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  • Route 7 Review

Love's Bumpy Ride by Justin Aylward

In the past, Justin has published short stories for Fly on the Wall Press, Fairlight Books, East of the Web and The Write Launch. He also writes film criticism, and is currently adapting an unpublished short story into a feature length screenplay.


Love's Bumpy Ride



Ruth and Jake never wanted to do what the other wanted. Disagreement was the one


constant in their relationship.


There was that one time at the summer fair. Ruth did not want to go on the Ferris


wheel, despite Jake’s pleas.


‘People fall out of those things all the time. Forget it.’ She said.


The queue was quite long. It was the warmest day of the year, the middle of June, in


fact. The many families were spreading wide across the bay, toward the beach where the


waves lapped along the white stones. The soft and subtle breeze came from the west and


was welcome as the night approached on the horizon.


Jake tugged at his black jacket; flipping his collar, never satisfied with the look,


always conscious of his appearance but still trusting his grin and hair cream. He wore


black and white with a moist brow and slick, black hair. He moved like a drunk. But Ruth


loved that about him; the rumpled quality which both their parents called a lack of


responsibility.


Ruth lit another cigarette, the wind blowing her shoulder-draped blonde hair across


her glossy cheeks. She cushioned the match from the breeze, her fingers rolling over the


stem of the cigarette. It rested between her luscious red lips.


Jake cozied up to Ruth and tried to take her hand but she moved fast between other


people with an aimless sway. He managed to grip the sleeve of her black dusty coat and


was carried along with it like a dog on a leash.


‘Come on, let’s go over here. I like these things.’ Ruth said.


There was a ring toss game with cuddly toys behind the varnished worktop. Ruth


stood at the long counter. When Jake saw the opportunity to impress her he was ready to


go. Something nice like a fluffy panda would make her happy, keep her on his side, he


thought. He reached into his pocket, fetched out a few torn bills and slammed them down


on the counter.


‘Come on, baby. The big brown bear right there. I want that one.’ Ruth said, tugging


his arm.


‘Alright, let me try, I can do it.’


Jake wound up his arm, his leather sleeve expanding like a balloon on his shoulder.


He tossed the red plastic ring, it bounced on the top of the spike and rebounded to the side.


He grimaced. Ruth whined at him.


‘Shit. All right, let me try again. I got two more.’ He said.


But with two attempts Jake still failed so Ruth punched his arm before marching


away into the crowd.


Theirs was a relationship founded on the whim of passing attraction and maintained


on the basis of moodiness. It was rare that both Jake and Ruth found themselves in a


similar, placable mood, and when they did, it was squandered on drink and parties. The


next day they could not remember how easy it was just to get along with one another.


For a long time Ruth had spoken about how she wanted to move away from the city.


Today’s journey was a trial to see if they liked the seaside. It was pointless to suggest to


them that the thoroughfare was only passing through and that summer didn’t last all year.


Neither of them would pay any heed and judgments were fast and easy to make. So why


not.


The children would be returning to school and their parents would be hard at work.


The streets were going to be deserted and the beach neglected while the waves continued


rolling in silence. They could have the place to themselves practically, just the way it


should be.


‘Can’t we just be happy and free somewhere? I’m tired of everybody sticking their


noses in where they don’t belong.’ Ruth complained.


‘There’s nuthin’ stopping us from leaving. We’ll do it, I promise we will.’


Jake expended more effort than usual when he filled up the gas tank in the car and


searched the map for a place to take Ruth. He thought some places had cool-sounding


names. They were the places he decided to take her. But then she complained that they


needed access to jobs, and those other places he mentioned were too metropolitan.


‘You wanna work as a cook but there’s nuthin’ but banks around here. It’s too


fancy.’ She said.


‘I know, I just thought these places sounded good.’


‘Yeah right, forget it. We need money right now, and I’ll take it where I can get it.’


Jake was working as a jazz musician at the time, playing the trumpet. For a few


years it was the only area of his life where he applied himself. But once he began playing


around small clubs with a band it ceased to be a source of enjoyment. The other players,


older and hardened by the road, shouted at him, sometimes in the middle of a


performance. Also, Ruth never offered any enthusiasm toward his playing and rarely


attended the shows. The first night he stayed at her house he searched the shelves for jazz


records but there were none. How could she understand what jazz was, he asked, if she


never listened to it.


