It shifted at speed beneath them. Rock ground down to make stone, stones ground down to make grit, smoothed down and set with tar, spread to a specific width and to an eventual, specific length, the process repeated time and time again. Humanity's most banal creation. The desire to make things uniform and regular, the urge to channel and divert and take control of the world and the way it moves. Nothing more human. But this kind of creation is limited. All roads, so they say, must come to an end. A full stop. A final page. End credits. Dead end.
Barnabus pressed at the edges of his kneecaps, attempting to relieve the cramp. Despite his groans of discomfort, which were rising in volume as their journey progressed, Rachael clearly had other things on her mind. She hadn't wanted to talk it over, wasn't in the mood to listen to Barnabus' attempts to console her, she needed to think, she'd said, just for a while. When she finally did speak, it was to make a request.
“I'm going to need you to look after Robbie tomorrow night.” she uttered softly. “I've got some things I need to take care of.”
Barnabus groaned again, a little too loudly this time. Rachael looked at him, for the first time since leaving the hospital, and decided enough was enough. She looked for an opening, then pulled over on to the hard shoulder. She got out of the car, slammed the door behind her and started up the grassy embankment. After a few seconds Barnabus took the hint and turned down Okkervil River until the volume reached 'Off'. It was time he stretched his legs anyway.
There was a lecture coming, he knew, but it wasn't like he could escape anywhere. It would be at least a two hour walk to the nearest town. Barnabus climbed up carefully and looked to Rachael, who barely acknowledged his presence, and sat down noisily, soothing his aching joints, trying to get comfortable. When he eventually found a satisfactory sitting position he started to relax for a minute, staring ahead and down at the blurs of cars criss-crossing and merging together, knitting and weaving in to new patterns, breaking and creating simultaneously and without pause. He used the time to think of something to say. It felt strange to be here, sat apart from the mechanical rhythms of civilisation, but it was a good strange. He felt peaceful here, too, on the sidelines, excluded, free, from the endless unthinking momentum.
“I'm not an expert,” he mused. “But isn't it illegal to park on the hard shoulder, unless it's an emergency?”
It was then that he saw she was crying. Her eyes all puffy and red raw. Her mascara staining and dribbling down her cheeks. Barnabus suddenly felt like the world's worst kind of douche.
“Hey now, I'm sure Hector will be fine, you know?” Barnabus extended his open hand towards her, but she didn't take it. “The doctor says he's recuperating well. Maybe this was an isolated incident. Maybe this was just rock bottom for him. He can only get better from here on, right?”
Barnabus' attempts at consolation appeared to be falling flat. Rachael didn't say anything. They sat quietly for a time. Barnabus looked at his watch. Then she said -
“You know if you don't want to be with me you just have to tell me. Don't leave me hanging, wondering whether you're going to stay or going to leave. There's no point in this drawing on any longer than necessary.”
He didn't answer right away. He was thinking about change. He was thinking about getting up early in the morning to get Robbie his clothes ready for school. He was thinking about a day at work, then an evening entertaining a seven year old boy, then falling asleep on the sofa watching telly. He was thinking about how easy had been to settle in to that routine, and how satisfying and comfortable that was.
But he was also thinking that he'd never really had a routine before. He'd never had these responsibilities. That wasn't what Barnabus Rigby was all about. The nights of hedonism and impromptu road trips would diminish. The one night stands and experimental drug taking would disappear. His clothes no longer strewn in a corner on the floor, but neatly folded in drawers. His bed no longer a testament to savage and mindless fornicating, but to nothing at all, merely a neat demonstration on the art of hospital corners.
He was thinking that Hector might not be around for much longer, and then where would that leave him? He would be trapped. They would depend on him. There was no getting out then. He'd seen it happen to his own parents. The rut. Names are lost in the rut. There are only labels. Mother. Father. Son.
“Your silence speaks volumes,” Rachael said.
Barnabus shrugged and said nothing.