by Josephine Howard
I didn’t notice my car was gone until I went to make a cup of tea. Looking out of the kitchen window, from the first floor flat, what struck me was that something was missing. It took a minute as the kettle flicked into life before I realised it was my old Escort.
Greg was banned from driving, had been from before we met last year.
‘I’ve not lost my license,’ he had laughed, ‘I know exactly where it is!’ He thought it a joke that a bunch of civil servants at Cardiff were looking after it for him, as though doing him a favour, or he they, providing them with jobs.
Although its return was imminent surely he hadn’t taken the car?
I hadn’t seen him since last night. He’d been at work this morning, at the toffee factory doing a bit of overtime. I’d been to my bank to change my address to his: this flat off Westbank Terrace, on the first floor, the entrance door down an alley beside the Job Centre. I’d only been here two months and already I hated days off from work during the week when I’d hear the jobless in search of employment comparing notes outside, dragging on their cigarettes. I took umbrage at their empty cans of Woodpecker left scattered in the alleyway. I hated this flat, with its threadbare carpets, faded pink bathroom with a tide mark that looked like a rugby team had bathed. I despised the bedroom was tiny and our cheap pine bed frame had to be pushed up against the wall, and I with it. I shuddered with the rattling sash windows that didn’t close properly.
I paced the floor wondering what to do. I drank my tea. I washed up. I wiped down the tiny work top. I rearranged the contents of the fridge. I took a bath. Still there was no sign of Greg or the car. I felt closed in. I dried my hair. I put my jeans on, a jumper and a pair of slippers. I put the TV on. I wasn’t watching it. I plumped up flat cushions on the sofa. I hoovered up. I heard the street door downstairs open. I glanced out of the bedroom window. My car had reappeared and with it the flat door opened and in staggered Greg. His eyes were blurred, disappearing into his head. He seemed taller than his six foot, swaying in the doorway, the most imposing I had ever seen him.
I didn’t feel afraid then, but I did feel angry.
‘Did your driving license arrive in the post today?’ A contentious question I asked knowing full well it was highly unlikely. He still had a few weeks to go before its return from Cardiff.
‘No.’ He frowned at me. His features were screwed.
‘How come you took the car?’ I tried to not raise my voice into a hysterical squeal.
‘Felt like it.’
‘It’s my car, and you’re still banned!’
‘It’s my car too, now you live here,’ he slurred.
‘But you’re banned. And you’ve been drinking!’ My voice was rising in pitch and I couldn’t help it.
‘So! What if you’d hit someone? Or crashed? Or been caught down Barron High Street drinking?’
‘Then I’d ask the police for a lift home.’ He was sat now in the arm chair, leaning forward, his hands together prayer like but not begging, his elbows on his knees. His eyes were focused and unblinking on me, his brow furrowed, his mouth firm, He was angry and unblinking, staring at me.
My God, I thought, he believes it. He’s that incoherent he believes that, if caught, the police would take kindly to him!
He thumped the arm of the chair with his hand in a fist. ‘Don’t ever speak to me like that again when I walk through the door.’ He stood up and raised himself over me. He pointed at me. ‘You listening?’
‘Yes, but I just want you to hear me.’ I felt a pathetic begging tone about me that I didn’t like.
‘No, you listen to me,’ cutting me short, he shouted, slurring. He still hadn’t blinked; spittle was at the edge of his mouth, ‘Don’t ever speak to me like that again. If I want to use the car I will. And I will go where I want. Understand?’
‘No, I don’t.’ I was quieter now. I didn’t understand, unable to reason with him, I was loosing my fight.
‘Understand?’ He repeated himself, louder. He crossed his arms over himself, his mouth pinched.
‘Yes,’ I whispered.
‘Anything else to say before I have a bath?’
‘Now, that’s better.’ He stood up. He hugged me. I was wrapped entirely in his arms. I smelled his beery breath and turned away from his kiss.
Josephine Howard lives close enough to the sea to smell it in the rain.