Bright lights blurred past the car speeding along the country road. Bill Marshall had one arm wrapped around Lizzie’s shoulders. The wind sprinting through his hair and he felt alive. The moonlight guided them along the road, contrasting with the electric streetlights. The roaring engine of his Lamborghini brought a comforting hum in the darkness, as it carried them through the night. Bill had grown up in this area and knew where to avoid the police. They wouldn’t be spoiling his fun.
Bill woke up from the same dream that he had been having for the last twenty years. The last time he felt like he had belonged. He turned on his side and watched Lizzie sleep, her golden hair slowly turning grey. Bill had also lost most of his hair, except for a few tufts around his ears. When did they both get so old? A beeping broke the darkness and Lizzie thumped the alarm clock silent.
“I guess you’re working late today, as well?” Bill sighed out.
“You know I have to.” Lizzie sat up and as Bill stared into her face, he could still see a spark in her electric blue eyes that had made her so attractive all those years ago.
“You’ve been working late since we were twenty-five. When are you going to take some time off?”
“When we can pay our mortgage without starving.”
“Do you remember those nights in the lambo? Those were great times.”
“Yeah they were.” Lizzie agreed, before standing up and walking to the shower.
“I dreamt about them last night. I miss those times.”
“Bill, I need the car for work today. Make sure you leave enough time to get the bus for Jimmy’s go-kart lessons. It’s his qualifying race for the club league today. You can’t be late for that.”
Bill struggled to keep up with his son who was tearing towards the bus stop. Jimmy zoomed out ahead of him, kicking up the smell of wet dust. He was a go-kart in himself.
“Keep up dad!” Jimmy called back.
Bill hobbled towards his son who was running around the bus shelter, much to the amusement of an elderly woman.
“Is that your son?” She asked.
“Yeah. That’s him.” Bill spluttered. A moist stain was growing on his back and under his arms; he regretted taking out his heavy raincoat.
“I wished I had as much energy as him when I was his age.” She laughed.
“Don’t we all?” Bill agreed, watching Jimmy drive around the bus-shelter, weaving in and out of the other commuters. Stepping on the brakes. Flooring the gas. The bus pulled in just as Jimmy was gearing up for his final lap. He sped onto the bus and pulled into a seat. Bill scanned his oyster card and sat down next to his son.
“Calm down, Jimmy. We’ll be there soon.”
“But Dad. I want to be there now.”
Bill smiled in response and leant his head against the window. The remnants of the morning’s rain shower trickled down the glass. He felt the engine’s vibrations grow, as the bus inched into the lunchtime rush. Bill sighed, as he saw all of the cars and vans caught up in the spider’s web of the traffic.
“Dad, can’t you make the bus go any faster?”
“I wish I could, son, but looks like we’re stuck here for the moment.”
Jimmy sighed and carried on twitching in his seat. Bill turned his attention back to the window and stared out at the adjacent lane where cars were speeding past the traffic jam.
Bill and Jimmy rushed to the reception of the race track where Bill blamed the bus’s slowness for their lateness. He wished Lizzie was here. Not only was the go-karting club a chance for children to socialise, but also their parents. Lizzie would anyway. Bill never felt comfortable. He just wanted the last minute checks to the karts to take place.
And then they were off. Within seconds, the calm silence had been obliterated by the growls of engines. The spray of the surface water. The sizzling of rubber. Images of bright lights and empty roads crept into Bill’s vision. He shook his head and the images were overpowered by the screams of the parents next to him. Bill smiled at the intensity of this noise. He chuckled at the ridiculousness of the parents taking the races so seriously, when they were just casual races designed to instil some friendly competition into their children. Bill shook his head and left. He could fit in some driving before Jimmy’s race was finished.
Bill caught the bus to the Lamborghini showroom. He had been itching to get back behind the wheel of the luxury sports cars. To feel the adrenaline growling in his veins. The wind dancing in his hair. The bright lights ahead of him. The gorgeous blonde sitting next to him.
“This is Chapman Road.” The electric tannoy blared out, reminding Bill that he needed to alight here for the Lamborghini showroom.
He stepped into the showroom and breathed in the majesty. He was surrounded by twelve of the mighty beasts. Aventador SV Roadsters and Huracán Coupés amongst others. Silver, red and black. Sleek. Low to the ground. The centrepiece of the collection was in the middle of the room. The one-off Centenario had a polished black bodywork and could go from 0-60mph in just under three seconds.
One of the shop assistants approached Bill. She was in her twenties, with blonde hair in a ponytail and blue eyes. Simple make up accompanied a slate grey skirt suit. Bill liked her minimalist look. It made her prettier.
“Are you here to sample a car, Mr Marshall, or just to flirt with me?” She asked.
