The Driver

“We’re here.” The driver turned off the keys to the ignition and the car shuddered to a stop. The sudden cutoff of the car’s friendly radio and constant humming invited a heavy silence to fill the car. The passenger felt the quiet wrap around her like a constrictor. Her fingers twisted sporadically over one another, clawing and twisting their way to some sort of refuge from her anxiety and her guilt, but there was none to be found. She tried to look at the driver, but the silence pressed her gaze down to the floor of the car, and she studied the crumpled receipts and empty coffee cups for what felt like hours.

“Let’s get out here,” the driver said, a quiet smile on her face. Her voice was kind and calm but the passenger could not find her’s to respond. So instead, she followed, stepping out of the car and onto the dirt pathway just outside a hiking trail. Beyond the lush, full trees and scattered songbirds, the sun was setting and the syrupy, smooth fall of night was beginning. “I like coming here,” the driver said simply. She sat on one of the boulders lining the parking lot, looking up at the woods, and then back to the passenger. “Helps me keep a clear head.”

The passenger followed, sitting beside her. For a moment, neither moved. The passenger parted her lips to speak several times, but they trembled too badly, and she closed them tightly.

“Who was driving?” The driver said suddenly. She looked at her passenger with an empty face of gentle curiosity, but the girl quickly looked away.

“I…I don’t remember.” The passenger spat out her practiced line through clenched teeth, holding her jaw to keep them from chattering. She stared at the dirt and pebbles beneath her feet and let the tears roll down her cheek. “I’m sorry. I know this has been hard on your family-”

The driver sighed out a single note of quiet frustration. A small smile never left her lips, but a deep sadness had settled into her eyes. “This isn’t about my family. I’m just asking. This is for me. ” She stepped off the boulder and took a step toward her passenger, who tried and failed to disguise her panicked shudder as simple fidgeting. “I need to know. Who was driving?”

“It wasn’t my fault, okay?” Her nerves were evaporating into anger, steaming out of her mouth in spitting words. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault; it was an accident!”

“Hey,” she cooed. She crouched down before the girl sitting on the boulder, leveling their eyes. She took a breath, smiling softly as she composed herself. “Did you know, when my brother and I were small, people used to mistake us for twins. We did absolutely everything together. We were inseparable.”

“I’m sorry for what happened, okay? But it was an accide-”

“We protected each other from bullies. We were each other’s safe haven from our parents. We could always find a way to make each other laugh, no matter what.”

“Look, you need to move on. You can’t keep obsessing over this -” The passenger moved to stand but the driver stood like a bullet, and she slowly sank back down.

“His body filled with metal and his head slammed into a tree.” Her face was stone. Her voice was ice. “He died surrounded by a group of screaming, unless twats. All your horrible, rat-pitched shrieking was the last thing he ever heard. Your drunk, ruined faces were the last ones he ever saw. Before you all sent him headfirst into a tree. And all you cunts walked away alive.” She breathed out each word of the last sentence like releasing a ghost from her lungs.

“It was an accident! It was no one’s fault” Snot bubbled out of her nose, as tears streamed down her pale face. She threw out her arms and drew her lips back from her teeth. “Why did you bring me out here? What is wrong with you?” She ripped her hand through her hair, as hysteria gripped her. “You think I don’t think about it every day? It’s ruining me. I will live with this the rest of my life!” Even as her sobs overtook her, she stared fiercely at the driver. “I lost him too, you know. Jesus, this is hard on me too!”

The driver rested her fingers across her mouth, meeting her passenger’s eyes. The girl’s passionate sobs were the only sound. The birds had retreated home, and the cars had all driven home for the night.

“What, then?” the girl choked. “What do you want?”

The driver rubbed her hand over her face and nibbled her bottom lip. “I really need to know who was driving.”

The passenger stood up and stepped toward the driver, her grief turned to fury. She spit her words, emphasizing each one. “It… doesn’t … matter.”

For a moment, the two hung suspended. Finally the driver said said softly, “Do you really think this will be with you forever? Do you really think it will haunt you that badly?”

The fight drained out of her. Her anger gone, she deflated, sinking into herself. “Yes,” she whispered.

The driver nodded slowly and didn’t speak for a long time. “Sometimes living with the guilt is the worst punishment there is.” The passenger was absently wiping away her tears. She drew up the collar of her t-shirt and wiped her nose. The driver placed a hand delicately on her shoulder. “But sometimes guilty people learn to live with their crime. Sometimes they move past it. And I can’t take that chance.”

The passenger looked up, too late to stop the driver’s right elbow crashing into the side of her face.

Dirt and gravel slammed into the passenger’s face, the left side of her jaw was a blaze of pain. A sharp weight dug into her shoulder, and more settled roughly onto her chest. Blinking hard to shake the flashes and dots from her vision, she raised her head only to feel something sharp cutting into it. The driver’s face came into focus inches from her own.

“Just so we understand each other,” she said quietly, pressing the knife against her throat. “I will say it again. Who… was… driving.”

“It was me!” she screeched. Her brain was a mess of adrenaline, fear and panic, and the words fell over one another as they tumbled out of her throat. “It was me, okay?! I didn’t mean for this to happen! It was an accident! I didn’t mean it! Just let me go! For the love of God just let me go! For the love of God!” She choked and sputtered on her tears and her hysteria, and no more words would come.

The driver gently patted her cheek, making the girl flinch and utter a wretched, broken scream. She leaned over her, feeling her short, frantic gasps on her cheek. She hovered for a moment, and then whispered, “You shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain.”

Shoving her forehead down with one hand, she dug the knife into her neck, feeling the pressure and then the release as it sliced through her skin and muscle. She dragged it across her throat, slicing through her windpipe and hearing the rush and release of the breath from her lungs. Blood popped and bubbled out of her neck, filling the driver’s hands and coating the knife until it became too slick to hold. She dropped the knife, letting the last of the girl’s life flutter out of her flailing limbs and her thick, ruined coughs.

The driver stood and shook the blood from her hands. She climbed off the body, and stepped onto the hood of her car. She stepped over the windshield and onto the roof, where she slipped her legs under her, and folded her hands in her lap. She sat, looking out at the road, and waited for dawn.