Across the hot, dry car park the heat hazed, a shimmering veil stretching from the bonnet of the 1972 Cadillac Eldorado where they had slept, all the way to the faux-Mahogany doors of the sickly yellow building they had left at 3am earlier that morning.
Her head fell from its resting place on her shoulder and the sudden jerk threw her from the drink-induced slumber she had been gradually getting comfortable in. It was barely 11am, and already the heat was burning up the tarmac, the sun shining brightly down, even through the filthy windscreen of the car, which probably hadn’t been moved in the twenty years that it had been in use. She blinked, her eye make-up sticking, and, bleary and blurred, tried to piece together where she was.
The glaring sunshine burnt her eyes as it bounced deftly off the varying, but consistently garish, shades of pinks, yellows and reds known so well in that desert city, and came to a hurtling rest deep in her hangover. She fleetingly imagined a cardboard vinyl sleeve, with beams of light bouncing through a pyramid but she couldn’t name the band. She shut one eye, then the other. As she alternated eyes, something moved on her left. Refusing to move her head for fear of triggering another wave of nausea, she slowly rolled just her eyes towards the opposite side of the car.
She moaned and quickly looked right again, seeking escape. The thing on her left moved again and she was suddenly aware that it was no longer sleeping. Like her, it seemed unwilling to move, unwilling to disturb the heat in the car and bring into realisation the severity of the actions neither of them remembered. She took a chance and glanced left. Its eyes were still closed, not in rest but in resistance, as it fought to keep the sunlight out. It was quite still. She turned her head, slowly and tentatively, and examined the thing in the passenger seat.
It had sand and mud coloured hair, with tell-tale dark roots. It was wearing a red and green checked lumberjack shirt, unbuttoned beyond a point acceptable in public, and blue and white candy striped boxer shorts. It had a wide, square jawline on which it had a light covering of stubble, haphazard pencil marks applied by a nervous exam-taker. She risked looking lower. It had good legs, skinny, but tanned and toned, attractive all the same. It also, inexplicably, had shiny patent leather dress shoes on, with no socks and no laces. As it gradually came into focus, facts and flashes of memory begun to swim into view.
‘Brad’, its name badge confirmed, worked at ‘Harry’s Margarita Bar’. The scuffed badge had a gold star embedded in the black plastic.
‘At least he’s good at his job,’ she mused internally, ‘whatever it might be.’
She gave up trying to understand why ‘Brad’ was in the passenger seat of the car, or indeed, how she might have ended up in the car, in the first place.
The car had a wooden dashboard, and old-fashioned ribbed leather seats, which had started to decay over the years, and in the heat, were unbearably sticky. The bodywork was a sickly blue-green colour, custom blended by years of unprofessional paint jobs, intended to cover the bumpy rust patches she could see on the wing mirror to her right. Strangely, the car was not resting flat, but raised high on the left, she realised as she looked out of the window. She didn’t want to think about what may be underneath the front left wheel, mentally crossing her fingers for a rising bollard or a misplaced kerb, taken badly in the night.
She looked out across the bonnet, and blinked furiously some more, this time not to dislodge 38-hour old eyeliner, but to read the glistening silver sign above the large, dark wooden doors of the yellow building they were parked (she used the term loosely) outside of. The letters gleamed, rendering them almost impossible to make out. The first word, ‘LITTLE’, was in the shade of a grotesque balcony that jutted out from the corner of the building, like the prow of a boat, bound up in plastic ivy. Towards the end of the sign, she thought she saw the word ‘RIDGE’. Her hangover leapt upon it – ‘Little Ridge’, a landmark!
She was relieved and, escape in sight, she lifted a reluctant arm to open the car door, leaning out into the dry heat. As the sunlight bounced off the car’s blue body, and the wing mirror’s dusty reflective plastic she was momentarily blinded. Her vision returned sharply, and she saw her hangover’s instant explanation of the word ‘RIDGE’ had been wildly misleading. In fact, she wasn’t reading ‘RIDGE’ at all, but ‘MARRIAGE’, the fourth word of a much more concerning sign.
‘THE LITTLE YELLOW MARRIAGE CENTRE’. She inhaled. Much worse than a rising bollard.
Wincing she leant back into the car and rolled her head back down onto the shoulder where it had previously sought solace, except this time she kept her eyes open. Slowly, like an overdramatic mid-90s horror film, she looked, wide eyed down at her left hand. Another moan, but this time from ‘Brad’, to her left, confirmed that he too, was transfixed by her left hand. She touched it, revealing the dirty green mark it had left on her finger. It was definitely there.
It wasn’t gold so much as yellow, and it didn’t fit properly. The reluctant arm she’d previously used to initiate her escape reached across her body unbidden and, stretching out a finger, spun it – once more revealing the green alien skin underneath. How it had got there, she didn’t know. What it meant, she had no idea. How to get out of the situation she seemed to be in? She was clueless.
Until last week (hell week, as her friends were calling it now) she’d been a normal 25 year old. Not entirely normal, despite those being her own choice of words. Incredibly successful was more appropriate. She had a job in the city – that is to say, the City of London, she’d never needed to specify until now – and she wasn’t a banker. That meant that essentially, in the current climate, she’d hit the financial and social jackpot. Her position in Human Resources was comparatively secure. All her friends from University had also landed in London, her closest friends working in the city-grey tower block which stood beside her own. She loved their long lunch breaks, their after-work happy hours and their late nights out, laughing as hard as they could in their pencil skirts.
Until last week. Last week was what had provoked this most unlikely of reactions. Last week was to blame for her being stuck here, sweating, in this car, somehow inexplicably and inextricably linked to this poor horrified stranger. Last week was to blame for her pounding ears, her assaulted eyes, and all the other symptoms of her sleep-starved headache. Last week was entirely culpable for her churning, turning waves of alcohol soaked nausea. Last week was the week that life as she knew it had ended and any attempts to escape it had only resulted in requiring escaping from themselves. Like now.