Bill gave his most innocent smile. “I was never flirting with you, Natalie. I just said that you looked just like my wife when she was your age. She was gorgeous too.”
“Goodbye, Mr Marshall.”
“Wait, I’ll try the Centenario.”
“Very well. Meet me outside in ten minutes.”
Ten minutes later, Bill was joined by Natalie who had driven up in the Centenario. She switched over to the passenger seat, whilst Bill sat behind the wheel. He relaxed into the leather seats and ran his hand across the steering wheel.
“You know I used to drive a lambo when I was your age.”
“Yes, Mr Marshall, you’ve told me that before,” Natalie reached into her handbag and retrieved a clipboard, “I have a few routes in mind, but is there anything you wanted to try out?”
“Any chance we can get this baby up to top speed?” Bill asked, with a smile.
Natalie didn’t return it. “No, Mr Marshall. This baby’s top speed is 217 mph, which we aren’t getting to today. However, we can take the Tracy route, which if you remember, takes you along some of the main roads. You can get up to 50, 60 tops.”
Bill sighed and nodded. Sunshine was scaring away the worst of the rain leading him to open up the roof.
He turned right out of the showroom. Progressing towards the traffic lights, he shifted into second gear. The transition was seamless. The light hit red and Bill rolled the car to a stop. He looked in the reflection of the people carrier next to him. He saw a young man with a full head of hair and a gorgeous blonde in the seat next to him.
“Eyes on the road, Mr Marshall.” Natalie warned.
Bill looked back at the traffic lights, which had just hit green. An impatient beep behind him was all the motivation he needed to pull away. He almost immediately shifted the car into second gear, which he kept it in, as they approached a steep hill. They began climbing it and Bill marvelled at how easily the Centenario was managing it. There was no sound of the engine struggling.
“That’s the V12 at work there.” Natalie commented, inspired by how impressed Bill was.
Bill took the Centenario over the crest of the hill where he saw a 30mph speed sign. He changed to third gear. They were rapidly leaving the town behind with terrace housing being replaced by bluebells and hawthorn trees. It wouldn’t be too long before he could hit 50mph. Bill couldn’t wait. A left. Then a right and he was onto a dual carriageway. It was a country road with no lamp posts and pasture land on either sides. Bill brought the Lamborghini up to 50mph, loving every second of it. The car had the power of a boxer, but the grace of a ballerina. Bill wished he could take it faster. He used to do that when he was younger. Driving along the country roads, knowing when to slow down and speed up. Where the speed cameras were. The golden sun or the stars and the moon suspended overhead. Silence except for the laughter of the gorgeous blonde next to him. Bill looked at her. His Lizzy.
“Mr Marshall.” Natalie yanked the steering wheel, narrowly missing a reticulated lorry coming from the other direction. Bill pulled into a lay-by and got his bearings.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened there.
“You almost lost control. That lorry would have made mincemeat of us.”
Bill could see that Natalie was breathless. Her skin was pale and sweaty. He watched her step out of the car and quickly observed it. It had been a close call, but not that close. The car hadn’t been damaged.
“Give me five minutes and I’ll drive us back to the showroom.”
After Natalie had recovered, she began driving them back. They drove in silence, whilst Bill replayed the events in his mind. What the hell had happened? He had never lost control like that before. Had he really seen Lizzie when he had looked at Natalie? She looked so much like her.
“Goodbye, Mr Marshall.”
Bill had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t realised they were back at the showroom. He left the car and looked at his watch. His eyes widened, as he realised what time it was. He needed to pick Jimmy up from his go-kart lesson. Bill saw the bus approach and he started running.
As soon as Bill opened the front door, Jimmy manouvered around Lizzy and scootered up the stairs.
“You’re back home early.” Bill commented.
“I swapped shifts with one of the girls. What’s up with Jimmy?”
“I don’t know. He won’t talk to me.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
Bill nodded. “I’ll fry some bacon and eggs. Jimmy’s favourite.”
Bill headed downstairs to the kitchen and reached into the cupboard for a plate. As he took it out, he realised his hand was trembling. He dropped it and it shattered. He cleaned up the mess and reached for the frying pan that was at the back of the cupboard. He grabbed it, but it was stuck on something. He yanked on it and fell onto his backside, as the cooking utensils skittered across the floor. He sighed and stood up. This was when he realised that Lizzie was standing behind him, holding her car keys. As she began speaking, she put them down on the kitchen counter.
“Jimmy says you weren’t at his race today. Where the hell were you?”
“Let me clean this mess up first.”
“William, where were you?”
“You only call me William when you’re angry.”
“I’m furious, William. Jimmy won his qualifying race today. He’s in his club league. Do you know how much he wanted to win? Do you know much he wanted you to see him win?”
“I screwed up, okay. When I got to the races, I realised that I didn’t have my wallet or phone on me. I went down to the station to see if someone had handed them in.”
