The Traffic Lights That Time Forgot by Michael McCarthy

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Mike McCarthy's character has an intimate encounter whenever she stops for a particular red light.

She became aware of him when she was waiting at the traffic lights that time forgot, so called by her because of the endless wait for green.

Now the wait couldn't be long enough.

She'd experienced something she could only describe as a presence, a not unpleasant sensation, when she stopped her car, a perception or portent, but something she instinctively knew not to fear.

A few days later at the traffic lights, she'd felt his finger gently stroking her shoulder and her entire body began to tingle.

But when the lights changed, too soon now, she'd felt the sensation slowly recede and a feeling of emptiness and disappointment engulfed her.

But he came back.

On subsequent occasions he caressed her entire body and made it his own. She felt her hands gripping the steering wheel for all she was worth as she fought to keep losing control as an electrifying rush surged through her being.

But he always pulled back at the last second before the pleasure would have been overpowering.

She planned her day around his visits; keeping to the same time table, waking up at the same time, making sure her usually brushed and tied up hair lay untamed and wet on her shoulders, just as she knew he liked it.

Somehow she always managed to arrive at the lights just as they changed to red.

She knew what he thought: he was in his favourite position in a car, in the front passenger seat, being driven by an attractive woman.

There was something about sitting beside a woman driving, especially if the weather is clement and she's wearing a long skirt, pulled up and bunched just above the knees, her legs apart, at pedal distance.

And that was it.

She knew how he thought: that he would come into her life and then disappear without a trace.

But we all leave traces. We may not realise it, but we do.

So did he. Only he didn't realise how deep his traces went, beneath her skin, into the core of her being. How could he have?

Then it dawned on her, he'd always been there. Not forever maybe, but for a long time.

How could she have forgotten?

She couldn't bear to lose him.


But, how could she have forgotten?

That was easy.

She'd been at her lowest ebb.

They'd been supposed to meet and then go home together to their new home, his flat.

But they hadn't made it.


She was sure he couldn't remember either.

And now he'd come back.

She should have known he wouldn't desert her.

She was convinced that people knew there was somebody in her life again, she could imagine the looks on their faces, in their eyes.

What was that look?

Joy? No, envy.

She knew they were looking at her. In the past, before his return, she hadn't liked being the subject of people's gazes. She'd felt uncertain, self conscious.

Not anymore. Not now.

He'd left a trace inside her.

But was it enough?

Surely, nothing this good could last.

She knew it could only end in tears. Or worse.

But it would be worth it. Wouldn't it?

Without a doubt.

She woke up one morning, bathed in sweat; he was gone, the tantalising, fading remnants of their night together dancing on the edge of her consciousness.

She was picking up more and more on his feelings.

When he had come back to her, his lingering kisses and amorousness had impassioned her.

But there was a sadness about him lately, like he was going through the motions.

She was right, it was coming to an end.

How could she live without him?

She felt he was struggling to make a decision.

She had to help him. But how?

She didn't want this anymore, to keep him trapped, like a bird of prey. She had to let him go.

Suddenly she understood everything.

Her memory had been coming back, interlinked with his visits, like two films mixed up and running in the wrong order.

She'd been at the traffic lights. She'd been late, rushing to meet him. She'd been too impatient to wait for green.

It can't hurt, just this once.

There was nobody behind her or in front. In fact there was no traffic, anywhere.

The crossroads were empty.

She let the car creep forward, slowly, then she pressed gently on the accelerator.

There was a shivering, juddering, deafening impact, like a detonation, and that was it, she'd lost control of her body and her life.

How long had he been coming here?

She didn't need vision to see the tears streaming down his face or the heaving of his shoulders.

She knew him. She could feel the guilt that was tearing him apart.

There had to be something she could do.

There was.

If he comes to her one more time, in her dreams, she can release him. She is complete in her dreams, when they are together. She can tell him and set him free.

He came.

It was as though he had read her thoughts.

She wanted it to be good for them both, not enough to make him long for her, but good enough to sustain her, for who knew how long, and as he lay spent and empty and exhausted in her arms, his head on her breasts, she whispered in his ear and set him free.

She smiled inwardly as he kissed her, it was a long and lingering kiss, freighted with farewell. It was right, she had made her decision, to release them both, by freeing him.

But he came again.

The next day, and every day thereafter.

She stopped again at the traffic lights that time forgot and felt his presence beside her and then his hands and lips on her body and she was whole again.


  1. This excellent story affected me very much. The poignancy, exquisitely drawn sensuality and sexuality, and the profound senses of longing and loss, build to a beautiful story that is human and strong. Strangely I did not find it at all 'creepy', but rather mystical and beyond the routine boundaries of commonly reported experiences. Superb, thank you,

  2. Hi Ceinwen,

    many thanks for your kind comments, I was hoping the feelings you mention would come across.
    appreciate your time, look Forward to your next!



  3. Hi Mike, I felt like an intruder into a woman's intimate fantasy of her living dream. Your story was very effective in creating an atmosphere of curiosity, with as already has been said mystical overtones. An enjoyable and captivating read, James McEwan

  4. The build-up. Short, tempting sentences. Light teasing insights. Not too much, just enough to leave you guessing. Wondering. Becoming entwined with the emotions. Are they hers? Or yours, the reader? Then, bam. It becomes clear. Nicely done, Michael. Really sucked me in. And as Ceinwen mentioned, you feel the "profound senses of longing and loss." Thanks for another good read.

