Beauty in the Breakdown

"We can't hide like this forever, Josh. How did we even get into this mess?"

Family. Money. Run. Three things that Josh Ray and Clara Roberts have their entire life based around. It's an endless loop of get away from family, get money and get running.

After a few months of what feels like stability, Josh and Clara have to start the cycle all over again until everything finally comes to an end.

There was something beautiful in the way that things broke down.

// This version is severely unedited.

// Now available on Amazon.

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3. 2 ➵ Sunday 26 October

It’s times like this when it feels as if everything has gone from zero to a hundred miles per hour in an instance before crashing into a wall and exploding. You jump into a situation head first without knowing what’s going to happen and it ends up awful. You feel as if you will shatter at the slightest touch, about to crumble into dust if another situation becomes too ridiculous, too desperate.

 

That’s how I felt as I drove onto a road that I thought was familiar before managing to link it to a previous experience of running. That’s how I felt when the needle on the fuel monitor ticked down to below half a tank and I realised that I would have to choose between one full tank or two full stomachs. I know I will always pick the first option and that I will simply swallow down the guilt of letting Clara go hungry as if it’s just another lump in my throat. That’s how I felt when a road sign leaped into view and I tried to choose a location that I hadn’t been to before and being close to failing.

 

All the memories return in a kaleidoscope, coming back in flashes. How I used to be somebody else until Clara, and then everything changed. My life revolved around getting what we wanted because I could convince myself that we needed those things. Nothing else mattered. Nothing has changed since then.

 

We repeat our trail of everything falling apart but not quite falling back together, of the dust of something settling but still remaining to be just that: dust.

 

Eventually, we found that there was something quite beautiful about the way in which things broke down.


***


We drive through Colorado during Sunday afternoon. Clara decides to reach across and switch on the radio. I don’t recognize the song that fills the painful tension between us but Clara does. She hums at first while tapping on her thigh before singing softly to herself. It is comforting to me although the sound is tuneless and difficult to decipher.

 

When we arrive at an intersection, I go left: north. Ever since we both got into the car, I’ve been thinking about which direction I should go in, no specific destination in mind. My thoughts always turned back to heading north. There was no point of dreaming about a place to travel to when there would be nothing there for you upon arrival.

 

“Do you want to stop soon?” I ask Clara.

 

She shrugs, crossing and re-crossing her legs a couple of times. Even if she was desperate for a rest break, she wouldn’t admit it: getting far away from our old location was more important than her own comfort.

 

We return to silence and, after a few minutes of having the hum of the engine as the only sound, Clara cautiously reaches over and turns the music up the slightest bit louder. She knows how I like to drive in the quiet, preferably complete silence. It gives me time to think.

 

The world outside of the car gives way to expanses of trees clutching at their amber leaves before the winter can tear them away. A stretch of rope is tied around a stronger branch of one of the trees with a tire attached to the end, swinging nonchalantly in a breeze that is verging on being non-existent.

 

Around halfway through the song, I actually begin to pay attention to the music, analyzing the lyrics that I catch onto in my head. It’s a terrible habit, trying to find meaning in everything, even things that only exist for enjoyment. I guess the song is about being young and trying to prove yourself to people. I presume the music tells a story about a young and clueless couple trying to find a way in the world even when everything is attempting to make them fall apart.

 

Come on, take a step towards me,
So you can figure me out.
I've been hoping and praying for a single way,
To show you what I'm all about,
And I know, and I know this is the only way of pleasing the crowd,
But when this is over and done with and we walk away,
There should be no doubts.

 

Now, Clara hums as she writes in her battered notebook with her scrawling handwriting. Sometimes, I think that she allows her writing to be so untidy to stop me from reading all of her secrets. She knows by now that I won’t press for hers as long as she doesn't question mine but she’s grown up in a way that taught her to always be cryptic. She knows nothing of my past and whatever situation she was in made her desperate enough to put her future in my hands.

 

You say, you say that we're all tied up,
And wrapped around in useless, states of mind,
But at the same time we're still young.
We have the time to realize that we were wrong.

 

I wish I stopped thinking and listened to the rest of the music, the song ending before I could shut myself up. The banished silence suddenly returns and I continue driving in the atmosphere that I enjoy most. Absolutely nothing.

 

***

 

When we reach the next town, it is illuminated by streetlights, the sun having set hours before. I navigate through unfamiliar streets, almost afraid that someone will pounce on me the second I switch off the ignition. Clara’s silence and insistent gnawing at the skin around the edge of the thumbnail tells me that she is feeling the same way. I suggest that we should find something for us to do with the remainder of our evening. She shrugs, contempt with staring through the window at people who aren’t there.

