No Fixed Destination

30 Nov

Phil looped his camera around his neck and trudged out to his car. The rain was pelting down and the wind was so strong that it was making his eyes burn. For a moment he considered staying home, but he dismissed the thought immediately. Every Sunday for the last twelve years, he had gone driving around the countryside in his battered old Volvo, taking photographs of whatever he happened to see. He was a good photographer, good enough to have acquired a decent following and sold a few pictures.

That’s not why he did it, though. He did it because it gave him a sense of purpose. He had worked so hard to overcome the addictions that had destroyed his life, and he was afraid that if he stopped these Sunday excursions, everything would fall apart again.

Phil pulled out of the driveway and headed north, with no fixed destination in mind. As he drove, he thought of Lily. She had been nine when he had seen her last. His heart ached as he remembered his ex-wife calling him an alcoholic junkie who had no business trying to raise a child. He had begged her not to take his daughter away from him. He had actually fallen on his knees before her, sobbing.

She had stopped yelling then, and looked at him with something approaching sympathy. “I know you love her, Phil, but you’re destroying her,” she had said. He had buried his head in his hands so he wouldn’t have to watch them leave.

After they had gone, Phil had allowed the drugs and alcohol to take over his life completely. Within a year, he had been out on the streets. He had lost his home and been fired from his job, and he had spent a few nights in jail for possession of illegal drugs.

One afternoon as he was staggering down the road with a newly acquired bottle of rum, a woman with a couple of kids had looked at him with thinly veiled disgust before crossing the street in order to avoid him. He stopped walking and stared after her, feeling as if he’d been hit with a sledgehammer. I’ll never see Lily again, he thought.

He slowly started walking again, barely paying attention to where he was going. His head was filled with images of his daughter. He wondered if she still had that pink feather boa that she loved so much. She would wrap it around herself and twirl around so fast that he thought she was going to fall over.

Now, as Phil drove, he remembered how the thoughts of Lily and her boa had stopped him in his tracks, and how the tears suddenly streaming down his face had attracted some curious glances from passersby. If it had not been for the kindly stranger who had offered him help, he did not know where he would be now, or if he would even be alive.

After he had gotten his life cleaned up, Phil had written to his ex-wife.

Tell Lily that I’m clean from the drugs and alcohol,  he wrote. Tell her I that I love her, and that I am more regretful than words can say for the pain I caused her. Let her know that I understand if she doesn’t want to see me, but if and when she is ever ready, I want to be her Dad. And this time I will do it right.

Throughout the years, Phil sent letters to his ex-wife. He told her about the night-course he had gone on, the job he had got, the photos he had sold. He proudly wrote about the modest house he had bought, the quiet, solitary life that he lived, and the handful of friends he had acquired through his AA meetings. He sent birthday cards to Lily.

In twelve years, he had not received a single reply. But he never gave up.

Phil was abruptly pulled out of his reverie when the old Volvo suddenly blew a tire. He pulled over onto the shoulder of the quiet country road and pulled out his cell phone. Damn. Not enough battery life to make a call.

Phil got out of the car and started walking through the pouring rain towards the only building he could see. Maybe they would have a phone. It wasn’t until he got right up to the front door that he realized it was a pub. Instantly his palms started to sweat and he was shaking. He couldn’t go in there. He hadn’t had a drink in well over a decade, but he was still terrified of being in the same room as alcohol. He thought he had enough self-control to avoid drinking – it was the memories he couldn’t face.

He was unbearably torn. He needed to call Roadside Assistance for a new tire, and this place might have the only available phone. But if he went in, the memories of his old life would come flooding back, and he would feel like a ruin in the architecture of humanity. He found himself alarmingly close to tears.

As he stood in the doorway, a young woman ran from her car into the pub. As she was going through the door, she turned and looked back at him curiously.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

Phil stammered. He was not good at talking to strangers.

“Well, you see, my car. It, uh, broke down, just down there, and I need to call for help. But my cell phone died and I cannot go in here because I’m – uh, an alcoholic. That is, I’m dry, but I don’t want to be anywhere near – you know.”

He tapered off and shrugged helplessly.

“You can use my phone,” said the woman, rummaging in her purse. Phil registered random details about her: the scuffed black boots, the flaky nailpolish, the red-gold hair tucked neatly under the hood of her raincoat.

As she handed him the cell phone, she said, “Actually, I’m not from around here and I could use some directions. I’m visiting my dad, only he doesn’t know I’m coming. I haven’t seen him since I was a little girl, and I want to surprise him. But this little town he lives in is impossible to find.”

Phil stared into her eyes, eyes that were exactly the same colour as his. And he knew that the second chance he had been waiting for for so long had finally arrived.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Bewildered Bug, who gave me this prompt: Write about anything you want, but include the following words/phrases:  pink feather boa, Volvo, architecture of humanity, flaky nailpolish.
I challenged floreksa with the prompt: You are at your own 100th birthday party, reflecting back on your life. Tell us about the best day of your life, from the standpoint of your 100-year-old self.

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2 Responses to “No Fixed Destination”

  1. Autism Dad December 1, 2011 at 1:10 AM #

    What an incredible piece of writing. A very emotional read. Second chances are a beautiful thing!

  2. Kurt December 1, 2011 at 1:49 PM #

    I loved this story. It’s sad and moving, while at the same time being a highly entertaining read. Extremely well done.

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