Driven by Fire - Chapter One
I always thought the colour of rage was red. Not for me. For me, rage is white. Everything I see has a white ring around it. It’s like looking through a tunnel with bright white walls. I’ve lost my peripheral vision and can focus solely on the objects directly in front of me. I finally understand the meaning of being blinded by rage, although I can honestly say I would rather not know.
My hands are steady but my body is vibrating. It is an odd sensation being so out of control yet so in control at the same time. My heart pounds and the sound of my blood is coursing in my ears like a drum circle in the middle of the ocean. Thump whoosh thump whoosh.
I grab an old duffel bag from the floor of the mobile home that, until moments ago was my mobile home, and pull the zipper back with enough force to rip it clean off. With deliberate might, I violently pull the drawers of my dresser open and stuff handfuls of clothing into the duffel bag. I slam each drawer hard enough that maybe someone nearby will hear me. I want to make a scene, draw a crowd, embarrass the shit out of Chad.
I don’t pay attention to what I grab from the drawers. A handful of shirts, a pile of shorts, a stack of pants. It all gets shoved into the bag with equal vehemence. My hatred and anger are being taken out on the innocent fabric. A fistful of panties. Another of bras. I grunt with each new addition to the duffel bag.
While I move around in a frenzy, Chad rests, aggravatingly, with his back against the wall. Not talking, not yelling, not pleading. Just watching me. In fact, the only way I know he is paying attention to what is going on is that his head swivels to follow my movements across our tiny home. The enthusiasm he displays right now holds a striking resemblance to our relationship.
The items on the top of the dresser rattle around with each drawer I open and slam shut. Chad’s cologne topples over and the lid pops off, spilling everywhere. The overwhelming smell makes me gasp and gag. My hand flies up to cover my nose and mouth reflexively, as though the gesture will really keep the smell from invading my body. I bought him that cologne on my last trip to the city. I liked that smell once upon a time. Now, I hope it never comes out of the carpet. It’s so strong Chad’s new conquest will have that smell burned into her memory and maybe she will gag at it one day too.
I open the bottom drawer of the dresser and the first thing I see is the racy red teddy I bought for our fourth anniversary to try to rev things up a bit. All lace, cut high on the hip and barely there in the back with just a little string between my ass cheeks. The bodice ends above my navel where it splits in two and scarcely covers my breasts before curving over my shoulders and down my back. I don’t have large breasts, but the seductive nature of the lingerie distracts from that. In fact, it highlights all my other juicy curves. The design of the lace makes me look naked and clothed all at the same time, and it drives Chad wild—well, it did the one time I wore it anyway. Fuck I look good in this thing. It’s coming with me for sure. I hold the teddy up and wave it in his face, growling, then I forcefully shove that in the duffel bag too.
But then I stop. Take a deep breath. Smile. The mischievous and maybe a little crazy side of me comes out. I’m not really going to want to wear this teddy again. So, I pull it out of the bag and slowly walk right past Chad, swaying my hips and dangling the lingerie off the tip of one finger. When I get to the foot of the bed, I ball it up and toss it at the naked woman lying there. The naked woman who didn’t even care enough to cover up when I walked in on them fucking in my bed. Have a little self-respect, woman.
Chad doesn’t bother to cover up, either. There he stands with his shoulders pressed against the wall, one leg angled in front of him, the other bent at the knee, his foot resting on the wall as though he’s waiting for his ride to show up. His arms are folded across his chest just like he’s a cowboy in a cigarette commercial. All that’s missing is the piece of straw for him to chew on and a hat tipped low over his brow. And some clothes. He stands nonchalantly like he’s just a witness to this charade and not a player in the show. He’s still half erect with the other woman’s honey glistening on his cock. He didn’t even use a condom. Asshole. Thank goodness we always did.
I walk past him again toward the dresser, making sure to avoid touching him inadvertently. But avoiding physical contact doesn’t mean avoiding eye contact. I look down at his manhood and then up at his face, right into his bloodshot eyes. Wearing a wry smile on my lips I laugh just under my breath.
I silently finish packing all I can carry with me tonight in one duffel bag then I turn to face Chad one more time. I stare at him long and hard. My eyes bore into his. I want him to look at me long enough that this is the image he will see every time he thinks of me. I want him to see the hurt and anger and betrayal in my eyes. I also want him to see my strength. I won’t let him win this staring contest and I won’t let him think I don’t have options beyond him either. I stare at him long enough that he gets uncomfortable under my scrutiny. He’s trying not to blink first, like that will indicate he’s the winner. But it doesn’t matter who blinks first because I won this. I’m getting out before it’s too late. When I’m disgusted enough that I can’t look at him any longer, I put my shoulders back, grab my jacket and purse, and walk out the door.
