Sample Chapter from Zombie. “Chapter One.”
Laura peered out the window, at the trees rushing by in the darkness. The silvery moon seemed to mock her, a faraway destination forever unreachable. If she could only sprout wings, she would take flight and soar above the Earth, spiralling up and up until the air ran out. Anything to not feel like this. To not feel so trapped.
Her breathing was shallow, her head swimming, heart beating fast.
“Will you cheer up, for God’s sake?” said Danny, glancing sideways at her. He had both hands clamped around the steering wheel, and he was hunched forward in concentration.
I’m angry, too, thought Laura. Tonight was so humiliating.
“I’m fine,” she said, a petulant mutter. She refused to look at her husband, and didn’t particularly wish to speak with him either, as arguing would only make things worse. It was always better to let things go until moods calmed and tempers eased.
She pinched her thigh and twisted, a distraction from anxiety. And rage.
Danny grumbled. “You’re not fine, Lor. You’re sitting there like a bear with a sore head. It’s doing my head in.” He switched on the car’s high beams as they merged onto an unlit road. As he did so, he clumsily knocked the indicator on and had to cancel the signal with an annoyed grunt. “Fuck’s sake.”
Laura sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to let this go. She could feel him seething in the driver’s seat, even without looking at him. “I’m just disappointed that we didn’t stay,” she admitted. “That’s all.”
“Oh right,” he said. “You’re disappointed we didn’t stay the night at the family mansion? Excuse me if I’m uncomfortable being surrounded by your dad’s wealth. All the poverty and starvation in the world, and some people have kitchens the size of tennis courts. It winds me right up. It’s wrong.”
Laura rolled her eyes. Danny cared little about poverty whenever they passed a beggar on the street – and he would avoid, like the plague, anyone who tried to approach him with a clipboard. But voicing that out loud, while tempting, wouldn’t be worth the blowback. Not while Danny was in such a foul mood.
It was past midnight. Laura’s last glass of wine had been over an hour ago, which meant she was sobering up and getting a headache. Despite her grogginess, she couldn’t hold her tongue – not when it concerned her parents. “It’s not a mansion, Dan. It’s a house. A house my dad paid for with his own money and his own hard work. No one ever handed him a thing, so stop acting like success is something to be ashamed of.”
“He might have worked for it, Lor, but you didn’t. Why is it fair that I grew up in a flat with broken windows and no carpets while you grew up in a six-bedroom mansion?”
It’s not a mansion. Are you trying to cause an argument?
“It’s not my fault you had a shitty childhood, Dan. Mine was no picnic either, despite what you like to make out. Either way, they’re Rose’s grandparents, and she hasn’t seen them in eighteen months.” She glanced back at their daughter, sleeping in her child’s seat with her plump little chin resting against her shoulder. Copper-coloured hair – inherited from Laura – spilled down her face like a silken veil. “I wanted to stay the night,” she said. “Is that so wrong? I wanted to spend some time with my mum and dad.”
Danny grunted. “Even if it makes me feel like a piece of shit? Christ, you’re so selfish, Lor.”
I’m selfish? Are you kidding me?
She finally turned to look at him, wanting to reach out and strangle him. If only she had the spine to do it. “I don’t want to fight with you, Dan. Let’s just get home so we can go to bed. Rose will be tired and cranky in the morning, and I’m the one who’s going to have to deal with her.”
Danny whacked the steering wheel with his palms. “I have work, Lor. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to pay the bills or not?”
She clenched her fists, fingernails digging into her palms. “I’m so tired of this,” she said.
“Tired of what?” Danny’s anger broke for a moment. A flash of panic crossed his face. “What are you saying, Laura? Tired of what? Me?”
She looked back at Rose again, holding back tears and taking deep breaths to calm the bats flying around in her tummy. “This. Us. The arguing and fighting. I’m tired of you being angry at me all the time.”
Danny huffed, but he gave no reply.
The air inside the car grew stuffy as they drove down a straight, undulating road en route to the M5 motorway. It would take them away from Devon and back towards their three-bed semi in Longbridge. With little to no traffic, the journey should take around three hours. By the time they got to sleep, dawn would be depressingly close.