  5. Hi James,
    many thanks for reading my story, that´s very interesting, and if I may say, insightful,, your comment about being an intruder, it adds something for me!

    thanks again


  6. Hi Jim,

    always look forward to your comments, again, if I may so, some really

    insightful comments about the emotions,

    much appreciated

    waiting for your next!


  7. This was really intense and captivating especially in the way it was written. The short, teasing sentences giving little by little of the back story and the current plot. It was enthralling and kept me glued to my screen in a rush to finish it. This is a great read.

  8. Hi Phoenix,

    many thanks for your Kind words, I´m glad you enjoyed it. Of course!



  9. Excellent story that captures a person's desire to reunite with a beloved mate, to hold that someone close, and refuse to let go. A story which readers who've experienced loss will identify with and appreciate.

  10. Hi Margi,

    I really appreciate your comments, I was hoping to get that loss feeling across without sounding mawkish

    many thanks


  11. Impressive piece; a raw canvas of literary minimalism using as its brushes and palette no more than the four basic human emotions.

  12. An interesting take on the eternal question - where to from here? Great writing, inveigling the reader into the story and making it entirely believable; also envoking emotions of sadness, empathy, admiration for the generosity of spirit of the protagonist in wanting to set her lover free - and happiness that he will not be abandoning her. An intriguing read!

  13. Hi Brooke,
    thank you very much for your comments, I always like to strip things to the bone!



  14. Hi Beryl,
    thank you for reading and your critique, the emphasis in this story changed a number of times during the writing, and I wasn´t always sure I had it right.



  15. I came for the title and stayed for the payoff. Nice idea and imagery. Could maybe form the kernel of a longer piece, eg a screenplay or novella. Reminds me of The Lake House, but quirkier.

  16. Hi Jonathan,

    i had the Image of a woman in a car for a long time and the title came from a seemingly endless wait at the lights! I´m hoping to expand it sometime.

    thanks for reading


  17. Wow. That had such a haunting feeling to it. Very well done.

  18. Hi Jon,
    thank you very much for reading and your comments


  19. I found it poetically enthralling! It just kept my heart racing as i wondered what would happen next. of course, i wasn't disappointed. Great style indeed. It's a total let in in to the private thoughts and feelings of a typical girl. Merci Michael! What a lovely piece of art work!

  20. Hi Jamiu,
    many thanks for your Kind words, it´s my shortest Story on fictionontheweb but in some ways it took the longest to write!

    Thanks again


    I´m so pleased you enjoyed it.

  21. I love this story! It is definitely one of my favorites on this site and in general. The short sentences and vivid imagery left me almost breathless. It wasn't creepy at all, just wistful and sad. Excellent job.

  22. Also, the title is captivating! (I forgot to mention that in my previous comment.)

  23. Hi Danielle,

    I´m very pleased you like my Story, it´s always nice to hear people´s views. To be honest, I hoped the title would attract some Readers!

    many thanks again


  24. Crikey , how to summarise my comment amongst all of these which were succinct and very clear and all of whom clearly understood it. I of course really liked it , but had to re read multiple times and I am still left confused and questioning which is a good thing. I could not figure out if she was dead , or in a coma and he visiting her bedside , if he was dead and she was grieving or if the reliving the dream scenario was to replace another love lost or if he only ever existed in her imagination . So it was tender, definitely thought provoking and made me re read many times, sad due to what happened m his guilt and her acceptance and reinforced how fragile feelings and life can be and how we can't often manage how we feel . A story that will not be easily forgettable .

  25. So haunting and thought-provoking, wondering if she is dead or if he is

  26. many thanks for these last two views, much appreciated.
    for the record, she is alive and paralysed due to the car crash.

    Mike McC

  27. When intense residual energy has been left and an extreme love is stopped in seconds then it will linger on at the site until both parties release each other. Keep up the good writing Mike. Very haunting

  28. Hi Kevin,

    many thanks for your comments, I really appreciate your insight


  29. So very sad. Very good minimalism.

  30. Hi, thank you very much, I like the story to be in the forefront and not to be slowed down by unnecessary, for me, descriptions etc

    Mike McC

  31. Hi Mike. I don’t know if you still check the comments after all this time, but I thought I’d put my two cents in. I read the story three times and still I didn’t fully get it. So I read the comments—the most I’ve seen on a FOTW story, congratulations--in order to get a sense of what others thought. Most of them didn’t help. “Great read” and “terrific writing” were apropos, but I felt clueless as to what everyone else seemed to understand so well. Then Teresa, bless her, wrote that she didn’t quite get it either and you enlightened both of us. Thank you! I guess everything was so nuanced and all and some things left unspoken—or else I’m a dummy, let’s face it—but I’m glad to put the questions to rest. I just saw that you’ve got skads of other stories in the FOTW archives. Ill be sure to read each of them. Congratulations on being such a successful and appreciated wordsmith.

    1. Hi Bill,
      sorry to take so long to come back to you!
      I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. You're certainly not a dummy!
      Look forward to reading any further comments you may make.
      Thanks again, Mike