“Jimmy said this is the fifth time you’ve been missing. Lose your phone and wallet all those times too?”
“Lizzie, he’s in a go-kart. Do you know how fast those things go?”
“William, stop with the rubbish and tell me the truth.”
“How do you know it’s rubbish?”
“I remembered what you told me about your dream in the lambo, so I thought that you might have gone to the Lamborghini showroom. After I finished talking to Jimmy, I drove down there to check. There was a very nice, young, pretty blonde girl there, called Natalie. She explained you’ve been there five times before and this time you almost crashed the car. But there’s still one thing that doesn’t make sense. What would make you miss Jimmy’s race, almost crash a car, and then lie about it? Unless it was Natalie.”
“What are you asking me?”
“You’re really going to make me say it? Are you sleeping with her?”
“Of course not. How could you even ask that?”
“She’s blonde. She looked like me when I was her age.”
“I love Jimmy and I love you. I would never hurt you like that.”
Lizzie rose a hand to her face. She stifled a sob. “But you have hurt both of us, Bill. Even now, you’re still not telling me the truth.”
“Ok. I’ll tell you.” Bill said, after a few seconds’ hesitation.
“Jimmy deserves to hear this too. I’ll go get him. Come join us in the living room.”
After Bill had mentally prepared himself, he joined Jimmy and Lizzie in the living room. Jimmy was curled up on Lizzie’s lap, fondling a toy car. He sat down opposite them. Jimmy was still playing with the car.
“I was scared, Lizzie. I was so scared.”
“Of what? I don’t understand.” Lizzie could see Bill rubbing his eyes and was beginning to feel her anger evaporating away.
“Twenty years ago, we had everything, Lizzie. The lambo, the business, my hair. We were moving up in the world and then we lost it all. And now you have your job and I’m stuck taking the bus. I remember when we were first dating. All those long nights in the car. I’ve never felt happier. And I wanted life to be like that again. That’s why I did it. It made me feel good. I felt like a man again. I felt alive.”
Bill looked at Lizzie who reached over and hugged him. He then felt Jimmy hug him around the waist. After a few minutes, he broke free.
“I want to make this right with both of you.”
“You want to make this right, then take Jimmy to his first league race next week and be there to see him win. I’ll take the bus to work, so you can have the car.”
Bill crouched by Jimmy. “I’ll be there to see you win, little man.”
“Wild Lamborghinis couldn’t drag me away,” Bill then faced Lizzie, “are we alright?”
“If you can do this, then we might be.”
Bill trudged through the rest of the week and on Friday he was watching Jimmy fidget in the seat next to him. Bill smiled at this and pressed down on the gas. They had left in plenty of time and were making good progress to the race course. Bill sighed in contentment and looked up at the sky. The overcast sky shone a diffused light downwards onto the tarmac below making everything bright but dull. Bill returned his attention to the road and took a brief glance at his internal mirror.
“How are you feeling, Jimmy? You nervous about the race?”
“A little. What you said to mum. You will be there, won’t you? You won’t leave?”
“Of course I’ll be there. I told your mum and I’m telling you. I’m going to watch you win that race.”
And they were off. Bill watched his son accelerate up the first straight and turn around the corner. Around him all of the parents were still screaming and cheering, deafening out the engines of the go-karts. Bill shook his head at these people. He wanted his son to win, but he didn’t have to scream to the heavens about it. He looked back out at the race track and watched his son disappear into a tunnel. Further down, one competitor sharply cut off another one, causing a furious torrent of abuse from one of the dads in the crowd. Jimmy emerged from the tunnel weaving in and out of the other drivers and coming up on first place, whilst the parents were yelling for their children to go faster and faster. Bill rubbed his face. He shook his head again and started feeling in his pocket for his keys, before moving towards the exit.
Bill slammed the door shut and collapsed into the seat. There was no way he could stay there. He had to get out. All of those parents were like spectators in a colosseum shouting for the losing gladiator to be executed. He couldn’t be part of that. Bill stuck his keys into the ignition and the car jolted into life. He maneuvered out of the car park and onto the main road. He glanced at his side mirror and pressed down on the accelerator. Bill looked in his internal mirror and thought about Jimmy. He needed someone better. Bill bit his lip and brought himself up to the speed limit. He needed to drive. He returned his gaze to the road and locked his eyes on the horizon.
I began writing Fast Car when I was bored in a lecture, and it is inspired from Tracey Chapman’s song of the same name.
Within the story, I used the “fast car,” more as a symbol for progression and development, rather than as a way of escaping generational poverty.
As for the ending, I always wanted it to end with Bill running away. He’s a character who is ill-suited for the tedium of everyday life. He likes to live life in the fast lane and I don’t think that any transformation would have been realistic or suitable.