If only we had stayed at my parent’s house. We would be having a few last drinks about now, before going upstairs to snuggle up in my nice old bed.
They could have made the long trip home tomorrow, in the brightness of the day, in far kinder moods. She loved Danny to bits – he understood her in ways that no one else did – but sometimes she wanted to kick him right in the face.
Don’t be so mean. He tries his best. It’s not his fault he’s a little messed up.
And he’s right about our childhoods. I had everything as a kid and he had nothing. Being at my parent’s house probably did make him feel like shit.
He just needs to relax and get out of his own head.
I don’t want to fight.
Danny rolled his window down halfway and inhaled the rushing air. His messy brown hair fluttered in the breeze, and he squinted, as if the road ahead confused him. How many beers had he downed before bundling her and Rose into their spluttering Nissan Qashqai and speeding off down the driveway? She had begged him not to drive, embarrassed and horrified, but once Danny made his mind up about something, he never changed it.
“I know you wanted to stay,” he said, a little less angry, “but I really do have to work, babe. It’s bad timing, that’s all. We’ll drive back down to see your parents soon, I promise.”
“I dunno, do I? Soon. It’s only because of lockdowns we haven’t seen them more. That’s not my fault, is it?”
“Yes, I know Covid isn’t your fault, Danny, but Rose needs to see her family.” He went to speak, but she cut him off. “My family. Not just yours. Mum and Dad want to see their only grandchild.”
He nodded, but his expression had turned moody, a subtle shift she knew all too well. A slight narrowing of his eyes, a tautness to his jaw, and inhalations a half-second too long. The national lockdowns during the last eighteen months had brought Danny’s grumpy side out on an almost permanent basis. Things were slowly getting better, especially now that he was back at work, but their marriage had not yet fully healed – still punctured and bleeding.
We used to be so happy.
Yes. What am I thinking?
Laura didn’t want to push Danny too much – it would only drag out his bad mood – so she stayed silent. Eventually, he would calm down and see her point of view, so she would just wait. The problem was that he had utterly humiliated her tonight, and she didn’t know whether to scream or cry about it. Her anger was so thick, so viscous, that it made her contemplate leaving him. Once upon a time, that would have seemed absurd. But lately…
I can’t imagine myself with anybody else but Dan. Who else would put up with me and all my issues? We just need to work on things. Find a way to stop fighting. Rose deserves a loving home, and I’m not ready to give up on my marriage.
But I can’t take any more of this.
Laura leant forward and switched on the Nissan’s radio at a low volume. It risked waking Rose, but the tense silence was unbearable. Danny seemed to take it as a hostile act, because he squeezed the steering wheel and put his foot down. The speedometer ticked upwards. He’d been taking things slowly until now, but his anger had clearly dismissed that caution. Thankfully, he slowed down a moment later and sighed.
“Look, I’m really sorry, okay? I know I acted like a twat tonight, but it wasn’t on purpose.” He shook his head and cleared his throat. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes, Lor. You and Rose deserve better, but your dad’s house just makes me feel…”
She looked at him. “What?”
“Inadequate. He gave you everything as a kid, but what have I given Rose?”
“All the stuff I had growing up doesn’t matter, I’ve told you before. I only ever wanted my mum and dad to spend time with me, but Dad was always working and Mum was… well, she was Mum. Rose loves you, and she gets to be with you every night. That’s all she needs. You’re a wonderful dad.”
His dark expression finally lifted. His sky-blue eyes seemed a little brighter. “I just need to work on being a better husband, huh?”
“Yeah, you do, you dickhead.”
With a chuckle, he reached over and squeezed her thigh. She put her hand on top of his and stroked between his knuckles where a thick scar marked a childhood accident. The anger hadn’t left her – nowhere near – but she was glad to at least agree on a truce for now. A weight lifted from her chest.
“I’ll do better,” he said, clearing his throat and refocusing on the road. “I promise.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
“I know, but I mean it this time.”
