Someone jumped in front of the train outside Urmston. Pippa had been on the train for all of two minutes when it happened. She stood outside Urmston station, trying to work out how to get to Manchester University Hospital for a job interview. People walked shell shocked or panicked or pissed off, milling about and drifting like refugees. The bus queue was already miles long. There was a fight over a cab.
That old, black, Toyota pulled up right in front of her. He pushed open the passenger door. “Get in,” he said.
Pippa hesitated. Seven weeks of unemployment made her get into the car and close the door.
Ryan gave a long whistle. “Looking good,” he said.
Pippa scowled. “Job interview. And there was a jumper on the line. Of course.”
“Bad time for them to do that.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t a great time for them either.”
He smiled. “Where to?”
“Manchester University Hospital,” she said. “Lab assistant. Immunology department. That’s the job I’m interviewing for.”
He raised his eyebrows, impressed.
“The pay’s shit,” she said. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“Slept in. I’ll be late for work. Drove past and saw you standing there on the footpath. Helpless. Lost. Desperate.”
“I wasn’t any of those things.”
Ryan gestured over his shoulder at the scene behind them. “You want to find your own way?”
“You never sleep in,” Pippa said, bit her lip. “Oh. Right. I get it. Okay.”
“I slept in with you sometimes.”
“I fucking remember. Thanks.” She pulled out her phone. “Best gate is Gate Three, on the corner of Oxford and Hathersage.”
“I can be your Uber.”
“Be my Uber.”
They pulled away from the curb. Ryan grew up in Manchester and knew all the streets. Five years ago she moved to this town to be with him. There was no way in hell he was going to move to Liverpool, her hometown, or anywhere else. Now, she couldn’t bring herself to leave.
Pippa loved the way he drove, calm, Zen, second nature. She didn’t drive anymore. For her, driving had been like fighting, everyone getting in her way-What the fuck are you doing? What. The. Fuck. She read somewhere that a person’s nature is best revealed when driving. It worried her, knowing it was true when it came to Ryan and probably her too. Now he held the steering wheel as if he was born behind it, two hands low. He hadn’t changed at all.
“So how is Brandy?” she said.
He glanced over at her, brow furrowed.
“Crystal?” she said.
“Who the fuck are you talking about?”
Pippa waved a hand. “What’s her name?”
“Violet?” he said.
“Yeah. Violet. How is she?”
“How did you get Brandy or Crystal from Violet?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess a name that has another meaning. A drink. A rock.”
“Yeah,” she said. “A flower.”
“She’s good.” He smiled, slowly, and she wanted to do something terrible to his face. “Really good.”
“Have you ever noticed about the name Violet-”
“This’ll be interesting,” he muttered.
“Have you noticed that Violet is almost violent? The addition of one letter changes its meaning entirely.”
He took a deep breath, probably counting-to one hundred. “Weren’t we going to call our daughter Violet?” he said, finally, low and quiet.
She stared out her window. “Huh.”
“What did you say?”
“Yes. I said, yes.”
“Jesus. Pippa. Don’t cry.”
“Why are you bringing that up?”
“You’re the one going on about the name Violet.”
“Well, I’m going to have a view, aren’t I?”
“I’d expect nothing less,” Ryan said, and it was gentle, so gentle.
He lifted one hand off the steering wheel and held the back of her neck. His hand was warm. Pippa closed her eyes. She took his arm and pulled it down, drawing him away from her.
“What?” he said.
“Don’t touch me,” she whispered. “Please, don’t touch me.”
“Pip,” he said, in a way that was soft and sad and pleading. Her little name. A seed.
In her head, a woman wearing heeled boots stomped all over a bed of purple flowers. It didn’t make sense, but then none of this did. A six year old boy was killed at four o’clock on a December afternoon, twenty months ago. Pippa was driving. He ran in front of her. “It happens. It happens,” the paramedic said, as if Pippa didn’t know very well that it happened, that it was happening.
If Ryan touched her again she’d ask him to pull over. Although, she wouldn’t get out of the car, as he might expect. She would take off her seatbelt, climb across the gearstick and sit on his lap. He would groan low in the back of his throat. She’d press her forehead against his. Why did you leave me when I was so sad? When you were so sad too? She may say it. Or not. She might just kiss him for a while, a long while. His mouth, it wasn’t a place she was going to forget. Not ever.
Ryan drove them onto Kings Road and she knew they were close.
“How’s-” he began, and laughed.
“I’m trying to think of a way to corrupt the name Chris, but I can’t.”
“Fine?” Ryan said. “Shit. Sounds hot.”
“Yeah, it’s very fucking hot.”
“It should be.”
Pippa stared at him. “Don’t tell me what a relationship should be. What my relationship should be with someone that is not you.”
His jaw pulsed. They stopped at lights. He didn’t look at her but straight ahead, out the windscreen at the traffic. “With you, Pip,” he said. “That’s what I meant. With you. It should be fucking hot.”
She couldn’t speak for a full ten seconds. They moved again. “Are we there yet?” she said.
“Good,” she said, when she didn’t mean it, not at all.
Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, Litro Magazine, New World Writing, Cleaver Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Pithead Chapel, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review among others. One of her short stories has been made into a film by the production company, Jungle. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and @melgoodewriter.