To the End of Our Road

Joe Drennan at the Smedias 2022, where he was nominated for Short Story of the Year
Joe Drennan at the Smedias 2022, where he was nominated for Short Story of the Year

‘To the End of Our Road’ is a short story written by Joe Drennan in March 2022. The piece was nominated for Short Story of the Year at the National Student Media Awards (Smedias) 2022.


I leaned back in the passenger seat of the car to get my bag off the backseat. I grew tired of squinting through the intense glare of the sun and put on my sunglasses to avoid it. The sun was beaming down on us so much, that when I picked my phone up off the dashboard of his car, it was red hot in my hand. I
turned to him, and he was doing the same strained squint as I was. I took my sunglasses off and put them on his head for him, protecting his savoy-blue almond eyes from the fierce glare.
In an attempt to be coy, I didn’t look at him, even though he was looking at me, smiling. I thought that if I were to acknowledge that I had done something somewhat nice for him, it would also show him that I liked him more than I wanted him to know. At that point, we were still committed to being
I was looking at his smile through the corner of my eye. Looking back, I’d say that was the first discrepancy between his outward persona and true character, his smile. When I would look at his pictures online, I saw how he would smile by tucking his tongue under his lips, making them appear bigger. His eyes would remain the same as if he wasn’t smiling at all, unimpressed and disinterested. In real life, it was entirely different. He would smile so exuberantly, showing the gap in his teeth, that I loved, but he didn’t. His eyes would squint like they did in the sun, and this smile would usually be accompanied by a wheezing laugh and the occasional snort.
All these qualities of something as simple as his smile, were so endearing that it happened to be the first thing that I would notice about him whenever I was with him, and something that I grew to love.
Shades of Cool by Lana Del Rey was playing in the car on the way. The fact that I liked her was actually the first thing he noticed about me, and any trip we would go on together, we’d always end up listening to her along the way. When I walked into his refurbished Georgian apartment the first day that we met, I
could hear her song playing in the hallway. I mentioned this to him, while I was looking up at him, initially intimidated by his towering height and robust build. He said he knew that I liked her from a video that he saw on my Instagram. I thought that was funny, that his first impression of me was a video that he saw
online. What he didn’t know was that I wasn’t even that much of a fan of hers, subconsciously I just knew that the song matched the aesthetic I was going for at the time.
That was something that we got to do that summer we met. We got to know the real people that were behind the outward personas that we tried to maintain. It began with his exuberant smile, and my fanciful love for Indie Rock, and then we got to know each other’s true character.
Since I was going back to college, and he had gotten a promotion at work, this
drive was meant to be the last of our summer fling. We had many conversations
about how we’d both go our separate ways after the summer had ended, which
oddly enough added to the romance of it all, that there was a time bomb or
expiry date on our entanglement. Eventually, the romanticisation subsided when
the reality of the situation was put plainly in front of us.
Keeping this expiry date in mind, I always welcomed him to see other people.
Which was foolish because I didn’t actually want him to. Often, he would hint
at the fact of him feeling the same, that he didn’t want to see anyone else, but
between wanting to keep the summer fling as a summer fling, I ignored it. Then
he would get with someone else or laugh at another guy’s joke and I would find
myself having the same possessive reaction as if he had been unfaithful. My
feelings were so intense, that anytime something like this would happen, it
would feel like a betrayal. Then I would forgive him, without ever telling him it
bothered me. And after a while, when I finally had grown tired of this vicious
circle that I created and sustained, I realised: You can’t keep forgiving someone
for doing things they’re well within their right to do.
I could see we were taking a turn onto a country road, and the road was lined
with ash trees on either side, their flowing branches and green leaves were
hanging out over us, which finally cut off the blazing sun. I cut my own circle
of thoughts off for a minute to finally tune into what he as saying.
“…when I met my mam for brunch the other day, we went into that restaurant
again and it was so awkward cause the waiter had been texting me on Grindr…”
I immediately tune out again, only this time it wasn’t as easy to hold in my
disapproval at the topic of discussion. I rolled my eyes and slammed the visor
closed. He looked at me with a startled confusion. And when the confusion
subsided, he could tell that it was this particular topic of discussion that made
me react that way and apologised for it.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring it up like that.”
I ignored him in an effort to fight the urge to blurt out my suppressed feelings,
which only made him poke at the issue further.
“We’ve talked about this already, you are the one who says we should see other
people, so you can’t get mad at me for saying something like that. Forgive me if
I can’t read your mind.”