I half expect to hear the continuation of the fuck fest as I walk away. Chad wouldn’t care if I heard him and clearly, the other woman doesn’t give a shit about me knowing what they are up to. But instead of that, all I hear is the thwacking of the screen door bouncing on the springs as I walk away from my home. My life.
Walking briskly down the main road of the mobile home park toward the highway, I feel myself starting to shake. It isn’t the cold night air outside; it is the anger inside. How could I let myself get into this situation? Again? With the same asshole?
The first time Chad cheated I hadn’t walked in on them; I found out from my best friend, Danielle. Danielle saw Chad kissing another woman in the back corner of a bar in the city down the highway. He probably thought he was safe from knowing anyone. Clearly, thinking isn’t his best attribute. Danielle told me right away, not even giving Chad the chance to fess up. When I called him out on it, he said all the things guys say when they get caught red-handed. He begged and pleaded and promised he would never do it again if I gave him another chance. Against Danielle’s warnings, I caved. I should have listened to her.
I am going to get an earful from her when she hears all about this.
I wander out to where the driveway meets the highway and stop. Now what? I don’t have a plan for this part of the break-up. I didn’t have a plan to break-up in the first place. I stand at the T-intersection, staring off into the void. There’s nothing but oil derricks and farm fields as far as the eye can see. One minute turns into five then turns into ten. I’m racked with another fit of shivers telling me that I need to get moving.
I heave a deep breath and turn the corner onto the main highway. The first steps toward my new life. If there’s a silver lining here to seize, it’s that I only have more options than I did a few moments ago. I embrace the feeling of freedom, the sense of being unburdened.
The mobile home park is on the outskirts of the hamlet of Fort McKay in Northern Alberta. There are only a handful, maybe fifty, real locals here. The rest of the residents are oil workers and those who support the oil workers. Like me. I work in the one and only café in town.
There are no taxis or buses. No need for them with Fort McKay being so small. And the riggers make so much money they all own a truck or two. And a boat. And a snowmobile. But not me, I use Chad’s truck when he’s at work. Correction: used. Chad always laughed that I was the only one in town who didn’t own wheels. I bet he’s having a good hoot at my expense right now.
It is only three kilometres to the motel in town, but with the awkwardness of this duffle bag, I figure that should take about an hour. The stretch of highway between the mobile home park and town is lit, thankfully, because every noise creeps me out. I keep thinking I hear twigs snapping in the brush down the embankment. Using a trick I learned as a small child hiking in the mountains with my parents, I sing out loud. Really loud. Embarrassment be damned! Animals do not like people any more than people like vicious, blood-thirsty animals. Surely my singing will scare all living creatures, human or otherwise, away. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before even I can’t stand the sound of my own singing voice.
It is a beautiful late April night and maybe I should actually be glad to have a bit of a walk to clear my head. Drawing on the meditative skills I have learned through years of yoga practice, I focus on the here and now. The sound of my feet on the gravelly shoulder. The whisper of the wind in the air. The twinkling of the stars overhead. The smell of smoke around me.
Wildfires are burning a few hundred kilometres southwest of here and I can smell the faint creep of smoke in the air. We all enjoyed the warm winter with so little snow, but now it is coming back to bite us. The forests and grasslands are tinder dry. Almost every night this month the sky lit up with lightning but no rain has fallen. It’s a bad combination that had firefighters on high alert earlier this month, and now working around the clock to put out the raging fires. Firefighters from around the country and across the globe are here to help out. Rig bosses are on high alert too. No one wants a rig exploding and many of them have shut down operations over the past week.
It’s the most excitement this town has seen since I’ve been here. The buzz is nice for a change, although not for the right reason. The only reason I am here in this Podunk oil rig town in the first place is Chad. I actually hate it here. I hate that there is one grocery store, one laundromat, one café, and four bars. That’s what happens when there are forty men to every woman.
I’ll admit that when I first moved here, I found the minuteness charming. I loved my little trailer and how I got to play house while Chad was working his ten-day-straight shifts. The neighbours were welcoming and since we were all transplants from another place, they were always willing to lend a hand.
But the small-town allure wore off quickly as I found myself really lonely and without any genuine friends. People here are transient, staying only as long as they have to before moving on to another rig or a bigger centre. Word of anything gossip-worthy travels quickly and I soon realized I had to be careful who I revealed anything to. On the surface, everyone is kind, but dig a little deeper, and it seems like they are all just looking to be the one to break the next big story. This is what happens when there is no entertainment aside from reality TV. Our lives have become an episode of the Real Housewives of Oil Town Alberta.
