White Stripes

White stripes extend to the vanishing point where darkness swallows the headlights. In nighttime’s cocoon the world shrinks to dashboard dials, Coldplay and the intermittent flash of high-beams. Rhythms of the road seduce his eyes. Roll and flick… refocus – sharp breath.

Already he’s at home, his mind previewing the warm greeting from his father, the welcomed cheer of his friend. He knows where he will drink on Saturday night and who will stay on till Sunday dawn.

A late run home is one more deadline to meet, a challenge to the capability of youth. But as white stripes creep closer, he drifts further away. Cosiness is for the inexperienced and ill-fated. Grinding corrugated lane markers warn of transport’s delicate ecosystem.

He saw the tree, but its placement didn’t register logically. Roll and flick… refocus – sharp breath. Wrench… break.

Squealing overcorrected on two wheels, the metallic shell lifts and sparks across the bitumen, roof forgiving the convex of a second tree.

His right ribcage bears seat-belt abrasions where he had allowed it slip, but more notably, the windscreen’s fragile glass proved stronger than his fragile skull.

Breath is forgotten in the forest’s reverent hush. Only the radiator dares hiss, joined by the distant cries of the ocean.

Hours later I travelled his last white stripes on foot. It was a long walk – traffic jam on my left, youths heedlessly playing cricket on the vacant right. But as I reached the red and blue, the mood grew sombre, I was asked to wait. The chopper spotlight rose like a UFO above the highway crowds and slipped into the heavens. The cricketeers returned to their vehicles and I hurried back to mine as traffic cranked up once more.

Work lights exposed a twisted underbelly, as broken as he who once drove it. I shrank down behind my wheel as I passed, for fear the workmen may see my guilty lurking yawn, and focused especially hard on the white stripes ahead.