‘Thank God you’re home!’ she said, with an entirely different tone of voice compared with that she’d used to greet him earlier in the morning after he’d returned from his ride.
‘It’s time to go,’ she said, pressing herself away from the wall and standing gingerly. ‘It’s past time to go.’
Driver left the milk and bread on the floor where they stood and took Minnie’s hand.
‘My bags are here,’ she said.
‘All of them?’ Driver asked. ‘Can you walk?’
‘Yes, all of them,’ Minnie snapped, but she gripped his hand more tightly. ‘And I can walk. Of course I can walk.’
She stopped on the landing just outside the door as another contraction came. ‘Take the bags and come back for me,’ she said.
Driver complied wordlessly. He was out of breath, not because of the dashing about on his pointless errands but because of the fear that another frantic dash through the streets to the hospital would end the same way as it had the last time. He flicked open the boot of Minnie’s car and threw her bags in. How does she stand it, he wondered? If I’m this anxious, how does Minnie stand it? And how the fuck did I manage to leave my phone on the kitchen table?
Minnie was walking down the path to the front gate. Driver grabbed her hand again.
‘Your phone is on the kitchen table,’ she said.
Driver looked at her for no more than an instant, trying to guess between coincidence and some higher power of Minnie’s that might have triggered her reminder. But it didn’t really matter. ‘It can stay there,’ he replied.
Driver ran inside, grabbed his phone and pulled the apartment’s front door shut behind him.
‘Door,’ Minnie said and Driver ran to the car to open the passenger door.
‘Apartment door,’ she said. ‘Front door.’ She didn’t need to turn and look. She could tell from the sound behind her back that it had not shut properly.
Driver ran back up the path to the front door and pulled it shut, giving a shunt of upward pressure to properly engage the lock so it wouldn’t bounce open again off the door frame.
‘Make sure it’s locked,’ she called, having deposited herself in the front seat as another contraction began.
From the gate, Driver doubled back to the apartment’s front door, gave it a push to confirm it was locked, then ran to the car and slid in behind the wheel.
‘Put your seat belt on,’ Driver said to Minnie. He felt like a student telling the teacher how to present a lesson.
‘No,’ Minnie replied, the walls of her uterus still contracting. ‘Later, I’ll do it later.’ She waved him on so Driver started the engine, shifted into gear and the tyres gave a little squeal as he pulled away from the kerb.
Minnie’s phone chimed. It was a text from her mother to tell her she was on her way. Go to the hospital, she texted back once her muscles relaxed. I’m in the car with Driver.
‘Who was that?’ Driver asked.
‘Mum. She’ll meet us at the hospital.’ Minnie sat tensely in the passenger seat, her eyes straight ahead. ‘I called a taxi, too, but I’m glad you came home and I didn’t have to catch it.’
‘I’m sorry Minnie.’
‘It’s okay,’ she said. She kept staring out through the car’s windscreen willing the distance between them and the hospital to diminish. But they hadn’t gone further than the end of their street before Minnie’s phone chimed again, but this text was from The Urologist. I think you’re wrong about us. I need to see you again.
‘Your mum again?’ Driver asked.
Minnie didn’t answer straight away. She wanted to be distracted. She wanted not to have to answer Driver’s question. She had another contraction.
‘Yes,’ she lied, breathlessly. ‘Ohh, shit.’ She grimaced. ‘Can you put my window down? Please?’
Driver pressed the button on his door to lower the window. ‘Are you okay? Do you want me to stop?’
‘No! Don’t stop. Why would you stop?’
‘Well can you make it to the hospital?’
‘Of course I can make it.’ Minnie did her best to sound confident and determined, but she had no idea whether or not she could make it. What her body was doing to her and her baby felt so different to the miscarriage all those years before when Driver had sped through the streets to the hospital, needlessly. She convinced herself that the unfamiliarity was a good sign. That the differences were because it would all turn out differently this time. The contraction eased.