I had already given time to thinking about what I would say had an opportunity
like this arisen. This was the opportunity to finally admit that I wasn’t happy
with our circumstances. If I wanted to ask him for more, now was the time to
say it. Although saying how I felt was automatically unworkable. Maybe it was
a fear of rejection, or just hoping to be able to keep what we had and taking it
any step further would just ruin it. Back then, I thought that being able to have
something like this, the friends with benefits, being able to keep someone at
arm’s length, was synonymous with being an adult. It isn’t. Being grown-up is
being able to say how you feel and deal with any potential consequence that
arises. And the time for growing up was now.
“That’s what I’ve been doing for the last month.”
“Forgiving you.”


The wheels of the rented Hyundai spun swiftly along the road, at a pace which
was discomforting given the icy conditions. Before we left the hotel that wintry
morning, the concierge had given us a warning about the rimy conditions. The
gusts of wind came in acute intervals, amplifying the whistle that came from
underneath the car as the wind tore through us. When we walked to the carpark
that morning, the hailstones were pelleting down so hard that I thought that one
would pierce our rain gear. In true touristic fashion, we chose to ignore the
concierge’s advice and continue to our destination, the waterfall at
This landmark was a must see for those visiting the region, and on the plane
over, I was searching for pictures of the landscape on the internet and realised it
would undoubtedly be a highlight of the trip. Driving along the main road of
Þórsmerkurvegure, we had the windows of the car sealed to create an allprotecting shield against the harsh conditions outside. The closed windows
trapped in the scent of his L’Occitane cologne and the aroma of the burnt filter
coffee we had from the hotel breakfast buffet. The air was so cold that it would
eliminate any warm comfort in your body, and even if I had layered up with all
the clothes from my suitcase, it wouldn’t do much against it. Anytime I had
thought about cracking a window to smoke a cigarette or get some fresh air, he
quickly rolled it up again to maintain that cocreated shield.
When I looked at him after he’d do that, he gave me that same exuberant smile
that I had grown to love. Not only had I grown to love it, but I had also begun to
think of it as something of my own. If he smiled at me that way, in reaction to
something that I had done, surely it was because of me? Surely that smile was
only something that I could claim and that wouldn’t be anyone else’s. This
fascination with his smile is very telling, not only of the immaturely possessive
way I had viewed him and our relationship, but the extent to which I loved him,
and how I didn’t just love the idea of him anymore.
I put away my cigarettes back into the glovebox of the car and looked out of the
window. I watched the snow cover all aspects of the environment that anyone
could recognise. In the summer, the endless shades of green flora would
illuminate the land, but now it was covered in a white blanket of snow and ice.
The surrounding mountain peaks towered over us, trapping us in a taiga valley.
It was a white desert that was miles away from everything. Miles away from
Reykjavík and miles away from home.
In the same way that we had created a shield with the car windows, while we
were together for those few months, we had also created a shield around us. I
was isolated from everything and anyone, including myself. Any aspirations or
interests I had was put on the back burner while I was with him. I paid rent for
an apartment that I didn’t live in anymore and was enrolled in a college course
that I didn’t partake in, because most of my time and attention was devoted to
one desire; to be loved.
This desire had inadvertently shut me off from friends, family and familiar
comforts. He’s not at fault for that, even though it was cocreated, but it had
arisen from my own consuming devotion. He didn’t ask for me to do that, and
looking back, I’d try my best for it never to happen again. My lacking
experience with love, and healthy love, caused me to do it anyway.
I was holding my phone in my hand, switching between Instagram and Google
Maps with nimble hand movements. It pains me to admit now, but there were
only two things on my mind as I was switching between the two; navigating the
journey, and as well, updating my social media so that everyone could see the
amazing time I was having. Not the amazing time that we were having. I think I
made it such a point to show everyone that he loved me, because for so long in
my mind, it was a prerequisite that something like that could never happen for
me. I was trying to prove a point to myself but ended up proving it to everyone
else instead.
Even though it was subconscious, that I was rubbing my love for him in
everyone’s faces, I regret it now. I regret that I didn’t spend more of my energy
appreciating who was making me happy, rather than showing everyone that I
was happy in the first place.
What I really take away from that is how I wasn’t happy. No one that is, will be
so eager to show it to anyone that will listen. As cliché as it sounds, no one can
make you that way, only you.
Even though I didn’t do it intentionally, I put him on a pedestal, and used him as
a checkpoint for which I could return to, anytime I needed to feel desired and
validated. To hold someone to such a high standard is foreboding; your brain
and your heart go to wild extremes, creating expectations that is impossible for
anyone but yourself to find tangible, and in the end, you only get let down. By
no one else, but yourself.
“Keep an eye on your phone, I don’t know where the next turn off is.” he asked
with an invested tone.
I replied hastily, not looking up from my phone and pointed to the right.
“Yeah, it’s the next one here on the left.”
Realising the embarrassingly contradicting statement I had made, I turned to
him and was met with a disapproving but also unsurprised expression.
