My friends and family said it was a stupid thing for a sixteen-year-old to do. But my father had given me driving lessons from the exact moment my feet could reach the pedals, so there really wasn’t a lot to be done in the way of stopping me. Aside — obviously — from jumping on the bonnet and hanging onto the windscreen, which my father took a shot at, but seriously, how long did he expect me to play that game? I gave him a bracing smile before I started pulling levers at random, looking for the wipers.
By the time I found them we were doing sixty and my father didn’t have a lot of options. I set the wipers to their fastest and he let go, with a sad smile, after a half dozen smacks on the nose. I saw him in my rear-view mirror, rolling over the bitumen with his arms around his head before suddenly springing upright and giving me the thumbs up so I’d know he was okay.
I watched him watching me until the road curved away and then I thought about him walking, bloodied and defeated, back to our house where they were having my farewell party. I thought about turning back. Maybe I’d got it wrong, maybe this wasn’t how prudent people dealt with love at all. Also, it was a school night and I realised I’d packed not a single piece of underwear.
Of course, I hadn’t planned on leaving that day but someone had invited the girl I was in love with to the party. I was going away to write a novel that, I supposed, would feature her in some way, and so it was a bit awkward when she showed up holding a box of Barbeque Shapes, her sandy hair dancing on her shoulders. Friends and family had exchanged looks: Barbecue Shapes? What is she playing at? It was no great secret, them being my favourite.
And so I’d calmly finished my plastic flute of Fanta and announced my departure, effective immediately. A plate smashed. My mother began sobbing in the kitchen, a tea-towel in her hands. A throat was cleared and I turned to see my brother standing over the broken plate, looking sheepish. ‘Not what it looks like,’ he’d said to the room in general, before looking to the floor with distaste. ‘I just realised there was onion in this.’
In my room I’d packed a bag with clothes, my toothbrush, and the five hundred dollars I’d earned from working at KFC for a full year. The plan was simply to drive north. I’d researched novels on the internet and it seemed clear to me that it would give the act a little more credibility.
North, I thought. A place with grass grown long around a paling tractor, where rust from beached canoes trickled out with the tide, into the waves. I tried to think of other images of desertion but couldn’t. I went out to the car and found everybody there, my father looking determined.