“Why is it that when I want to go on holiday, every idiot and his dog gets on the freeway?” Luke cursed at the traffic, annoyed that it had once again come to a standstill. He’d been weaving between cars in an attempt to find that magical lane that was faster than the others, but now he was trapped, and he was frustrated and annoyed. He watched as the cars in the lane he had just abandoned passed him by.
“Calm down. Don’t drive like a maniac.” His wife, Danielle, looked at him from the front passenger seat. “Whichever way you look at it, we’re on holiday, so there’s no need to stress.”
“I know,” Luke replied with a sigh. “I just want to get there!”
They’d only been driving for an hour, heading down to the beach for a well-deserved family getaway. It was their first for several years – the first since the birth of their daughter, Ellen, who was sleeping peacefully in her booster chair in the back seat. Usually this road was clear – it was a freeway, after all, and it led away from the city – but today roadworks were slowing things down considerably. It wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t drive so much for his day job.
Driving was anathema to Luke. He used to enjoy it, when he was in his twenties and only had to drive locally, but he was older now, with larger responsibilities and a well-paid job that he needed to keep to pay the bills. Except that job was on the other side of the city, and the commute took him up to two hours… each way. Sure, he could take a train, but as a salesperson, he needed access to his car, so… every day, he bit the bullet. Every day, he braved the freeway carpark in order to get to the office on time.
It wasn’t so bad at first, but it had eventually begun to wear him down, especially because the company didn’t allow for flexibility with regards to remote working. Even with the ubiquity of smartphones, tablets and notebook PCs, and widespread Wi-Fi, there still existed companies that expected its employees to be tethered to their desks when not in front of customers. This was further compounded by the fact that Luke had a minor disability – retinitis pigmentosa – a deformation of the retina that made it hard for him to see in low light, so he needed to get home early. This was, of course, a good thing, because it meant he would miss rush hour. You take the good with the bad.
He was lucky, though. Many that suffered from the same affliction had it much worse. Retinitis pigmentosa could severely reduce peripheral vision, eventually resulting in tunnel vision and, later, total blindness. In many cases, vision would simply decay over the years, but for Luke, who’d had the condition his whole life, it had never gotten any worse… at least, not yet.
It was still early afternoon, but he’d had enough of driving, and given this was his holiday, he really hadn’t wanted to drive in the first place, so he continued to swear at the situation as he rolled the car slowly forward.
Things cleared up once they passed the roadworks, and they continued on their way at a speed more appropriate to freeway travel. Luke let out the breath he had been holding and pushed back into his chair, relaxing his grip on the steering wheel. The tension caused by the traffic was behind him for the moment.
He looked at his wife. “That’s better. Hopefully it stays like this the rest of the way.”
He’d met Dani at university some fifteen years prior. They had both been studying psychology and had hit it off immediately. Given psychology was less popular among males than females, he was actually the only male in his group of friends – not that it really mattered. His wasn’t the “traditional” university experience you saw in movies – he simply went to school, met with his friends, went to class, and went home. Kind of boring, really. He’d never been a party guy. He preferred the quiet home life.
At the time, he’d never thought of dating Dani. Not at first. He was somewhat insecure, and had low self-esteem, and felt she was well beyond his reach. Half Japanese and half Australian, he felt he looked too awkward to be attractive to an Italian-Australian beauty like Dani. He went the whole three years without asking her out once. He was content just to be her friend.
After graduation, Luke and his friends went their separate ways, and he hadn’t expected to see Dani again, having learned over the years that some friendships were transient. Even so, he was still sad to see her go on that last day. In the months that passed, he kicked himself for never having let her know how he felt. But when the whole group was reunited for their formal graduation ceremony just under a year later, he was still too shy to ask her out.
It turned out he never had to summon the courage, because she did the work for him, asking him out to see the latest Avengers movie the following week. He said yes, they went on a date, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Looking at her now, he realised maturity had sharpened her features, and without the round softness of youth, she was strikingly beautiful. While Luke felt lame to use the cliche that Dani “completed him”, he really believed it. She kept him on the straight and narrow. Even when they had arguments, he couldn’t bear to go a day without speaking with her. More than that, he couldn’t go a day without telling her he loved her. It was his thing.
“I love you, Dani,” he said now, wistfully. He was soft-hearted, and every time he said it, he truly meant it. “You’re so sweet,” she replied, smiling, flipping through the pages of a Woman’s Weekly magazine.
Ellen started whimpering in the backseat.
“Oh, what’s wrong Ellie, my little pumpkin?” asked Luke, looking in the rear-view mirror. Ellie was wriggling in her chair, crying out and screwing up her face. She was a little over four years old, and her personality was starting to come out. She was probably just annoyed that she had been woken up, and it wouldn’t be too long before she would drift off to sleep again. Her eyes were still droopy, and her head was lolling. Luke could see the shine of drool at the edge of her mouth.
“Oh, sweetheart – I love you too!” Luke beamed.
All was well with the world. Becoming a father had taught Luke that not only did children change your life in significant ways, but they really changed the way you experienced emotions. He realised that prior to having Ellie – a child of his own creation – it had been impossible to understand the feeling of love that a parent has for their child. He’d often heard his friends saying this as they became parents, one by one, and he had laughed it off. But they were right. His heart was full. He couldn’t imagine life without her. Without either of them.
In fact, two weeks after bringing Ellen home from the hospital, Luke had called his mother to tell her he loved her and to apologise “for being such a little shit as a child”, as he put it. This memory was now tinged with pain, as he had lost his mother three short months later. She had been young, only in her sixties, but she’d had a stroke, and it had taken its toll. It also didn’t help that the stroke had been not long after Luke’s father passed from cancer. She probably didn’t see much reason to hold on once she’d lost the love of her life, and she just slowly deteriorated… It had been painful to watch, and Luke was ashamed to admit that he had been relieved when she had finally passed – the stress of a family member requiring constant care is often overlooked, but it’s immense. Yet to lose both parents within such a short span of time? It was agony. Afterwards, he put all of his love and energy into his own little family. They were all he had left.
And yet the truth was, after his mother had passed, life just… went on. The world kept turning regardless of the interests of the multitudes that scurried across its surface. His pain was his to bear, but he wasn’t alone.
Things were in a good place now. Luke was an only child, so he received virtually everything by way of his parents’ wills, and as a result he was secure financially. Plus, of course, he had a loving wife, a gorgeous little daughter, and now – finally – he was heading off on holiday.
He cursed again as he slowed to approach another traffic jam, the result of further roadworks. He checked the rear-view mirror once more. Ellen had settled into sleep again. He smiled.
What he didn’t notice was the 18-wheeler that was bearing down on their car at speed, flashing its headlights.
The story continues in the novel "Pyramidion", by G.E. Newbegin.