Tonight is the night for driving. For being together. For getting fast food. Whether the light is red, or green, we can enter. We don’t need to see the menu – we know what we want.
Back inside the car, we remove our masks. I hold the hot paper bag on my bare knees, and you start the engine. We begin to move.
It’s wet out, and the heat from our order is making condensation halos for the streetlights. We are flanked by guardian angels, I think, as they pass the window in quick succession; but I don’t tell you that. Instead, I reach for the radio, hit the first station, and we laugh; the song is familiar. It reminds us of something that happened on the evening we met, at the start of it all, when going out was still possible. These nights, we just drive. Around, and around. There is nothing else.
You have flicked the switch now to clear the windscreen, and I suddenly realise just how hot my skin is from the food; but I don’t tell you that either. I just watch the glass as the halos swiftly constrict – until there is nothing celestial about them.
I think of how I have missed the chance to tell you what I saw; to see what you would have said to that. And I wonder how I am to get to know you better if I don’t say these things – how I will know if you are for me – if I don’t tell you that my knees are burning now, and I might like to put the food on your car floor.
I wonder what I’m afraid of.
That you’ll think me foolish? That you won’t care? I don’t know you long, but you seem like the kind of person who would – perhaps it’s that I’m not quite ready to find that out for sure.
We’ve left the main street now, and are making our way to the usual place. We are facing the sea, and you turn off the engine. It doesn’t take long for the condensation to return. You remove your seatbelt, flick the overhead light on, and turn to take the food from my lap.
This happens too quickly for me, and before I can do anything, we are both looking at my knees. I know I am flushing with embarrassment at the sight of them. I look up in the hope that you will too, and you do.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” you ask me, and I find that I can’t tell you.
I look beyond your concerned expression at the harbour – at a series of tiny halos – and I take a deep breath.
“Look at the lights,” I say.
It takes you a moment before you turn to see them.
“Do they look like angels to you?” I ask, bracing myself for the moment when our eyes will meet again; for what I might see when they do.
That’s when you raise your hand to wipe the window; when I say, “No, look at them just as they are.”
And you do. Then you turn. And I know.
By Emma Hynes
This image and story are part of a project I have devised called There Are No Fixed Stars, my creative response to living with COVID-19 restrictions. On 22 October 2020, Ireland’s highest level of protective measures was invoked nationwide for a period of six weeks. Starting on that date, and continuing for the duration, I plan to capture a new image each day, and write a piece inspired by it. The only restrictions are that I take the photograph and write the text within this timeframe. To receive these daily posts to your inbox, you can subscribe by hitting the follow button to the right, and entering your email address. They will also be posted to my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles; I may even read a selection on my YouTube channel. You can follow or subscribe to any of those at the links below. In a time when variety, freedom, stimulation and spontaneity are necessarily inhibited, my hope is to experience these each day through the creation of something new, and that the resulting pieces might do the same for anyone who chooses to view or read them.
YouTube: Emma Hynes
There Are No Fixed Stars
Day One – A Creative Response to Now
Day Two – Suspension
Day Three – From the Perspective of the Dahlia
Day Four – The Writer at Dawn
Day Five – Beneath the Viaduct
Day Six – Nature’s Book
Day Seven – The Lighthouse
Day Eight – Formations
Day Nine – Rebirth
Day Ten – Light Source