‘How far apart are the contractions?’ Driver asked.
‘I don’t know! How would I know? Do you know?’
‘I’ll time them.’ Driver switched his wrist watch to timer as he drove down Victoria Street past the Queen Victoria Market. ‘Tell me when the next one starts.’
‘I think you’ll be able to guess,’ Minnie replied.
Driver shot a sideways glance at his wife. The corner of her mouth had curled into a wry half-smile. He wondered whether that was the Mona Lisa’s secret. Whether da Vinci captured that look on her face as she was in the early stages of labour, with her husband being a dumb-arse making her wait while he dithered around fetching the nurse. She adopted a stoic, knowing smile to help herself put up with him. Driver chastised himself for his flippancy as he looked down the road at the intersection with Elizabeth Street. The lights were green. How long would they stay green? He accelerated.
‘Slow down,’ Minnie said. ‘Please slow down.’
Her phone chimed again as Driver slowed down. It was a second alert for the unanswered text from The Urologist.
Driver pulled up at the red light at the Elizabeth Street intersection. ‘Do you want me to get that?’ he asked, holding his hand out to take the phone from Minnie’s tightly clamped fingers.
‘No,’ Minnie said. She had another contraction. She held onto the open window sill of the car door with one hand and dropped the phone to clasp the edge of the seat with the other. ‘Start timing.’ she said.
Driver pressed the start button on his watch and gazed helplessly at his wife. The contraction seemed to be in sync with the cycle of the traffic lights, easing as they changed from red to green.
‘Stopwatch,’ Minnie said. ‘And drive the car.’
Driver pressed the button again as he pulled away from the lights and accelerated quickly along Victoria Street. ‘Fifty eight seconds,’ he said. ‘Should I keep it going? What about the time in between?’
‘Yep,’ Minnie replied.
As they reached the Berkeley Street corner neither of them could resist, for different reasons, turning their heads to look out the passenger side window and down the sidewalk to the café where Driver had earlier in the week walked in on Minnie and The Urologist breaking up. Driver watched Minnie looking out at the café. As she returned her gaze to the road ahead he did the same. They both resolutely focused their attention in the direction they were headed, without being tempted to snatch a further look at the other.
‘Maybe a bit faster,’ Minnie directed. ‘Drive a bit faster. Are you still timing?’
‘I am,’ Driver said.
Her phone chimed again. ‘Oh my God,’ she said.
‘Another one?’ Driver asked. ‘Another contraction?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘Just the phone again.’ It was a text message from the ambulance service telling her they were two minutes away. ‘It’s the ambulance.’
‘I called them as well, when you weren’t home and I didn’t know where you were.’
‘I’m sorry baby.’ Driver looked at Minnie beside him, still holding onto the door and edge of her seat in preparation for the next spasm. ‘Are you okay?’
She smiled at him. ‘They can talk to the taxi driver when they get to our place.’ Another contraction began. ‘Stopwatch!’ She squeezed the window sill and the seat edge. ‘How long between?’ she demanded.
‘A bit over a minute. A minute and seven.’
‘And measure the contraction, too.’
Their car passed through the Lygon Street intersection, the traffic flowing smoothly, then Rathdowne Street greeted them with another green light. They cruised along beside the Exhibition Gardens.
‘Sixty four seconds,’ Driver said. ‘Is that long?’
‘I don’t know,’ Minnie said, frowning. ‘Keep timing.’
They crossed Nicholson Street. ‘Should I just pull in here,’ Driver asked as they approached St Vincent’s Hospital.
‘No,’ Minnie replied. ‘We’re only half a mile away. Less.’
‘But look at the traffic,’ Driver said, pointing in front of them, all lanes compressing with crawling, patient lines of cars.
‘You know what to do,’ Minnie said, her voice more insistent. ‘Drive like you did last time. This is way more important now.’