Jake still liked the free form style of the music. In a rare moment of contemplation,


he realised how playing jazz allowed him to formulate his thoughts, the thoughts that were


usually so rapid and impetuous like the music he played.


But it wasn’t paying the bills. Now they lived together in a small squat. They ate


crumbs and the beer became stale when the tabs were left open overnight. Ruth was tired


of the place and said the smutty furniture and musky walls made her want to vomit.


Usually they went for a long walk when she felt that way. Jake always wanted to tell her to


get a job of her own but he was afraid, as she often overreacted. Then he would have to


buy her an ice cream or a packet of cigarettes and forget about everything else.


The music at the carnival was louder and more people gathered around, moving


about in dancing strides. The lights from the various rollercoasters and waltzers were


glittering and flashing across the grass and the watchful faces. The smell of fast-food


burgers and hot dogs permeated the night-time air.


Ruth was hungry and said she wanted to get some food. Jake suggested they buy a


couple of hot dogs. The queue was short so he stood in line while Ruth wandered nearby,


surveying the shore with her soul-searching eyes. Jake hated it when Ruth was silent


because it meant one of two things. Either she was upset with him because of something


he said, or she had something to say but did not know how to say it. No matter what


happened, there would be drama. Jake knew he would have to look Ruth in the eyes


eventually. He could never look people in the eye.


The hot dogs came just in time. Jake squeezed some ketchup and mustard on each


bun. The smell of the sizzling onions watered his eyes.


They sat down together on a bench at the fringes of the grassy promenade. There


was a moment of silence when Jake handed over the hot dog to Ruth. More people were


scuttling past; children playing chase, adults holding hands and enjoying ice creams. Ruth


saw one of the ice creams with raspberry syrup dripping over the brim of the crunchy,


brown cone. Now all thoughts of food were nauseating to her. Her stomach turned.


‘Here’s your hot dog.’ Jake said.


‘Eugh, no.’


Jake ate his hot dog and soon felt the warmth of the other one in his hand, mustard


and ketchup dripping over his fingers.


‘Hey, what’s the matter?’ He asked.


But Ruth couldn’t speak for the tears on her cheeks and the contortion of emotion


therein. She tried to turn her head away from him but collapsed into herself in a storm of


tears and sobs.


Jake looked around from shoulder to shoulder, seeing a mass of people parading


past. He scoffed down his hot dog but was still saddled with Ruth’s hot dog in the other


hand. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his black leather jacket.


‘Come on, Ruthie, just tell me what’s wrong?’ He said.


‘I’m pregnant, okay.’ She said.


Pressed into a response by the immediacy of the situation, Jake answered like only


he knew how.


‘Hey, that’s great. Really... we’re gonna be the best parents ever.’ He spoke with


acceleration as though coming to a punch line.


‘But what are we supposed to do now? We can’t have a baby. We can’t even take


care of ourselves.’ Ruth cried.


‘Don’t worry about a thing, all right. Everything’s gonna be fine. I promise.’ Jake


reassured Ruth with his arm around her shoulder, her hair falling against his jacket. All


this time he held the hot dog in his left hand.


More people strolled on by, indifferent to the crisis. Ruth cried and rubbed her eyes.


Jake promised he would keep the hot dog for when she was ready to eat it. Slowly he


helped her to stand, keeping his right arm clamped around her shoulder. She threw her arm


across his chest and walked along with him. For the first time all evening they looked like


a happy couple; now a family with a little bundle nestled between them.


Time was tip-toeing along. They each possessed enough perspective in that small


space to enjoy some final moments in blissful ignorance.


Farther along the grass was a bumper- car ride. It was Jake’s suggestion made with a


comforting nod. Ruth agreed. It was only a little fun, and together they got in a silver car


after Jake paid the fare. The music was lively. If only they could have danced and ridden


in the car at the same time, that would have been fun too.


Jake took the wheel. They laughed while swaying from side to side, occasionally


being thrown and bumped against their bodies own motion. Ruth held onto the side with


her left arm and gripped Jake’s waist with the other. He kept the wheel steady and was


eager to bump as many other passing cars as possible. It was like jazz, he thought, free and


loose. No two moments were the same. The hot dog was wrapped in some napkins in his


jacket pocket. He did not care about that now, and Ruth was just happy laughing, living


outside the verve of her own body.


Together they went around in circles, diving and swerving in the bumper- car,


coasting in the fast motion of the ride with their bodies caressing and smiles equally


alighted on their faces.


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