‘Shit, this is the worst.’ Gary checked his mirrors, looking for an opportunity to change lanes. The four lane thoroughfare, laughably referred to as a freeway, was clogged with trucks, cars and buses all simultaneously discovering that one of the four lanes was gradually tapering into non-existence, thanks to some gleefully brazen yet emotionally uninvolved fluorescent orange cones. Why these cones were blockading the leftmost lane was anyone’s guess, as there appeared to be no roadworkers, no machinery, no potholes, nor even the slightest hint of loose gravel which might pose a danger to the peak hour traffic that the lane’s closure was exacerbating.
‘Try to be patient honey, getting in a strop isn’t going to help.’ Gary’s wife was fiddling with her phone in the passenger seat, tapping with a flat finger while she swiped up, down and side-to-side in a rapid pattern comprehensible only to herself. The display on her screen whizzed past in a slideshow of machine gun images as she switched between Facebook (pics of the packed bag, captioned ROAD TRIP! with champagne glasses emoji), Instagram (#vacay #girlsquad #blessed) and the group message app (En route. Flat white. CU soon xx). Every so often her nails clacked on the screen and she cocked her wrists at increasingly unnatural angles to avoid chipping her extravagant nails. They were painted a glowing shade of green not usually found in nature but more than likely ironically named ‘mint’. There were sparkly diamantes embedded in the varnish.
‘A strop? A str-?’ Gary checked himself, took a breath. Mariana was headed off on a girls’ trip to New Zealand, and him getting worked up about traffic, or anything else for that matter, would likely mean his ears would burn for the next five days while his marriage got a good working over by the ‘girls’ – all in their fifties – over cases of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and plates upon plates of cheeses and olives and artisanal breads. Nope. Better to stick with the brownie points for dropping her at the airport.
There was no changing lanes while these bastards refused to let you in. He waited patiently, indicator ticking, while a bus manoeuvred from one lane to another, and then snuck in behind it. The big orange buggers could provide good cover if you timed it right.
Mariana broke into his thoughts again. ‘Now, don’t forget Max’s pills. And I left his food in the freezer, the individual portions just need to be zapped for about 45 seconds. But blow on it first, he won’t eat it hot.’
‘Yes all right, I know.’ The instructions for the dog were far more involved than any advice she’d left about the kids. Their two silent teenagers would only appear when they needed food, money or a lift somewhere, and he’d been parenting them for close on nineteen years, so holding the fort there was no issue. But Mariana did usually see to the dog.
The traffic was moving a little steadier now, he might actually be able to drop her off and be at work by 10am. That would be something. He’d been dodging the GM for a few weeks in the hopes that next year’s sales forecasts wouldn’t need changing after the market shocks of the weekend, so he’d probably better get in first and have Sabrina run the report again – BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
Gary touched the brakes and Mariana’s phone flew out of her hands and onto the floor.
‘Fuck! ARSEHOLE!’ Gary exploded. A taxi had cut into his lane just as they were merging to exit towards the airport.
‘Jesus, Gary, it’s ok, we’re ok!’
‘Did you see that? Bloody taxis, I swear to God…’
‘It’s ok, we’re nearly there, just relax hon.’ Mariana’s voice was muffled as she bent her head under the dash to retrieve her phone. ‘Ah shit, I’ve lost a diamante.’ She held her fingers up to scrutinise the nails. ‘Damn.’
Gary pulled the car into the drop off zone outside the international terminal. ‘Well at least we made it in time, and in one piece. Except the diamante.’ He leant over the give Mariana a kiss on the cheek. ‘You right with your bag? I can’t stay here long, that bloke in the vest is going to move me along. Got your passport?’
Mariana laughed loudly as she climbed out of the car. She opened the back car door to pull out her wheelie bag and spoke to him through the open door. ‘I’m fine, the bag’s easy. It’s all good honey. You’re amazing, you know. One minute you’re all tetchy and the next you’re making jokes as you drop me off. Love you babe.’
Gary was sheepish. Such displays of affection were appreciated but habitually rare in a twenty year marriage. But he wasn’t sure what was funny. ‘Love you too. What joke?’
‘The one about the passport! Trying to get me all worried. I’m only going to New Zealand!’
Gary stared at her. ‘Hang on. Wait! Did you not bring your passport?’
‘What? No! Of course not! I don’t need it!’ She was still laughing, but a little less confidently.
Gary pulled on the handbrake, shut off the ignition and stepped out of the car. He walked around the rear of the car just as one of the hi-vis-clad workers started towards him, clearly concerned that an errant vehicle was going to be clogging up valuable stopping space.
Gary stood on the kerb with Mariana. ‘Maz, love. Be serious with me now. Have you got your passport?’
She was looking at him uncertainly now. She adjusted the handbag slung over her shoulder and re-gripped the handle of the wheelie suitcase. ‘No. I’m only going to New Zealand. I don’t need my passport… Do I?’ Her face started to fall in confusion.
Gary brought a hand to his face and dragged it down slowly, pulling down the sagging skin and burnished stubble until he was quite sure that this moment was not, in fact, a dream.
‘Maz. New Zealand is a different country to Australia. You need your passport.’
‘I do? Are you sure? Oh my God… Fuck.’
‘Oh my God.’
‘You can’t stay here, you need to move your vehicle , sir.’
Gary turned to the drop off zone attendant. ‘I know mate, we’re just having a mild crisis here, can you give me a minute?’
‘You need to move, others are waiting…’ The man in the vest pointed to the traffic starting to back up behind them.
Mariana looked stricken. ‘Oh shit, what am I going to do?’
‘Go inside, talk to the airline, I’ll get going now. If I don’t move now you have no hope. I’ll go get it.’
‘I will. Go find the girls, see if you can delay your flight, whatever you can do. I’ve got to get going. You might still make it but I have to leave now.’
‘Ok. Oh my God. I can’t believe… Oh my God. Alright honey. Thank you. Thank you. Gary?’
Gary was climbing back in the driver’s side door. ‘Yes love?’
‘Love you babe.’
‘Love you too.’
As he pulled back out into the traffic, a Nissan Micra tooted its high-pitched indignation. Gary’s tyres squealed as he accelerated away, middle finger raised at the end of his outstretched arm through the open car window.