I started hanging out at the café just so I could get out of the tiny trailer and talk to other women who had jobs. My early months up here were the first time since I was sixteen that I hadn’t been employed. I hated having to ask Chad for money. He always said he didn’t mind giving it to me, but I loathed asking nonetheless. Spending time with working women, even just in idle chitchat, was rewarding in a small way. Even the most mundane jobs give people a different sense of worth in a town ruled by men.
After months of coming into the café and sitting for hours at a time, the owner, Ryan, took pity on me and offered me a job when one of the other girls went on maternity leave. Being a waitress isn’t exciting work, but at least I earn my own money (something that is going to come in very handy now), and I made a real friend: Danielle.
Danielle is an interesting character, to say the least. She, unlike every other woman here, moved here by choice. She loves the idea that there are so many more men than women. She has her pick of the litter. The stories she tells me about her sexual escapades make me blush. I think she tells me things just to see me squirm. Sometimes I wish I was as adventurous as she is. I’m not a prude, I like sex just as much as the next woman . . . I’m just not as confident around men as she is.
Danielle is a serial dater, if dating is even the right word to use. She likes to keep her options open by never committing to one guy. At least that’s what she tells them when they get too clingy. And by clingy, Danielle means fucking each other for more than a week. Her unconventional looks and charismatic personality have guys falling all over her when we go out. You would think the guys in the area would know by now she is not going to settle on just one of them, but damned if they don’t keep trying. I have to say though, being her friend has its benefits. I benefit from all the goodies that come her way: the wine, the vodka, the cases of beer—it’s a classy crowd up here.
I keep telling her she should try a relationship that goes beyond the bedroom because, who knows, she may like it. She keeps telling me to try just hooking up because I will definitely like it. And ne’er the twain shall meet. If “opposites attract” works for lovers, then it should work for best friends also, because we clearly couldn’t be more different!
Now that I’m single she’s going to make me go out with her and dance with random sweaty guys on a crowded dancefloor. Who smell of cigarettes and beer. And probably share a rental unit with four other guys. Ugh, the thought of entering the dating world again gives me the shivers and quite honestly makes me a little nauseous.
I surprise myself by thinking about other men only minutes after my last one ended. Deep down I knew it wasn’t going to last with Chad, that I deserved more. I was never able to picture myself living here forever and raising a family here, but at the same time, I never pictured Chad having any other kind of job. I knew he wasn’t my Prince Charming, but I guess I just didn’t want to admit it to myself. Here I am, so far away from everything and everyone I know. All my family and friends are a ten-hour drive away. A break-up when you’re surrounded by loved ones is one thing, but when you’re all by yourself it seems so much harder to pull off. I think more than anything, the fear of being truly alone is what kept me from ending things with Chad sooner.
As angry as I am about how Chad did it, I am a little happy he cut me loose. Because if it was up to me, I bet I would have stayed with him for another five years until I resented him for making me waste my life waiting for my turn at a career and a family. A vision of me as a middle-aged woman, bitter and angry, flashes through my mind. I see myself in the same mobile home, wearing a housecoat and slippers, cigarette dangling between my sagging lips, waiting for an overweight, drunk Chad to waltz through the door with the smell of another woman on him. Shivers run down my back. I make a promise to myself on the spot that I will never get into another relationship where I let go of who I am and who I want to be. Where I become the other person’s shadow instead of their other half.
All right, so now it’s my turn at having a life. The only thing is, where do I start? Do I leave town? Should I call my parents up and tell them I am moving home? That’s a great idea! Twenty-seven years old and moving back in with my parents. I love my family, okay, I can tolerate my family, but I moved out when I was eighteen and it would be a major step backwards to move back in.
First decision made: I will leave Fort McKay, but I will not move into my parents’ home.
Don’t they say taking the first step is the hardest? That decision didn’t seem so painful. I might really be able to pull this single thing off! Just me, my duffel bag, and the stars.
One thing I will miss about being here is the stars. The sky is so big and unhindered by buildings and city lights. In stark contrast to this time of year when the sun doesn’t set until 11 p.m., in the winter, the sun is gone by 4 o’clock and the stars appear shortly after that. Being so far away from everything means there aren’t any obstructions marring the night sky. An astronomer’s dream. On the milder fall nights, it is possible to bundle up and watch the shooting stars flit across the sky. Some nights, there is so much activity up above us one would think the stars had somewhere special to be.
What I will miss even more than the stars are the northern lights. A magnificent show of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet light dancing across the sky. Although I usually watch nature’s fireworks alone, with Chad’s schedule keeping him away for days at a time, I still feel as though they have a magical, romantic quality. What could be more amorous than being on a midnight walk under a rippling curtain of glowing light, a protective arm wrapped around my shoulders warding off the night air, offering warmth and connectedness? I ask as a hypothetical because I don’t truly know the answer. Maybe my next man will see the romance in the northern lights. A real man who understands passion. A man who will take me on midnight walks to see the sky light up. And eat in real restaurants with tablecloths. Does that man even exist?
