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Linda – A short story by Katarina Varsikova

Linda – A short story by Katarina Varsikova

Linda slipped into the driver’s seat of her Opel Corsa and fastened the belt. She took the stereo from her bag and put it in the slit – the deep voice of Joe Cocker filled the car. She found it sweet, unbearably sweet for the moment and turned it off as swiftly as she had switched it before. Silence. She started the engine with one hand on the steering wheel. One last glace at the block of flats she lived in: almost all the kitchen and living-room windows were lit; just those of her flat were dived in darkness. The whole row of bedroom windows in the three-story apartment block was dark as well, it was too early. Life in the suburbs is not as anonymous as many think, on the contrary, the voyeurs and curious people have got quite a chance to observe people’s routines, mainly since the curtains were no more in fashion.

It had rained heavily earlier; she let the wipers dry the drops on the windshield and the rear window. She inserted the first gear, made a circle round the half-empty parking lot and moved slowly to the little lane leading to the main road. She gave way to one car, but the road was almost isolated – until she joined the western highway where there were more cars, trucks and buses.

The surroundings were invisible on both sides of the road; here and there she could see lights of houses scattered by the railroad. I wonder who lives in those nowadays, it wouldn’t possibly be the rail inspector, she murmured to her and approached the first crossroad off-gear as the light ahead was read. On the left a huge billboard lit by a strong spotlight claimed her attention. It informed about the hypermarket, the petrol station and a McDonalds being at the service – refuge places for contemporary travelers.

The cars coming from this direction passed, then couple of cars from the right. She stared in front of her, blankly, put the rear wiper in work uselessly, because the window was almost dry. She glanced at the driver behind her only being able to make the oval of a man’s face and shortly cropped hair. He had his hands placed on the steering wheel. Immersed in vastness of her own she shuddered to the honking sound – the light turned to green. She moved slowly, raising her hand up in a gesture of pardon. The driver’s hand went up, he repeated her gesture. The Opel was hardly reaching 30/km per hour when she had to slow down again, another red light ahead. She kept motionless at the zebra crossing. Everybody passing here regularly was aware of the need to be cautious. The buildings on the left belonged to the Institute for People with Changed Abilities; people crossing were often in wheelchairs or on crutches. She couldn’t make out the buildings in the darkness, no need to attract its sights with neon lights.

A honking caught her off guard again. Shit, she swore and jumped forward. Patience, she advised the driver behind her and laughed when the traffic light ahead switched to read again. The lights are clearly set for a heavy traffic of a weekday – Why don’t they turn them off Sunday night? She continued smoothly faithful to her habit talking to herself and to the whole world. Left and right there were more office centers, dark and lifeless. They will only wake up Monday morning. Pink neon showed where a popular radio station had its HQ, several windows visibly populated, office hours here going around the clock.

Linda concentrated on the road, this time she would not let anybody see her distracted. The car behind was still the same. What is it anyway? White Honda Civic, she found out easily. Red, yellow, green – she shot forward. Did she spot or just suspect his smile? She couldn’t really see him, just felt the contact established, felt it with her sixth sense that rarely lies. They were approaching the first big crossroad; two lanes would direct to the right – southwest where they would meet the Vienna and Budapest highway. To the extreme left led the way steeply up towards the area with big hospitals, the ministry of health and a large residential area. Linda never liked the mountain buzzing with contradictory energy of thousands of people coming here to work or run their errands. She continued straight towards downtown. Honda kept tailing behind, the speed round 40/km per hour, nearer to her than before, when the light jumped to red again. For a moment; she imagined he would end up in her bumper. No, no, he stopped closely.

There were more street lights on both sides of the road now; she risked one glance to the back without moving her head at all. The rules are clear, hers is the advantage of being ahead, being the one who leads. His is the advantage of having the opportunity to change the lane, the direction, to abandon her. What can he see? Not much, she murmured, he can more guess her eyes in her rear window; see the reflection of car lights in her fair hair. She tied them in a bun so they are not so eye catching as usually. Red changed into green and she felt a surge of nervousness: Come on, man, she addressed him in a voice dense with thrill.

The road went uphill and then descended from the top towards downtown, towards people, cafés, bars, nightlife. At the foot of the hill one could turn left and head towards the east where there were more residential and shopping areas. Linda continued straight, the broad road changed into a boulevard, an elegant tree-lined alley. Old town houses were equally proud as the trees, the restaurant and bar windows welcoming. There were quite many people on the pavements. Honda obediently followed the Opel, Linda wasn’t sure of the outcome of this game. To hell with the aim, she told herself. One plays for the joy of playing, not for the result. She spotted a girl in a dark coat on the curb close to the road waving at somebody. She tensed. What if she is his date? What if he stops here and she jumps on? What if Linda was wrong?

Honda kept tailing. Stop that, she scolded herself. Don’t think, thinking has no use here. She signaled and changed the lane to the left. Honda, too. Linda kept there for a while and then switched the lane to the right again leaving the boulevard on the next turn to the right. It was a dark one way street with no temptations in the form of bars or shops– a quiet elegant residential area with fin de siècle architecture, the entrances were grand with knocking knobs in the form of animal heads, the windows tall and covered in tailor made curtains suggesting luxurious interiors. The inhabitants didn’t follow latest trends so closely. Linda checked the situation behind – she couldn’t see any car lights. In the silence the most vivid thing was her heart –its strong and regular beats. She slowed down and waited till she saw the already familiar lights, breathing with relief. Her limbs did everything routinely, hands on the steering wheel, feet on the pedals growing more and more sensitive. The one-way system led her way, nothing to decide, uphill and downhill again. Forever? She left the decision to her sub-consciousness and slid between sleeping cars dimly lit by yellowish lamps. Suddenly there was a space on the right, Linda slowed down and looked out to see the sign: Parking reserved to visitors and clients between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.; glancing at the watch she realized it was already half past 9, past the restriction time. She slid into the empty space and killed the engine simultaneously with reading the sign on the building: Academy of Dance. Nobody danced there now. Honda pulled over and parked behind her, falling suddenly into darkness. Linda stayed in the driver’s seat.

Your turn,she encouraged herself. „You’re the one who leads.” She took the key from the starter and pulled the cape of her coat over-head, though she knew it wasn’t raining anymore. With one hand on the door handle she hesitated for another moment, then opened the door and got off looking towards the dark Honda with a beating heart. A long while passed before the white door shone open. Linda took a breath in and moved towards the unknown…

 

The author Katarina Varsikova is a free-lanced writer and yoga instructor based in Brussels. Forever in relationship with words, knowing they can be the bridge to human souls. Her Slovak blog: www.varsik.sk. She is  writing for: www.writingbrussels.com

 

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