“Heard that, too.” She chuckled and quickly veered away from the subject. “Hey, you think we can stop and get a McDonald’s closer to home? I know me, and I’m gonna be starving.”
“Sure. Just like the old days, huh? We’d always grab a Maccies when we were hanging, wouldn’t we? Shit, when was the last time we went out together and got proper rat-arsed?”
“Before Rose was born.”
He nodded. “Yeah, from the moment you first found out you were pregnant. Wow, that must have been three – four – years ago, then?”
“Must be.” She had quit drinking as soon as she’d fallen pregnant with Rose, who was now three years of age. It had indeed been a long time since they’d been rat-arsed together. “Do you miss it?” she asked him.
He was silent for a moment, before shrugging. “I wouldn’t change things for the world, but yeah, sometimes I miss it just being us. It used to feel like we were a team, you know? You and me against the world. Partners in crime.”
She frowned. “We’re still a team. Now more than ever.” With a smile, she looked back at their sleeping daughter, then she reached towards the rear-view mirror. She tapped the Mr Bump hanging from it, and the blue and white soft toy swung back and forth, spinning around and dancing. “We’re a family now.”
Danny nodded, but his smile disappeared. “I suppose you’re right. Do you ever miss it? Our wild days?”
She thought back to the past, replaying the handful of years between taking her A levels and beginning a career in HR at the supermarket chain where she now worked. It had been a carefree time of disposable jobs, rapid-fire weekends, and relentless sex. “No,” she said. “I don’t miss it at all. I enjoyed it at the time, don’t get me wrong, and I enjoy looking back on it now, but it’s all in the past. Where we are now, that’s where I want to be. The present.”
Danny chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment, but then he looked at her and grinned. “The present is pretty awesome, huh? I have two wonderful women in my life.”
“Yeah, you’re a lucky man, so appreciate it.”
“Lucky man. Yeah, that’s me.” He took another deep breath from the air rushing in through his open window. A bitter odour filled the car, perhaps signalling a rainstorm on its way. “I love you, Lor.”
“I love you too.”
“Love you three times.”
“Love you four. Sometimes, I think you forget that.”
He sat up straight and cricked his neck, like he was trying to wake himself up. “You’re right. I’m an idiot. Okay…” He blew air out of his cheeks. “Let’s just move on. The past is a broken glass. Try to fix it and you’ll end up cutting yourself.”
“That’s clever. Did you come up with that yourself?”
“Nah. Peter Schmeichel said it on Match of the Day.”
“Well, I’ll give you a point for remembering it.”
The tightness in Laura’s chest receded as the tension went away. It left her feeling fragile and exhausted. Sometimes, when she and Danny fought, they would refuse to talk to each other for hours – stomping around the house and being dramatic. Other times, they would scream and shout until one of them gave in to tears – usually her. It was easier to get the ‘I’m sorrys’ and ‘I love yous’ out of the way quickly and move on. Now, all she needed to do was smooth things over with her parents. She would need to make up an excuse they would believe – that her dad would believe – but it wouldn’t be easy. Her dad had been all smiles tonight when Danny had hastened them into the car, and he had acted as though he hadn’t even noticed Danny’s sudden mood shift. But she knew he would use her sudden exit against her at some point when it best suited him. Her dad had a way of making her feel like a scolded child, even at twenty-nine.
I deserve it, though. He’s barely seen Rose since she was born, and we just snatched her away in the middle of the night. Mum looked like she was ready to cry. Not that she spoke up and did anything to keep us from leaving.
“I’m sorry you felt uncomfortable at my parent’s house.” She tried to summon the will to be the bigger person, but it was difficult. “Next time, just talk to me, okay? I’m on your side. I’m always on your side.”
Danny appeared embarrassed, which she was used to. Guilt and self-loathing often followed his anger, and he would sometimes grow sullen for days. That could be as bad as the argument itself, so it was worth avoiding.
“I promise,” he said. “Next time will be better.”
“Okay. Let’s just forget it, then. It’s over with.” She pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket and unlocked the screen. With a throaty sigh, she opened up the messaging app and started typing.