Not up here he doesn’t. I need to stop reading those idealistic romance novels. They make for great fantasies, but they really skew what should be expected in reality.
Thinking of the vastness of the universe makes me feel free, like the world is full of possibilities now. I channel Danielle and her wild side for just a second and I throw my hands up in the air and let out a big scream, “Woo hoo!” I even shake my ass a little, letting the tension drain from my body. My long hair floats back and forth over my neck and shoulders and the feeling of it dragging from side to side washes over me. I exaggerate the movement to appreciate the sensation across my back once more, enjoying the tingles of my hair as it tickles my bare arms.
Of course, it just so happens a car full of riggers drive past at the exact moment I am shaking my ass and screaming to no one. How did I not hear the car coming up behind me? I must pay closer attention otherwise I will end up in the ditch with the lurking animals. Honking the horn and flashing the lights, one guy yells out the window, “Hey baby, nice ass! Shake it a little more for me!” The car slows down to my walking pace but I don’t dare look inside. I hear one guy say from the back seat, “Need a ride?” and before I even have a chance to tell him off he adds, “I’ll ride you all night long!” and they speed off.
Well, that answers my question about the existence of romantic men. Definitely time to get out of here. And thanks, I do have a nice ass.
It is starting to get a little chilly out so I wait until that car full of jackasses is gone before I stop walking to put my jacket on. With the bag off my shoulders now, I can feel the tension I have been carrying around and my shoulders ache. I wish I could have a massage, but that won’t happen in this town. Luxuries like that are saved for furlough . . . my label for visits to the big city, Fort McMurray.
I extend my neck, trying to get my ear to touch my right shoulder, giving it a nice stretch and sending a shudder of cracks down my spine. Oh, that felt good. As I bend my head toward my other ear, I see more headlights on the highway coming up behind me. I brace myself, frustrated that I don’t even get one minute to relax before the tension sets back in. I am going to be a stressed-out mess tomorrow morning.
I turn around to pick up my belongings when I see that it is a big semi-truck coming down the highway. I grit my teeth and close my eyes hard, willing my resolve to keep me going just a little longer. I move over to the very edge of the highway so that I am practically walking in the grass. I don’t want to risk being blown off the side of the road, especially since the driver probably does not expect to see someone walking on the highway at night.
It feels like an eternity has elapsed since I first noticed the truck’s headlights and it has still not passed me. My nerves and my imagination start to run wild. What is the driver doing? Why is he going so slowly? Is this guy a pervert, checking me out? Is he waiting until he is close enough that he can catch me and drag me into the cab? I begin to wonder if I must walk in the ditch, a thought that petrifies me. It’s early spring and who knows what dead animals are lying there in the thick brush just thawing out after the winter? I reluctantly creep along the very edge of the pavement where it turns to gravel and drops off, hoping the gravel doesn’t cause me to slip. I slowly turn around to see what is going on, making sure I don’t lose my footing. The last thing I need is to sprain my ankle on the loose gravel and get buried behind four-foot weeds where no one will find me until the wolves start to howl.
I pick up the pace of my walk. I can barely hear my footsteps over the sound of my pounding heart. My mouth is as dry as the Sahara, but I cannot stop moving. Dammit, why didn’t I keep my phone within reach? There is no way I am going to stop to fish it out of my purse now.
I can see what few lights the town has in the near distance. For the first time in my life, I thank my lucky stars for creating riggers. Their erratic schedules mean everything is open 24/7 so I know I will be able to duck into the first door, even at this hour.
I just have to make it there alive.
I break into a slight jog. Almost immediately, my hair begins falling out of its elastic and gets caught in my mouth. The duffel bag on my shoulder is really starting to hurt my neck and it is very awkward to run with. I contemplate ditching it. What good would a bag of clothes do me if I am kidnapped, raped, and dismembered, anyway? I try to put the morbid thoughts out of my head, but I know the truck is very close behind me now. I am not sure what is louder at this point, my hammering heart or the deafening sound of the engine on my heels.
Just like the last vehicle of goons who drove by, the truck driver is going so slowly that we could have a full conversation through an open passenger window. That is, if the motor wasn’t so loud and if anxiety wasn’t squeezing my chest so hard that I can’t breathe. I am not going to be able to jog all the way into town. I am not even going to make it close enough that someone could hear me scream. I slow back down to a walk, admitting defeat in my quest for speed. Don’t panic, Piper. Shoulders back, eyes forward, look strong.
The truck pulls up right behind me and I hear it stop. The motor lurches and the moving parts squeal as the truck comes to a rest. A lump forms in my throat. Fuck, I should have stayed with Chad. Even Chad is better than this.