In a wet, grey, plastic mac
I did a Le Mans start – what other kind is there? – with screaming engine and spinning rear wheels – and the familiar horizon, visible through the front windscreen, slowly disappeared from view, and we found ourselves staring at the sky, as the back of the car sank into the mud. I switched off the engine and, like an ancient arthritic, climbed out of the steeply inclined car. Both rear wheels were buried to the axle. I cursed them. I cursed the mud, and Benmore, and Monte’s Mart... and then smiled as Carole’s head peeped above the hood on the passenger side of the car.
“No!” I said quickly. “Stay in the car – no need for you to get dirty. Soon have this fixed.”
Her head disappeared back inside.
I took off my jacket and tie and rolled my sleeves up. Which gave me time to think. Now, it should be easy, straightforward. All I have to do is dig it out a bit and get something solid under the wheels. I sat on my heels and began scooping out the mud from in front of one of the buried wheels. It’d be much easier if I could get down lower but that’d mean getting my trousers all muddy. I could take them off. I stopped and thought about that. It had its attractions. But I’d look right silly in shoes and socks and no pants. So I kneeled in the mud and scooped. The going was difficult to start with, because the soft surface mud kept seeping back into the hole and filling it up, but then I got down to the drier sub-surface and after about fifteen minutes had dug two sloping ramps each about three feet long in front of the rear wheels. There was no sign of Carole. I collected twigs and branches from the nearby trees and spread them under and in front of each rear wheel. When I was satisfied, I brushed myself down – which was a mistake – because all I did, was spread the mud in a bread poultice over my legs – and climbed back into the driving seat. “Should be right now,” I said cheerily and closed my eyes for an instant and, in the blackness, I winged a fervent prayer into the void.
I switched on the engine, brought the revs up to a high, even pitch, slid the gear lever into first and slowly let out the clutch. The engine noise deepened, the wheels began a wet whistle and then bit on the branches and we jerked forward. For two feet, and then we began to sink again. I switched off immediately. It wasn’t going to work. Branches weren’t enough. I needed something more solid for the wheels to grip onto.
Carole was smiling uncertainly at me. The smile flickered like one of those old silent movies.
I reset the branches then got my sleeping bag out of the boot and lay it under one wheel and then my jumper and pyjamas under the other. I stuck my head through the side window into the car. “Carole, er, would you mind... giving me a hand please?”
Her expression didn’t change, except I’m sure she went a little paler.
“If you could get out of the car and... oh, take your topcoat and gloves off first, I think...”
She climbed out and lay her gloves, then her coat, onto the passenger seat.
“… and just... push – just a little – it won’t need much, but a push and a little lift perhaps at the start would help us get going. Do you mind?”
She shook her head slowly from side to side, the way children do when they’re too frightened to speak.
“I’ll put her into gear and when I yell, I’ll let out the clutch and if you could lift and push on the bumper at that exact moment… what do you think?"
“Unless you want to do the driving and me do the lifting?” I said.
She shook her head vehemently.
“Right then, good,” and I got back in behind the wheel. I switched on again, put her in gear and looked through the mirror. Carole was bent over the rear bumper, straining forward. I brought up the revs, yelled, and let out the clutch with a jerk. The wheels spun. And then, the beauty! The little beauty leapt forward, skidded momentarily, and swept onto the road. I laughed and shouted in triumph.
Carole was still standing where I’d last seen her. But she had changed. She was covered in a wet, grey, plastic mac. From head to toe. Except for the pink holes of her mouth and eyes. Like a fresh-dipped, Grey and White Minstrel.
What could I say? Sorry? Naughty wheel for spraying little Carole? I kept on getting an image of Al Jolson down on one knee, his mouth wide open on mid ‘Maaammy!’, and I had to turn away in case she saw it too. I offered her the topcoat and gloves but she didn’t want them. She just stood there, with her arms stretched out in front of her. I picked up my jumper and started wiping the excess off her face and hands and that seemed to bring her to. She took the jumper off me and began cleaning herself – the way a cat does, using the jumper like a paw and rubbing and smoothing the mud away. Then she put on her topcoat and said, “You’d better take me to the hotel.” Just that. No tears. No recrimination. No anger. Just... acceptance, and perhaps a smidgen of resignation.
Buy your copy of “Boyo” now!
“Boyo makes that too-often-quoted cliché actually come true – once you start reading or watching, you can’t stop till it’s finished.” – Mike French
Posted: Friday 10 June 2022