           

I decide that we’re going to take a visit to the local swimming pool.

           

It takes around twenty minutes to find the pool after a thorough examination of the maps that were scattered on boards across the town, squinting at the street names I can’t decipher beneath the dim lights.

           

The aroma of chlorine is overwhelming as I crouch by a back entrance to the pool, wiggling two hair pins until they fit correctly into the lock. Clara kneels beside me. Her breath forms clouds in the cold air.

           

We’re inside a few minutes later, navigating an unnecessary labyrinth of corridors that eventually lead to the pool. The water is uncovered and there are colored lights beneath the surface. I walk straight to the deep end and take off my shoes before dipping my feet in, almost forgetting to roll up the legs of my jeans. Clara sits with her chin resting on her knees.

 

“Do you believe in love?” she asks suddenly, running her fingertips through the water. The pool lights casts a swirling blue pattern across her face, giving her a supernatural glow.

           

“Define love,” I say, even though I have my answer. Love is more than just the concrete aspects. There’s love everywhere, acknowledged but often ignored by every single one of your senses.

           

“How do I define love? Well, there’s a difference between loving someone and being in love with them. I loved the dog I had when I was seven but I wasn’t in love with it. But I swore to God I was in love with a boy I met in summer camp a couple of years ago. There’s a whole load of definitions for love though.”

 

To me, love smells like the relief of the first rainfall after a long summer full of nothing but sitting around in the sun. It smells like the indescribable scent that is purely cold air that turns your breath into mist when you breathe heavily. It smells like a field when you lay down in the freshly cut grass, little clumps sticking to the backs of your legs and becoming entangled in your hair.

           

“It’s basically just science. Well, at least according to scientists. It’s just like hunger or thirst but more permanent, just another neurological condition. Lust is a temporary feeling because a higher amount of chemicals have been released but true love is a whole other load of chemicals. The whole idea of love could just be a survival tool that we’ve all evolved over time to have longer relationships with each other and to have safety and security.”

           

To me, love tastes like the bitterness of black coffee, made purely to wash the temptations of sleep out of you. It tastes like the salt that the sun leaves on your skin after a long day of dancing through the ocean waves. It tastes like the first bite of a strawberry, the overwhelming sweetness consuming your taste buds.

           

“Wait, I think I read something once by a psychotherapist. I can’t remember her name but she said that love has many guises. There’s the deep but non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members, like the bond between soldiers who fight alongside each other. There’s the more playful affection that is basically just flirting or fooling around. There’s the mature love that develops over time between serious couples. There’s a more generalised love which could just be an appreciation or love for humanity. There’s self-love which isn’t selfish at all. There’s passion and desire but that burns out quickly.”

           

To me, love feels like fingers joining every constellation of freckles, every blemish, and every scar on your skin and creating something beautiful. It feels like the draining buzz of exhaustion that lingers until you finally see them in the flesh for the first time in weeks. It feels like a comfortable silence beneath clean sheets when a single touch speaks more than your mouth can.

           

“Or you can say that love is just a passionate commitment. Love for your family, your friends, your country, your neighbors. Blind, one-sided, tragic, misguided, unconditional. It’s just a powerful feeling. Without the commitment, it’s just an infatuation. Without the passion, it’s just dedication.”

           

To me, love sounds like the low hum of an engine and an eighties ballad crooning out of a static stereo, gravel crunching beneath the tires. It sounds like murmured words at three am that would usually be left unspoken, brought out by the milky tiredness and gentle giggles. It sounds like soft humming disguised by the pour of the shower and the grunt and the thud when a shampoo bottle slips out of soapy hands.

           

“An author said that love is the driving force between all great stories. Think about it. How many classic novels don’t have any kind of love in them? There is love in most or even all of them but not just romantic love. She said that being secure in love feels mundane but as necessary as air. Being deprived of love feels like an obsession that completely consumes you, almost like pain.”

           

To me, love looks like golden light flooding through curtains as the sun peeks over the horizon to paint the sky with watercolors. It looks like the distorted version of a city that you know like the back of your hand through a window blurred with rain. It looks like receipts and clothing tags marking pages and passages that remind you of your memories with them in one of your favourite books.

           

“So, do you believe in love?”

           

I sigh as I contemplate my answer. I won’t ever admit it to anyone but that’s what I think love is. It’s more than just a feeling. It’s something out of my reach.

           

“I don’t think so.”

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