HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

HC 12014

Rear View Mirror is a hidden treasure. There’s much allusion to films not everyone may have heard of, but don’t let that put you off. In essence this is a story about the serendipitous nature of friendship and, more particularly, of the loneliness engendered by being the one amongst the many in a city that doesn’t care about who you are or what you do.

Rosemary’s fiction has previously won the Ursula Wadey Memorial Prize and been published in The View from Here, Alliterati and Making Memories, an anthology of fiction based on the experiences of York care home residents.

Her ultimate goal is to publish a novel, but she has a picture of Emily Dickinson on her noticeboard as a reminder that producing beautiful writing is still worth doing without any literary success.

HISSAC Highlands and Islands Short Story Association and Writing Competition

Rear View Mirror

They’d shown the film on Chelsea’s first week at university. Her new life, where she danced in clubs at night and watched films on the huge lecture theatre screen by day, was already making her dizzy, and from the opening shot of steam rising from a New York street to ominous drumming, to Robert De Niro’s eyes staring out of the rear-view mirror at the end, it left her barely keeping her balance.
Four years later, it made explaining her new job embarrassing to her friends.
- I hope you don’t have to clean the cum and blood off the back seat , Matt messaged on Facebook.
- No, it’s not that bad. Gives me time to write. How’s your job?
- Great! We’ve just started a new project and I’m hopefully going to be assistant producer.
- Well done!

Her first passengers of the night were girls in glittery miniskirts and boys in leather jackets, prattling with pre-drink, the way she used to on the way to a club. Later she’d get older customers who stumbled gigglingly out of houses that were lit up for dinner parties, leaving the car they’d come in parked in the drive. Or she’d get calls to drive from one dark address to another in the middle of the night. The passengers were sober and solitary, wrapped in troubles of their own, and didn’t speak to her beyond a mumbled ‘Thank you’ as they tipped her. They were always generous tippers.
Sometimes at the end of the night she picked up the same girls, or practically the same, as she’d started with. They were alone now, waiting near a street light and peering down the street for her arrival. She felt pleasingly chivalrous, as if she should be riding a white horse rather than driving a Volkswagen.

She couldn’t think of another film which showed life from the driver’s cab. Taxi drivers were as hard to find on film as lesbians, and they mostly existed to ferry the important characters to more exciting destinations. In the opening scene of Slacker, Richard Linklater himself plays the passenger, prattling away – “It’s like, every choice or decision you make, the thing you choose not to do fractions off and becomes its own reality” – to a driver who never speaks or moves his face. The only woman taxi driver she’d seen was the one who flirts with Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction.
She hadn’t seen many women driving public transport in the real world either. When she’d got on the bus in the middle of a grey January day, she’d seen Aiko at the wheel – Aiko with very short hair dyed the red of a department store Father Christmas costume, silver studs in her nose and right ear and a silver hook in her lower lip that made Chelsea think of a fish hoisted up and thrashing in air it couldn’t breathe – and she couldn’t look away. She’d just left work, cradling a cardboard box in her arms like a baby. That was all she had to show for six months at a small and unsuccessful documentary production company, a whole box to take the contents of her desk home in. It held nothing but a chocolate-bar branded mug full of inkless pens.
On the drive back to her street she watched Aiko’s head, before she knew she was called Aiko, turning small and shrunken in the centre of the bus’ huge square rear-view mirror. She could see the reflection of her eyes, but they never met her gaze. She’d got off and was halfway down the street by the smashed-up telephone box before she heard a voice yelling and turned to see the bus, stranded like a beached whale at the stop with the passengers turning to peer through the windows, and the driver striding down the street towards her.

- You left this behind.
She’d taken the box and thanked her, but Aiko didn’t turn away. Asking a strange woman this conversation always made her feel like a hero in a forgettable action film, launching grappling hooks onto the side of a moving truck and leaping into the unknown. But she swallowed and opened her mouth.

- Can I buy you a drink sometime, to say thank you?
- I don’t like people buying me drinks.
- OK, sorry –
- But I will buy one with you.

* She felt ashamed that she could admire Taxi Driver, but not love it. She reserved that for the films that most cheered her up, and one day, while trying to distract herself from a passenger who kept on yelling into his phone “It’s alright, mate, I’m in a taxi – I said, a taxi”, she realised that they were both love stories with final scenes set in taxis. And Japanese caricatures. That’s a weird coincidence. Maybe it was foreshadowing how my life would turn out.
She wondered how the taxi drivers in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Lost in Translation would describe their version of events, if they were ever asked. Well, that famous American actor from the whiskey adverts told me to stop and got out and chased after a blonde white woman in the crowd and kissed her, then he whispered something in her ear. Or the woman told me to stop and let her cat out into the rain, and then the man told me to stop and told her people do fall in love with each other, because that’s the only chance anyone’s got for real happiness and he got out, and then she got out and chased after him and they kissed.

