The Handbrake by Emily Rawding

She called me at five thirty in the evening on the forty fourth day of the year during my twenty seventh year of life to ask me if I would ask her to dinner. It seemed unnatural, but having lived a life consisting of only what seemed to me to be the unnatural, I decided to accept, and she in turn accepted my prompted request. It was forced, somewhat, but she was pretty and I was intelligent - a winning combination if we were ever to procreate, my mother later told me. It seemed logical. 

We went to dinner. Dinner became an engagement, which became sixty seven days of my mother organising our nuptials, which became an extravagant wedding, which became four children and a labrador named Clinton. We were happy - or, at least, we were what happiness looks like. We were as happy as most people are when they tell you how happy they are whilst simultaneously drinking their third glass of wine of the evening and puffing hard on their tenth cigarette of the day. We had money, and children who didn’t scream at the tops of their lungs in supermarkets, and parents who interfered just enough to be helpful, but not enough to be overbearing. We never complained because we knew that to complain was to open a can of worms, and neither of us particularly liked worms. 

I loved her. I loved her like I loved my mother, and my father, and my brother. I loved her because she was my girlfriend, and then because she was my wife, and then because she was the woman who gave me children, who I loved because they were my children. I liked the way that she smelled and the way that she looked when she fell asleep. I loved her gradually, and then it stuck. It never faded, but instead remained continuous, like the small red light on the dashboard of a car when the handbrake is on. 

She was my handbrake. I realised it quickly, but I said nothing, and suddenly, she was seventy five years old and I was eighty, and a handbrake didn't seem to matter; I wasn’t going anywhere - and couldn’t have - even if I had wanted to.

When she died, we buried her in a graveyard overlooking the sea. Myself and the children cried, and we mourned for several weeks, before we began to get back to our daily lives. It was then that I realised the spaces that she had left. Nobody sang old wartime songs at six o'clock in the morning, and nobody cooked liver and onions on a Sunday afternoon. Time began to slow down the more of it I spent without her, and I began to feel more old and fragile than I ever had before. ‘A handbrake can stop you from moving’, I thought, ‘but it helps to keep you safe, too’. 

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