SHORT STORIES: Rearview Mirror

The sunlight spills into the car; half her face in in shadow, half lit up in fiery orange, one eye shining in the light, blazing golden as it reflects the sun.

The other eye is dark; the sun can’t reach it.

She’s been driving for five hours.


The sun finally goes down as she pulls into a service station. She fills the car and uses a debit card from a black leather wallet to withdraw $350 from the ATM.

She goes into the little shop and picks up four packs of sandwiches, two tuna mayo, two cheese and tomato. She puts them into a basket, picks up five bottles of water, puts them in too. Goes to grab a bag of crisps, stops, puts them back with an odd look on her face. Stands in front of the magazine section for a while staring at a the sports magazines, obviously zoned out. The girl at the til considers going over to ask if she’s okay, but after a few minutes she seems to jerk awake again. Checks her watch, grabs a kids’ magazine with cartoon Batman grinning from the front page and a crafts magazine with a middle aged woman beaming down at a house plant on it.

She pays in cash, doesn’t make eye contact with the girl at the till, walks through the door with her head ducked down. Loads the bags into the back of the car, gets in the car and drives away.

Only thirty minutes later a frantic looking man comes in asking after a woman who fits her description. He shows the girl behind the till a photo – it’s obviously from a long time ago, the girl in the photo looks much younger, much happier, has a large smile across her face, rosy cheeks, sparkly eyes, bouncy hair. She also doesn’t have a badly covered up bruise across her cheek.

But she is definitely the same girl.


At midnight, she drives by a small town. Tired, emotional, and scared of what could happen if she stays behind the wheel any longer, she drives into the town and finds a deserted car park on the outskirts, where she parks. She peers through the windscreen at the buildings nearby, looks for any cameras.

Unable to find any, she gets out, pulls out the wallet again, and takes out the card she used earlier. As she walks to the bin by the entrance to the car park, she takes a pack of hand wipes from her jacket pocket and cleans the card with it, drops the card in the bin, and pockets the wipe.

Back in the car, she drinks some of the water and then moves the shopping bags to the floor and curls up on the back seat. After some twenty minutes, she starts crying. Ten minutes after that, she falls into an uneasy sleep, face still damp.

Unknown to her, the man had caught up whilst she was driving earlier, and had followed her from a distance into the town. He drives into the car park and parks far away, making sure his lights are dim and don’t shine directly into the girl’s car. When the engine is off, he sits for a moment and looks over at the car, a smile on his face.

He found her.


When she wakes up the next day, there’s another car in the car park with her. She can’t see anyone in there, but she’s unnerved by her inability to wake up – surely the noise of the engine or the lights should have woken her?

She eats one of the tomato and cheese sandwiches, a bit nauseous but so hungry her stomach keeps rumbling. She keeps an eye on the other car, but nobody comes to the car park to get into it.

Unsettled, she crawls back into the front seat and drives out of the car park. She’s still exhausted, her eyes aching.

After waiting a few minutes, the other car follows.


She makes another three service stops that day, using a different card at each. She cleans and throws away the card she used at the first stop when she reaches the second, and the second at the third. The third card she throws out of the window when she’s on a quiet stretch of road.

She buys more water at the first stop, a lighter  at the second stop, and a purse at the third.

All day long, the man follows behind her, unnoticed. When she leaves the first service stop, he goes in and buys a can of gasoline, paying with cash. He does the same at the second and third stop.


She reaches the woods at eight that night. She’s eaten another pack of sandwiches, managed to drink half the water. She gets out of the car and sits on the hood patiently, looking at the trees reaching up to the sky above her. She hasn’t been to these woods since she was a little girl- that girl from the picture, the happy one, with a family that still loved her and looked after her, friends that she spent time with. Lost in her memories, she remembers running through the trees as a child, feeling free, feeling like nothing could hurt her, nothing could stop her.

That had been before she had met her husband.

There’s a strip of skin on her ring finger which is paler than the rest of her skin, where a golden band had sat for years, a show of her being tied to somebody, a show of possession, a show of captivity.

She smiles, remembers taking the ring off two days ago.

The sound of an engine interrupts her thoughts and she looks up to see the car from the car park coming down the road towards her. The man in the car has a grim expression on his face, mouth a tight line, eyes narrow.

He pulls up the car beside hers and she lets out a shuddery breath making her heart pound in her chest. She stands, moves back a little, watches him get out of the car.

They stand in silence for seconds, the air filled with tension. She can barely breathe. His eyes are darting over her face, taking in the bruise over her cheekbone, the tired bags beneath her eyes, the shake in her hands.

Gathering up all her courage, she swallows and asks, ‘Are you here to arrest me, Deputy?’

Looking angry, he starts to stride towards her, but she leaps back at the sudden movement, unable to stop herself from cowering away. He freezes, a look of horror crossing his face, and puts his hands up.

‘You didn’t tell me.’ His voice is softer, gentler, than she had expected under the circumstances. ‘You didn’t tell me he was hitting you.’

As tears fill her eyes, she looks away, the intense look on his face too much for her. He moves forward again, slowly, cautiously.

‘Hey, I’m not here to arrest you. Don’t you think I would’ve done it when I first managed to catch up to you if I wanted to?’

Wiping an arm across her eyes, she nods, sniffs. When he reaches out, places a hand carefully on her shoulder, she moves forwards and wraps her arms around him, tight, lets herself cry on him. He pats her back, strokes her hair.

‘Where is he?’ he asks. ‘They’re going to come after me soon. We need to leave my car with him.’

She pulls back and gazes up at him. Her tears have taken away some of the poorly applied foundation spread over the bruise, and he looks at it from a long moment, eyes hard.

‘You’re coming with me?’ her voice is small, afraid. Letting go of her, he goes back to his car, opens the boot, and produces three cans of gasoline.



The next morning, a young man walking his dog comes across a charred, broken skeleton lying in the middle of a clearing in the woods. He calls the police, who find a car just outside of the woods with an empty leather wallet, three empty leather cans and a lighter in it. The tyre tracks tell them that there were two cars there, but only the one was left behind.

In the wallet they find two different cards of identification. One belongs to a young deputy, reported missing, who it turns out had borrowed the car from a friend and never bothered to take it back. The other belongs to a slightly older man from the same area, also reported missing.

His flat is searched, although it hardly needs more than a quick glance to know that the body in the woods was probably him. The bloodstains in the carpet, the shattered cabinet, the single knife sitting on its own in the dishwasher.

In the corner of the living room, sat like it had been thrown there, sits a ring, a heavy, gold affair. When the police shine a light on it, it’s reflected dully back at them.

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