He forced a smile, and asked again:
“Left, or right?”
Coming up to the turn off, he brought the car to an almost stationary pace and
turned onto the slip road I had directed him toward. The landscape hadn’t
changed, it was the same white desert we had been driving on, almost two hours
from the city. Only this time the condition of the road was far worse, and I
could feel the car vibrating, driving into potholes and over loose sediment. I
knew immediately we were on the wrong road. No way would the road to the
most visited landmark in Iceland be so unsuitable for tourists like us in an
I said nothing, and allowed him to carry on, waiting for him to figure it out on
his own. Which looking back, was so immature, being unable to admit when I
was wrong, but I hated the thought of his I told you so tone when he would
eventually find out.
The thing is, he isn’t stupid. He knew as well as I did that we were on the wrong
road and wasn’t slow to correct my mistake. He rolled his eyes, and began
fiddling with the GPS on the car, even though I had the directions on my phone.
He pulled out his own phone to search for the spelling of the waterfall and left it
on his lap to type it into the system. I left him alone to do it, because I think he
had finally lost his patience with me being the navigator.
He leaned over to the middle of the car, squinting his eyes and attempted to
spell the word in the search bar of the GPS. Unbeknownst to him, the steering
wheel of the car slightly turned in the direction he was leaning, and suddenly we
were in the middle of the road. In the same way he was quick to fix my
mistakes, I was quick to call him out on his. I raised my voice spitefully to
alarm him:
“Will you move over, we’re in the middle of the fucking road!”
He was startled and jerked the steering wheel to correct our direction,
disregarding the icy conditions. The back wheels of the car took a direction of
their own under us, and we instantaneously started skidding on the road.
In a panic, he grabbed the wheel with both hands and slammed the brakes. His
attempt to stop the car only made it worse, and we spun on the road, so much
that when the car finally did stop, we were facing the opposite way. We were
both silent, realising that our miscommunication and stubbornness had almost
cut our Icelandic getaway tragically short.
When he eventually caught his breath, he took his phone out of his lap, and
placed the blame in mine.
“If you had actually paid attention, we wouldn’t have nearly crashed in the
middle of fucking nowhere.”
Oddly enough, his tone of voice wasn’t so aggressive, even though he was
blaming me for almost causing us to crash. Any extent of disapproval or
disappointment in me from his end was disheartening, but I was underwhelmed
at his calm and collected reaction. Maybe I was jealous at the way he could
manage his emotions, but I think I was more upset that he didn’t care enough to
even raise his voice.
Sometimes when we were driving along the road, I wish he would’ve taken the
wheel in his hands and swerved into oncoming traffic to kill us both. Not
because I wanted to die, but because at least then I would’ve known that
someone loved me enough that if he was going to die, he would let me die with
him. I wish he was the type that would scream in my face had I endangered us
like I did on the way to the waterfall. It was an obsessive degree of passion that
I was yearning for, the same degree of passion that I brought to the table, but I
was trying to engender a passion between us that would never exist. I knew that
the safe but monotonous love that we had wasn’t supposed to be for someone
like me.


I can still remember how swollen my eyes felt in the taxi that day on the way to
college. I wondered if he had known how long I laid awake in his arms the night
before, combatting the urge to sob myself to sleep. I felt like my eyes had cried
so much that they were completely dry, so much so that they were almost itchy.
I knew that if I started rubbing my eyes, to scratch the itch, I couldn’t rely on
the convenient excuse of allergies, and I wouldn’t insult him through the
dishonesty of that excuse. We had laid all of our cards on the table, we knew
how we both felt, and we knew that there was no point in hiding from the truth
of the situation.
I listened to him, as he obliged to the small talk with the taxi driver. It was
prompted by the news of the Irish fishermen against the Russian authorities
playing on the radio. Even though I didn’t have the wherewithal to speak, I was
mad that he didn’t ignore him to tend to me. He left me to self soothe, like a
child in its cot. This was the first realisation, that I was back to what I had
always feared; being left on my own.
What didn’t help the situation was that the taxi driver was objectively
handsome, and even worse was that the guy was his type. Curly hair, angular
build, and a soft voice. A fucking twink. Despite being so aggrieved, I could
recognise that he was conversing with a carbon copy of me. They waded
through the litany of expected themes of small talk, like anyone would when
getting to know someone. This was the second realisation; he could already be
moving on.
