He’s been up and down the highway a few times this week already, the distance hadn’t bothered him before, but today the road seemed longer.
His truck was a second home. It had everything he needed; a place to sleep, a portable TV and a radio, a spot for his bottomless coffee mug and a small fridge. Anything else he could stop to buy.
A few years ago he’d been especially glad of a place away from home. Leaving a miserable marriage was the best thing he’d ever done, how had he lasted so long? Usually it’s the blokes that start the drinking and arguing, but with his wife, well ex-wife now, it began just after they got married, not long after he took the long distance driving job. But what else could he do, jobs were thin on the ground, he was lucky to get one at all with so many blokes applying for the same position. She was probably lonely, he couldn’t blame her completely.
He’d left his daughter behind, she was only five back then. But there was nothing else he could do; he couldn’t take her with him. She was better off with her mother, warts and all.
On the road there was a lot of time to think about his life; what had worked and what hadn’t, and what he really wanted. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life on his own.
He saw Tracey at his best mates place, he hadn’t seen her for years, and she’d changed a lot.
Something about her drew Ian in. For one thing, she had a great laugh, it was infectious, Ian was laughing before he realised why. He liked watching her laugh too of course, her whole body became involved, any blue-blooded male could appreciate that, but there was more. She wasn’t like the bimbo’s he’d met in the usual traps; she was clever, when they talked he kind of lost himself a bit, like he was drifting around in another world; he liked the feeling.
They talked for ages that night, no pressure, no expectations, just easy conversation over a few drinks.
They had a lot in common; both had come from dodgy relationships, they both had daughters hitting their teens. She was independent too, had her own business- a cafe in her local town. She’d lived a bit; like Ian she’d had to roll with the punches thrown by life. Both of them wanted to try again, but she was holding back.
Since that night he’d seen her a few times, stopping for a coffee was a good excuse to break up his journey. Each time he was more reluctant to get back into the truck.
She wasn’t keen to get into another relationship; she kept losing herself she’d said. It had been a struggle emotionally and financially to get back on her feet after the last one fell apart.
He’d wait, he told her, I’m not going anywhere. She sighed deeply that day, he saw her physically relax. So she does like me he smiled to himself, reassured. His mates happily reminded him he was no oil painting, but she can see past all that, he thought.
Last week he’d called to see if she’d like to spend the day with him. They could take the girls out somewhere he suggested. She’d hesitated but then agreed.
They had a great day; lunch out, followed the girls in and out of the shops, looking like sisters the two of them, they got along so well. Ian dared himself to dream; Tracey could move in with him when her lease ran out, she could set up another cafe easily. The girls would be so excited. He had such a big grin on his face Tracey had asked what he was thinking about, of course he didn’t tell her. He was getting too far ahead of himself, slow down buddy he said.
No way mate, she told him that night when they’d stopped at a friend’s place and ended up staying the night. He thought after a couple of drinks she might be happy to snuggle up, but she’d stood her ground. No privileges for ninety days, she said, with her hand pressed firmly on his chest, keeping him at a distance.
Her refusal would have made any other bloke even more insistent, but there was a look in her eyes, he saw old pain; he’d seen the same look in his own reflection.
He’d be patient, this would be different he promised himself. He couldn’t imagine life without her now.
He’d spoil her; treat her the way she deserved to be. They’d keep laughing over dinners together, days out with the girls, just like a real family.
He smiled to himself; he had a really good feeling about this. He leaned over to turn the radio up til the speakers thumped, the band, AC/DC was another thing they shared; he drummed out the rhythm on the steering wheel, singing as loud as he could.
He didn’t see the oil spill, he couldn’t, it was as black as the tarmac on the road, the same colour as Tracey’s hair he’d had wound through his hand last night.
Like in a dream, in slow motion the wheels glide silently above the road surface. The truck veers onto the other side of the road, missing an oncoming car by centimetres. Sliding through the guard rail it falls over the edge. The stereo speakers blast with the opening guitar solo of ‘Thunderstruck’ as the truck breaks the surface of the water, and quickly disappears, like an echo, into the blackened depths.