Sofia Pt. 07 – in the Car


Anabelle looked pale and distracted. She’d had a small crash, not serious, though the car would need some work. She was fine, she needed to go to bed, but there was no need to worry.

Toby had brought her mint tea in the bedroom and had tried to get her talking. But he could get nothing from her. “Darling, I can’t talk now and I really need to sleep. Tomorrow, I promise!”

It was strange and worrying. Toby left her alone in bed. It didn’t feel like he would be welcome sleeping in their bedroom, so he made up a bed of sorts on the sofa. He had a restless night, the sheets crumpling underneath him in uncomfortable ways, his legs occasionally kicking at the armrest that prevented him from stretching out fully. He woke in the morning with a crick in his back and made a moody breakfast.

Sofia came into the kitchen, dressed in jeans and a plain white shirt – long and loose — with a silk scarf, turquoise with paisley patterns, wrapped around her neck.

“Anabelle’s not up?”

Toby glanced up from his toast. “I haven’t seen her. I’ll check. There’s coffee on the table.”

When Toby opened the bedroom door he found his wife deeply asleep, curled up in the centre of the bed with the duvet bunched around her. Her lips twitched slightly, half miming some dream conversation. Even asleep, she looked exhausted, totally unlike the relaxed goddess she’d appeared when he’d left her in the pool the previous afternoon. It must be about him and Anabelle — she’d disappeared straight after their conversation in the kitchen. But it was strange. There had been a very strong charge between them, sure, and he wasn’t surprised she’d feel jealous and suspicious. But nothing had really happened. Whatever she’d seen or heard, she’d taken worse than he would have expected of her.

Glancing down he noticed something on the floor, just inside the bedroom door. An envelope. His name was written on it in Anabelle’s handwriting. He picked it up and put it in his pocket.

He found Anabelle back in the kitchen, leaning against the counter and drinking the last of her coffee.

“Anabelle’s out for the count. She looks exhausted and I don’t want to wake her. Look, I know you need to get going. I’ll drive you.”

“You’re sure? I could call a cab.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ve not got any meetings, so I’m not in any rush.”

Sofia accepted doubtfully. After yesterday it didn’t seem totally wise to be alone with Toby in the car. Before yesterday afternoon, there had been an easiness between them, despite the slight flirtatious edge, the awareness of an inconvenient attraction and connection. atakent escort But now that easiness was gone, replaced by an awareness of volatile possibility; it was like the feeling she’d had at fourteen trekking around the rim of Mount Etna with her father. Every time their eyes met now, there seemed to be uncomfortably, rich textures of meaning for them both.

Breakspear House, the detention centre where Sofia was volunteering, was twenty minutes drive away, not far from the airport. There were few cars on the winding road. Sofia looked out the window — everything sparking in the slanting sunlight, a thin morning mist still hovering in places over the fields — absorbed in the music Toby had turned on. It was achingly beautiful — just a few strings weaving in and out of the tender melody of a piano. She would have said it was melancholy, but that wasn’t quite right. She imagined the composer writing it as a broken old man, lying in pain with death drawing closer, thinking back to an afternoon of exquisite joy when he was young and in love, and accepting, without bitterness, its irretrievability. When the piece was over, she realised that she was crying silently.

“Who is it?”

“The composer? Shostakovich. The second movement of his second piano concerto. He didn’t like it. Just dashed it off for his son’s birthday and always said it was without any value. It was the best thing he ever wrote.”

They were silent for a while, then Sofia continued. “Isn’t it strange how the same piece could move two people deeply, whilst having a completely different significance for each of them. I guess, it can be like that for other kinds of art, as well, but it seems more extreme with music; the meaning is so personal, without the anchor of words or an image.” She paused. “What does it mean to you?”

“Mean? I don’t know — but I have many associations.” He lapsed into silence for some time. “I had a bad acid trip once, very bad, and — feel free to laugh — it shook in a very fundamental way my belief in the reality of time as we experience it. I was already familiar with the idea of a block universe, where time is conceived of as being like another form of extension, another axis of experience. But it was only after that trip that I felt it as a possibility; I felt like I’d been dragged completely out of time, it was very frightening, and after that everything has felt subtly different.

“Anyway, I’d been listening to this piece that afternoon, just before the trip, and now it’s all bundled up with that experience. akbatı escort When I listen to it, I often find myself imagining what it would be like to see reality as it really is, or at least as it may be; every moment that ever was and will be, spread out like a giant collage. No possibilities, only existence; everything we experience revealed as essential, essential in a way that goes beyond determinism or any idea of fate.”