‘Okay,’ Driver said and pressed on his horn as he approached the waiting traffic ahead of the next intersection. He switched lanes, cutting off the car beside him, which sounded its horn back at him. He waved his thanks out the window, unconcerned at how angry his fellow driver might be, then slowed down a little as he repeated the same manoeuvre a couple more times. Minnie was amazed they didn’t hit anyone, but at the same time, she barely cared. Despite the red light, Driver crossed into the T-intersection at the top of Macarthur Street. With an arm extended out the side window he put up his hand again, presenting his flattened palm to the oncoming cars as if he were a traffic cop, to alert them to his lawlessness. They obeyed him with a modest screeching of brakes and further sounding of horns, most likely out of surprise as he accelerated through the red light.
Minnie’s mobile phone chimed again. She opened The Urologist’s text message: I can’t do this. I can’t live without those big, beautiful nipples of yours. Minnie re-read it then dropped it to the seat beside her as another contraction came.
‘Sixty-two,’ Driver said. ‘So less time between as well as more time contracting.’
‘Hmm,’ Minnie said, as she rode out her body’s latest hint that their child’s arrival was imminent.
‘You can make more noise if you want,’ Driver said. While he felt helpless to ease Minnie’s pain, he was grateful, in a way, that he was at least being of some use to her at that moment.
Through the mature elms and wide, grassy nature strips lining either side of the tram lines that ran up Victoria Parade’s median strip Minnie and Driver could both see the hospital.
Driver shot a glance in the rear view mirror to check they weren’t being tailed by the police given the way he’d been driving. All was clear. ‘Are you still okay?’ he asked.
‘Still okay,’ she said, gripping the window sill and the seat. ‘Still okay.’
She didn’t sound convincing to Driver. ‘One minute and we’ll be there. Is the contraction still going?’
‘Stopped. Stopped now. Timer?’
‘Same as before,’ Driver replied. ‘No, longer, actually. About eight seconds longer.’
‘Eight seconds,’ Minnie said absently, turning to look out her side window.
They were approaching Smith Street. The hospital was y then directly across the tram lines and the median strip on the other side of the road. Her uterus was relaxed. All that remained of the journey was to do a U-turn across the tram lines and park the car. There was another red light. Driver used the same method as before, slowing and attempting to wave his intentions to his fellow drivers. Fortunately there were no trams to contend with.
Minnie’s mobile phone chimed. She opened the text message. Dimples! I meant dimples! I did not mean nipples! Minnie, please, I’m going to jump off a bridge now. Minnie continued looking at the screen after she’d finished reading the text. She didn’t believe The Urologist meant it. It was just the type of throw-away line he could sometimes come up with.
They’d been forced to stop half way across the tram lines, the hospital directly in front of them. Driver had too little room between the cars in-front of and behind him to move.
‘Was that your mum again?’ Driver asked.
‘No,’ Minnie said.
She turned to Driver and smiled with a tranquillity that surprised him, lightly touching his hand as it rested on the gear stick. Then she picked up the phone from where it lay beside her on the seat and threw it as hard as she could out through the open side window.
It flew in a gentle arc, as if it were a playing card that had been wrist-flicked by the dealer in a casino across the surface of a card table. As Driver watched it, in that initial uncritical moment before reflecting on the reason why Minnie might have done such a thing, the phone’s path seemed somehow elegant to him, before it hit a heavy steel tram rail and split apart.
She turned back to Driver to repeat the same smile. He stared at her, open-mouthed.
‘That’ll put an end to that,’ she said. The car’s engine ticked innocently in the silence as Minnie looked ahead towards the hospital’s entrance. ‘Drive,’ she added, as the traffic in front of them cleared in response to the change in the traffic lights.
Driver shifted into gear, completed the U-turn across the median strip and pulled up outside the hospital.
‘Stopwatch,’ Minnie said, as another contraction began.
This is episode 31 – the final instalment - of Fare Game. Earlier posts can be found by clicking on the Archives or Categories links to the right of the page.
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