, making sure to be unremembered and forgotten as soon as they left.  The car was nothing special this time, some silver thing in which the heater made noise but didn’t work, unremarkable for the task that they’d set it.  The magic was something they brought with them, some combination of rare alchemy which collided to produce something closer to art than mean action.  Something which flowed from the two of them travelling together into the car and around both their lives enriching, pushing and moulding them into what they had become.

Morris had bought waffles.  Not real ones, but ones in a plastic packet.  No time for a proper meal today, not until many more miles had been completed and they were safe again.  Today was just a short run to safety; Morris took his eyes off the road and glanced at her, sitting in the front passenger seat, eating waffles from the plastic packet.  She felt faintly ridiculous before she remembered that they had done this a thousand times before and would like do it a thousand times again before they decided to stop.  She stopped eating, stuck her tongue out and was rewarded with a grin that he couldn’t stop from appearing.

They never took jobs which were to big, no task insurmountable, just ones big enough to be comfortable afterwards, and not draw too much attention.  The trick was learning what was too much, and knowing their own limits.  They knew them well now, bumping up against them, but never stepping past, like a balloon under glass.  She had long ago stopped thinking extravagantly about what she would buy with her share; maybe new red shoes this time, but nothing special, no Christian Labutins, not for her.  Not that they were too expensive for what she had saved, but not appropriate, not if she wanted to continue on her life path, life track, this life road.

The end wasn’t far off now, houses lined the road and safety was only a few miles away.  She had studied the maps during the last hour.  Morris insisted on new maps every year, never knew when something would change and they would be depending on it not to have.  Obey the speed limit as the sun set through the park trees to the left, illuminating the children on the swings and making them look like little shining angels practicing flight.  The suburban limit seemed to make the car crawl and the time speed up, but not even the ghost of temptation to risk speeding was there.  Go slow and steady to the final stop, make secure progress to the sanctuary at the end and it was there, just beyond the crossroads up ahead.  Morris saw it too; she had no need to point it out.

It was over, another one was over.  She felt relief and loss and satisfaction and disappointment all at once.  Morris checked mirrors, slowed, indicated, pulled in steadily to the car park, tarmac crunching under the wheels, the last minute seeming to imprint on her far more than any of the dusty miles.  People were waiting, as always, and they had no reason to believe they were anything but the first.

Morris got out the drivers side, she was slower to get out, the reluctance to let the magic die, even temporarily.  Morris strode across to the waiting people and a cheer went up, His grin told her everything she needed to know; another win, another prize, another step closer to the last race.

Read more about Amalasuntha HERE


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