by Carys Bray
It’s like that feeling you get when you’re driving and some old bloke lurches out in front of you. You brake. You grip the steering wheel. When you uncoil your fingers they’re damp. You want to roll the window down and shout something clever and furious. ‘I could have killed him,’ you think. You feel like your head‘s screwed on too tight. Your neck’s squeezeboxing. It’s just like that.
It’s like the time your mother told me that she doesn’t like our Abigail while we peeled vegetables in the kitchen. ‘I find it hard to like Abigail,’ she said as she plopped potato halves into a pan. She said it like she thought I might agree, or be sympathetic. Like she expected me to make her feel better about it. As if she hoped I might confess that I don’t like our daughter very much either. ‘Oh,’ I said. My shoulders felt stiff, as if the coat hanger was still inside my jumper. It’s just like that.
It’s like the phone call I got last week – a woman, shouting at me from far away. ‘Hello. Is that Mrs Edwards? There is a problem with your computer. It’s very bad.’ She was hoping I would download something so that she could peel me of my passwords and empty our bank account. But she sounded friendly, concerned, and that made it worse. I held my breath, as if I was preparing to dive into the telephone and burst out of the other end, fist first. It’s just like that.
It’s like the time your mate Neil did the MOT and afterwards there was that noise, that banging under the car. As if a tiny man was stuck under the passenger seat, knocking with a dinky hammer. I went back to the garage three times. ‘Can’t find anything wrong love,’ Neil said. Then you got me to drive down the road and you jogged along the pavement beside me, watching. Your arm went up, like a signal. ‘Bloody hell, the wheel’s nearly off,’ you said. You lay down right there on the curb to get a better look, raging about locking wheel-nuts. ‘Good job you’ve only been driving around town,’ you said. But I hadn’t. I’d been shopping in Formby. I’d been on the dual carriageway. Seventy miles an hour with three wheel nuts missing and our Abigail in the back. And later, while you were on the phone to Neil saying ‘Look mate’, and ‘No harm done,’ I imagined that bloody wheel coming off on the dual carriageway. And I imagined it flying off in town, mounting the pavement and toppling pedestrians. My head was thick with the wire-wool tiredness you get when imagination drags you into scenes you never want to witness. It’s just like that.
It’s like when the woman across the road got alopecia and you said, ‘Do you think she has a brainwash in the shower?’ Later, we bumped into her. She was wearing a head scarf. She had no eyebrows or lashes; eyelids like a fish. She said her mother had died and I felt ashamed for laughing at her baldness. I went to Asda to buy her some flowers. I let Abigail attach the parking ticket, but she put it wrong-side-up and when we got back there was a fixed penalty notice stuck to the windscreen. It seemed like a punishment for not caring about the woman across the road, for being glad that it wasn’t me, for trying to ease my conscience with a bunch of tulips. And I felt like the sort of person who something bad might be about to happen to, the sort of person who needs to learn a lesson, who has to go through something horrible so that people around her can say, ‘It was the making of her.’ It’s just like that.
It’s like right now. You’re watching Match of the Day. I’m sitting next to you, watching it too. But I’m also thinking about other things, like why doesn’t your mother love Abigail? Is it better to die in a car accident or of an illness? If I call the doctor’s surgery tomorrow will I get an appointment this week? How much is the life insurance worth? I start to say something and you shush me. I start again, but the commentator’s voice rises and you extend an arm in my direction, slicing WAIT at me. The inside of your head is flat with new turf and one-twos, free kicks and aggregate scores. My words will mount a pitch invasion. They are pushing past the trap door of my throat and I might burst if I don’t tell you that this morning I found a lump, and this is what it feels like.
When she should be doing PhD research, Carys Bray often writes about writing here.