One of the things Chelsea liked about her flat was that the sofa was the leather sort you squashed into. But when they sat on it after dinner to watch a DVD - Aiko chose Lost in Translation, Chelsea having remembered Mickey Rooney’s yellowface and hidden Breakfast at Tiffany’s - it was impossible to get comfortable on it. Around the ‘lip my stockings’ scene she began to feel like an ice cube was melting in the pit of her stomach. She kept on glancing sideways at Aiko, who was staring unblinkingly at the screen.

- What do you think? she asked when it ended.
- I didn’t like it when she said Japanese people always mix up r and l. I don’t do that.
- I think she meant, well, people who live in Japan.
- Yes. I used to.
- Oh.

The ice cube was replaced by a whole ice bucket, turning over. This was the kind of conversation years of assemblies on diversity in a school where nearly all the pupils were white had taught her it was desperately wrong to have, but not taught her how to avoid, and now she was careering into it with her brakes cut.

- I thought you were, you know, born in England.
- No, I came here to study.
- Have you been back since?
- No. My parents were very disappointed when I dropped out of university. They don’t know much about my life now.
- I’m sorry.
- It’s not your fault.
- Families are tough.
- Yeah.
- I’m sorry, I – I’d never have guessed. You speak English really, really well.
- Thank you. I practiced before I came. Things like body parts. Hand. Shoulder. Mouth.

When she wasn’t with Aiko, she was looking at film industry internships online and wandering around town, searching for ‘Wanted: Part Time Sales Assistant’ and ‘Help Needed’ notices like a castaway looking for ships on the horizon, and trying to give her CV to managers who glared at her as if she was a Jehovah’s Witness.
The week she broke into her savings account to pay the rent was the week Aiko asked her to go to the piercing parlour with her. This time, she wanted a stud in her tongue.

- Course I will.
- Oh, thank you. It makes me a bit nervous and my housemates won’t go with me.
- They sound mean.
- They just – what’s the expression? They keep themselves to themselves.
- Aiko?
- Mmmm?
- Do you want to move in with me?
- What?
- I mean, if you want to. It’s just your housemates sound terrible, and I’d love to have you. What’s wrong?
- You would let me pay the rent and bills, wouldn’t you?
- Sure. But no more than half.

In the end, the sight of Aiko’s tongue being held down by the forceps while the manager, chattering cheerfully about her holiday to Ibiza, got out a needle, made Chelsea stumble frantically out of the piercing parlour into the chatter-filled shopping centre.

Aiko suggested Chelsea ask the taxi company where she used to work. She said she only left them because she wanted to drive something bigger.

- Night shifts only, said the man, when she eventually did phone. – Take it or leave it.

Each morning she climbed into bed, prickle-eyed and yawning, next to a sleeping Aiko. An hour later the alarm clock’s beep stabbed into her sleep, though she felt the mattress rise almost instantly as Aiko got up and silenced it, and she could never get back to sleep. Sometimes she’d hear low murmurs of Japanese as Aiko called her parents, but she tried to block them out.

All day she’d sit in the empty flat, opening and closing the Word document called ‘The Kingfisher Screenplay’. After hours of staring at the blank space where Elaine and Nicola were meant to collapse into each other for the best sex of their lives, she got up from the desk and sat on the edge of the mattress, stroking the creases in the sheet on Aiko’s half of the bed. Then she rolled over to lie on them.
She saw a strand of bright red hair with a black tip sticking to the sheet. She tried to pick it up, but it was too light and slipped away between her fingers. She slid her head up the pillow and turned her gaze to the edge of the bedside table. She could see the black square-shaped side of the alarm clock which woke her each morning and the white edge of a bit of paper.

She propped herself up on one elbow, her fingers settling around it more easily than the hair, too quickly and naturally to feel guilty, and she turned it over and saw the letting agency logo. It was the overdue rent letter from the week she’d asked Aiko to move in.

They only really met in the early evenings now. They were on the sofa, eating dinner off their laps, and during an advert for toilet paper Aiko asked if she wanted to come with her that weekend. She was driving a coach on a trip to a country house.
The coach was full of guidebook-clutching retirees who reminded Chelsea ominously of her mother, and half-stared, half-glared at her sitting next to Aiko in exactly the same way her mother would.
She’d hoped they could just sit down somewhere, but Aiko produced a guidebook too and led her from the William Morris bedroom to the scullery, stopping in every room. Finally, they sat on a bench in the elm walk, cold even in their anoraks, and that was when Aiko took a deep breath. As if anyone ever said anything good after a deep breath.
- I’ve been offered a job in Japan. I want to take it. And see my parents again. There’s stuff I have to talk to them about.
On the journey back, Chelsea rode beside Aiko again and looked at but not into the reflection of her eyes.

A few days later, all Aiko’s things were gone from the flat. An hour before Chelsea’s shift started, she sat on the sofa and put on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, turning the volume up loud enough to drown out the silence.