Sofia didn’t reply. Suddenly he burst out: “Sofia, how are your feet? Did you make sure you got all the glass out? I’ve been behaving terribly towards you. I’m sorry, Sofia, I feel very ashamed of myself.”

She laughed, with only a slight bitterness. “Better late than never, huh. Well at least you do apologise. My feet are fine, no lasting damage done, thanks.”

They were heading into Brakespear. It was small and rather ugly, a handful of uninteresting shops scattered along a single street with cul-de-sacs branching off full of equally dull pebbledash houses.

“Oh, shit! I meant to get something for Sammy. Can you pull over by the store for a minute?”

“Sure. Sammy?”

“One of the detainees. He’s Afghan. His real name is Samir, but he prefers Sammy. Somehow it came up when we were chatting that he misses Dairy Milk chocolate — they don’t have any in the vending machines — and I promised I’d bring him some.” She looked at Toby with some irritation. “What’s so funny? Why are you laughing?”

“Sorry, but, Samir the Afghan illegal immigrant misses Dairy Milk? I just really wasn’t expecting that twist.”

“Well, he’s been in the UK for seven years. He’s twenty, he arrived here when he was 13. Plenty of time to develop a taste for Cadbury’s finest.” She got out the car.

Toby reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter from Anabelle.


A few minutes later Sofia came back to the car carrying a carrier bag crammed with cheap confectionary. Toby pocketed the letter.

“I thought I’d get some for everyone. Don’t want to look like I’m picking favourites.”

Toby started the car without replying. Sofia glanced at him quickly. He looked dangerously moody. It wasn’t normal to veer so quickly between extremes of mood.

Brakespear House Repatriation Centre, was a purpose-built monstrosity constructed in the grounds of the former manor house that gave it its name. The old house itself had been converted into offices for the acronym toting company that ran the centre. It looked completely out of place; an ivy-covered, aksaray escort Georgian stately home dwarfed by the concrete labyrinth that had sprouted and spread like knotweed on its former lawns.

The car park was already full. Toby pulled up in one of three empty disabled slots, leaving the engine idling. Sofia raised her eyebrows at him disapprovingly.

“What? If the Syrian Paralympic team show up for a surprise visit, I promise I’ll move.”

She snorted. “Wow. Cheap on so many levels.”

She reached to undo her belt but he suddenly grabbed her hand and, bringing it straight to his mouth, kissed it. Soft slightly parted lips, slight dampness of saliva, the hardness of the face of his incisors.

“Toby, this isn’t – ” He looked up at her, flashing fierce desire, and — letting go of her hand grabbed her behind her neck and kissed her again, on her parted lips. Her arms were round him, her body flooded by chemical need. She found herself straining against her seatbelt to bring her body into contact with his, fumbling again with the buckle. He’d got his seatbelt off, and his body was twisted from the driving seat, half over the gearstick, half on top of her, his mouth everywhere — their tongues meeting, his teeth in her neck, lips kissing the lid of one eye, then the other, and then finding her mouth again — his hands roughly in her hair, hers clinging to his back, pulling, as if she could pull his body through hers — something like a growl buzzing from his throat and the sound, too, of her own involuntary moans, infused with the nonsense of half-articulated words. His palm had found her breast — her seatbelt was finally off, she was arching up to him — the layers of clothes separating them were unbearable.

A roar from outside the chaotic bubble of their lovemaking — one of Toby’s feet accidentally flooring the accelerator — jolted them from their frenzy. They still held each other, foreheads and noses pressed together, panting. He let his head fall to rest on her clavicle and she looked up for a moment. A largish man in a baggy navy suit, with a pouchy face and receding grey hair, had been staring at them from the steps of the old house. As soon as he saw Sofia look in his direction he turned and, with a strangely rolling gait, ambled back inside.

“Oh, shit!” she breathed. Her hands were cradling Toby’s resting head. “This was such a bad idea. Gavin’s seen us.”

Toby pulled himself away and back onto his own seat, but held onto her hand.

“How bad?”

She sighed. “No, nothing terminal, just not what I need.” She squeezed his hand. “But I need to go, I’m late.”

“You don’t feel like taking the day off?”

She squeezed his hand, “I might, but I won’t. Besides…”

He nodded, reluctantly. “Ok, I’ll see you this evening.” And again, he kissed her hand.

She got out of the car. Toby watched her put on her black facemask and walk away towards the house.

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