Trying to understand the rationale of my thoughts, while also trying to contain
my boiling anger, I remembered the fight we had two nights previous. Not so
much the fight itself, but the reason as to why the fight occurred in the first
place. At the time, I felt so betrayed by the unfeeling complexion of his actions,
how he could be so dismissive to my obvious distress, and how I would never
have thought that someone I loved would say such hurtful things. I felt like he
had used the pieces of me that I trusted him with, against me. After all this time,
I thought that the part of me that knew something like this could happen was
silenced. His loving actions would always trump the incessant voice that I
didn’t deserve him, or what he gave me. I was proved wrong in the end, and that
incessant voice spoke louder than ever.
That’s how I felt the night we fought, but the desire to forgive and forget about
the whole thing had forced me to see things from another side: his. He had told
me that he was emotionally disconnected, from everything, and consequentially,
me. The more I came to terms with it, I realised that these actions that led to our
end, were the actions of someone who was in fact emotionally disconnected. He
was never lying to me, he was taking time to articulate his thoughts, which to
him was an abstract problem to solve.
I decided I didn’t care much for how he saw me at that time, whether I was
drying my tears, or picking up the pieces left of my broken trust from the floor
of the taxi. I forced myself to speak, and I couldn’t think of what I could
possibly say, as there was an overwhelming sense of urgency. I could see that
we were turning into the main gates of the university, and that my time was
running out. This would be the last chance that I’d get to say what I wanted to
say, so I made it count:
“Do I have anything on my face?”
He looked at my swollen face and laughed emphatically, then perpetuated an
inside joke I was afraid he had forgotten about.
“Just beauty.”
This corny exchange was a long-standing joke between us since we first met. I
still don’t know if he had known the extensive meaning that I held with that
little joke.
I remember the first time he said it to me. We went for coffee in our usual place
and sat down outside with our usual oat flat white-almond croissant pairing. At
the time, I had a strained and problematic relationship with food. And to hide
the fact that my eating habits were a way of controlling what I couldn’t control,
I played it off to myself and friends how I just didn’t like eating around people.
Over those last few months, I watched my body wither away. I relished in the
progress I made, forcing food away from my mouth and instead, forcing myself
into a mould of a person I eventually couldn’t recognise.
After I finished the pastry, I asked was there anything on my face, hoping no
crumbs or flakes of it had been left on my cheek. He would reply with his soonto-be habitual punchline, and I would laugh. He would find it funny, but I
would find a more reassuring comfort in this routine reply. I found myself
asking more often, even when I knew there was nothing on my face, I just
needed to get my fix of validation and reassurance.
Before we met, I would have gone to great lengths to get that validation and
reassurance. With him, all I would have to do is ask that simple question.
So, in the taxi, when he replied to that question like he always would, I knew I
had achieved two separate things: diffusing the tensity of the situation with
humour, and getting that fix of reassurance from him, one last time.
There was so much I wanted to say to him in that taxi. How he was generous,
how he allowed me to feel comfortable with men again and how he is
magnetically kind. So, I said one thing I hadn’t said before to encapsulate it all.
I unbuckled my seatbelt, and ushered over to his side of the backseat, hugged
him, and uttered it hesitantly in his ear.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The taxi pulled up in the bus stop outside the college, and grinded to a halt to let
me out. I grabbed my stuff in both hands, opened the door with an elbow, and
got out. I didn’t say anything to him; I wanted those words to be the last he’d
say to me for a while, because it brought all the consolation I needed.
I gently pushed the door of the taxi closed and made my way over to the other
side of the road to get to my class. I looked back, and he wasn’t looking at me
anymore. He was speaking to the man driving the taxi, the bootleg version of
me, and the guy must’ve said something funny because I saw his face scrunch
up in a forced laughter, and then after a while it settled to his exuberant smile.
But he wasn’t smiling at me anymore. He was sharing that smile with someone
else, and something that I naively thought as something that belonged to us, in
fact belonged to everyone all along.
That was when the gravity of the situation was finally revealed. He was the only
person that I loved, and who I thought could ever love me, and now he’s gone.
It could’ve been because of me, that I wasn’t good enough. Or it could’ve been
that he was using me as something to validate himself, and after he got it, didn’t
see any need for me anymore. Or it could be that he had finally grown tired of
my interests, demeanour, impatience, and immaturity.
What I’ve come to know now about it isn’t anything overly profound, but
coming to the realisation as to why we couldn’t work was no easy feat. He
couldn’t love me anymore and he did everything he could to take me where he
thought we could go together. Retrospectively, I find it admirable that he would
sever such a strong bond to focus on himself and go his own way.
Because in the end, that’s all we were, two completely different people, going
two completely different ways. I could’ve begged him to stay, but like always, I
never wanted to push him to do something that he didn’t want to do. I would’ve
helped him through anything he needed me to, I would’ve done anything to save
us. And as I stood by myself on the side of the road, I already knew some of the
reason to our end. I would’ve gone to the ends of the earth for him, but he could
only take us to the end of our road

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