Danny turned his head. “What are you doing?”
“Texting Dad to apologise, and to let him know we’re safe. We shouldn’t be drink-driving, Dan. It’s so irresponsible. We have Rose in the back, and if we—”
Danny shocked her by snatching the phone right out of her hands. He held it away from her, over his shoulder. “Don’t you apologise for me. We left because I had work, and that’s it. End of. I don’t need to explain myself to your dad.”
“You acted like a dickhead. We were all having a good time, playing cards, and then your mood flipped like it always does. Dad won’t believe you got a text from work at eleven o’clock at night. He’ll be thinking you made it up as an excuse to leave.”
He stared at her, ignoring the road ahead. “You think I’m lying?”
“No, I don’t think you’re lying. Just let me text my dad, so he knows we’re safe, okay? Hey, watch the road, will you?”
He continued glaring at her. “Fuck your dad. Like you said, he wasn’t even around when you were growing up. He’s a piece of shit. Why don’t you see that? Why do you care so much about someone who treats you like dirt? Your mum is like a frightened little mouse.”
“Will you just watch the road, Danny? And give me back my phone!”
She tried to grab it, but he tossed it right out of his open window. It disappeared into the darkness, swallowed in an instant.
Laura’s mouth fell open. Her eyes went wide. “I… I can’t believe you just did that. What the hell, Danny?”
He shrugged like it was nothing – like it was completely normal to throw someone’s phone out of a moving vehicle. “You spend too much time on that sodding thing anyway,” he said. “Always texting your mates and planning God knows what.”
“Are you kidding me?” She shook her head in disbelief. “What mates? I don’t see anybody. I’ve spent most of the last two years stuck at home with Rose.” Her knee bobbed anxiously in the footwell. She pinched her thigh again, trying to keep her temper from bursting forth and making things worse. She couldn’t decide if she wanted an ejector seat button or a knife, but she spotted something else instead: Danny’s phone. It was sitting in a cradle attached to a heating vent beside the steering wheel. Unable to stop herself, she grabbed it and whipped it across Danny’s body, flinging it right out of the window to join whatever fate had befallen hers. “There,” she said. “See how you like it.”
What the hell did I just do?
My temper. My goddamn temper.
This is going to be bad.
“You psycho!” Danny stamped on the brake and clutch. The tyres squealed, and the Nissan came to a barely controlled stop that threw both of them forward.
Laura cursed and turned in her seat to check on Rose. Her tiny head had rocked back against her chair. Her eyelids flickered, opening briefly, but thankfully she remained asleep.
Danny grabbed Laura’s arm and squeezed. “I need my phone for work, you idiot.”
“You threw my phone out of the window first!” There was a tremor to her voice, a rising panic mixed with utter incredulity. She still couldn’t believe what he had just done. And what she had done in response. They were insane. Both of them.
Danny glared at her, and for the first time, she feared he might lash out and hit her. For almost a full minute, he just sat there, silently glowering. Eventually, he licked his lips and spoke in a weary tone. “All my photos of Rose were on my phone. Damn it.”
That hurt, and it made Laura regret what she’d done. Her only defence was that he had done it first. “All mine were, too. What the hell did we just do?”
Danny switched off the engine and rubbed at his face with the palms of both hands and then massaged his eyes with his knuckles. After a moment, he yanked up the handbrake and flopped back in his seat. He stared at the beige roof lining ten inches from his nose. “What a night. What a shitty, horrible, awful night.”
Laura folded her arms and stared straight ahead at the empty road. Where was the nearest house? Where was the nearest car? It felt so lonely out here in the dark, by themselves, in the middle of the night. “Well, at least we haven’t killed each other. Yet.”
He groaned. “Why do you always have to make things out to be worse than they are, Lor?”
“To annoy you, obviously.”
They sat in silence for a minute, parked in the middle of the road in the middle of the night. It was Danny who spoke first, and he did so as he restarted the engine. “Let’s go back a bit and look for my phone. It’s probably smashed to pieces, but we might be able to get the photos off it.”
Laura offered no words. She just wanted this night to end.
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