Kam slept as he drove through country lanes in his silver Prius, a clammy palm pressed against the wheel, cigarette dangling from the other hand, spraying ash like a sparkler at New Year’s Eve as he held it out of the half-opened window. He did this every year. Sleeping and driving. A dreamy pilgrimage if you like. He streamed Phil Collins as his dashboard glowed green and streetlights swept by, looming large. REM. Blurred fantasies. He entered town at a slow crawl but nobody noticed him – even when he veered into the opposite lane and pounded his car horn in time to a mysterious rhythm at pedestrians who weren’t there. Yet still he slept.
Usually, the residents hurried to block his path like human shields, flagged him down and ushered him to safety. They were a close-knit community who liked to welcome vagrants and street children into their homes. Just to talk, just to listen. They offered a hot shower and the opportunity to escape the cruel winter raging outside. And their commitment to Kam was no less dedicated. But this year the villagers forgot about him. This year the streets were flooded by a great rain, houses deluged, the river flowing high and fast, and more downpours were expected. So, the neighbourhood drug dealer, the teacher, the priest, the DJ, the waitress, the barber, the programmer, the runner, the barman, the landlord and the tear away schoolkids from the local estate all had their own problems this year – were preoccupied.
So, Kam smashed through bollards, bulldozed trees, flattened advertisements and ran over raccoons until he crashed into the cemetery’s iron gates where his mother was buried on this date exactly ten years before. He clambered over the spiked fence – joints stiff as he landed on the dirt. He lit another cigarette and a plume of smoke attacked his eye. He winced, blinked furiously and then he woke. He took a seat beside his mother’s grave and picked at the patches of moss that had grown over the past year. “Visit me, won’t you?” he recalled her pleading. “Always?”
Then memories of his mother surfaced with more clarity – her dry hair that she tamed with a series of floral hair-clips, her grey-teeth smile and black dots for eyes. Kam drew his hoodie over his head as the rain took hold once again. A dagger of a thought sliced through him unexpectantly. She was cruel. That’s it. He recalled her way of expressing her words in anger, mangling them, spitting them. The frigid tones she used to scald him tainted his thoughts to this day.
He remembered the moment she told him she was dying. “Remember me, Kam, OK? Because no one else will,” she said. But she wouldn’t tell what she was dying from and how long she had left, and he hated her for it. She wouldn’t let him in, wouldn’t trust him with the truth. Instead, she would just say every day, “Remember me, Kam, remember.”
Kam didn’t want to think of her death or be responsible for her legacy, especially if she was going to shut him out. That’s when he started to escape by sleeping all hours of the day. To dream. And then sleepwalk. Sometimes he would wake up lost on the hard shoulder of a motorway, cars whizzing by. Once, he walked through the local park in his pyjamas and another time he found himself by suicide bridge.
Driving back home now, windscreen wipers on, eyes wide open, alert, he saw the carnage he’d left in his wake – the flattened bushes, the crushed car mirrors, the dented motorbikes. All of this destruction for what? A memory he didn’t even want to celebrate. If only he could forget, just like the town had that night. Maybe next year.
Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Eunoia Review, Menacing Hedge, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal. Twitter: @TimFrankquill.