“I told you” John said as he turned his car into the car park. “Mary and her bloody donkey would’ve needed a wheelie badge to get in here”
His wife Georgia decided to ignore this blasphemy and concentrated on looking for a vacant spot.
They joined the sad queue of vehicles and stopped. “Second best place to be” John optimistically declared staring into his rear view mirror and applying the hand brake.
“I may regret asking” Georgia said tentatively, as her eyes continued to scan for spaces “But what the hell are you talking about?” Her words were tempered by a smile.
“I’m glad you asked little lady” his smile mirrored hers “Cause this is a good one” He paused to move the car forward six inches then reapplied the hand brake and rechecked his mirror. “Clearly” He began “The very best place to be in this situation is at the front of the queue” He waited for her nodded agreement before continuing “All your options are open, any spaces that exist belong to you and you alone”
Georgia rested her cheek against the seat and gazed with feigned interest at her husband.
“So far so good” she allowed generously.
He turned his head to look at her “Where do you think the second best place to be is?”
“The back” she answered instantly “You just said”
“The back!” He ignored her laugh and carried on. “Being the back marker means that everything behind you is your domain.”
She adjusted her position to look out of the back window then settled back into her seat “Your fifteen foot domain didn’t last very long”
John tore his gaze from hers and hurriedly checked his mirror. “Piss flaps” Two cars had already pulled up behind him.
She sat up straight and asked “I wonder if they know how lucky they are to be at the back?”
His grip tightened slightly on the steering wheel.
“The inexperienced parker” He said archly “would panic at this point, they would inevitably fail to notice how the traffic had moved on in front of them thereby effectively placing them at the front of the queue.”
Georgia followed his gaze and said “They would probably also fail to notice that woman” she pointed with her nose “who seems to be done with her day of shopping”
“Good work Hiawatha” John’s praise was accompanied by an offer of a high five which she gladly accepted.
A middle aged lady walked in front of them, juggling with shopping and keys. Her first attempt at unlocking the car ended with the fob falling to the floor. As she crouched to reclaim them still holding her bags John’s patience ran out.
“Put the bags down”
A second failed attempt was made causing Georgia to add.
“Put them down you idiot”
The third try worked and the cars lights flashed in celebration. The women then turned her attention to opening her boot. This was eventually achieved by means of an extended thumb, an impressively raised knee and an ingenious use of the head.
“Oh, my, God” Georgia’s anger caused him to flinch. “Now she puts the bags down?”
“Honk the horn” Her hands agreed with her mouths sentiment but clearly lacked faith in his response. Only the tightness of her seat belt and him gently grabbing her wrists prevented her displeasure from being broadcast.
“No need dear” he said placating, “She’s getting there”.
Johns esteem for this dextrous female was rising by the second. Her ingenuity and refusal to play by the rules had him cheering in his head.
The cheer turned to a scream when the woman, having crammed her bags into the boot locked her car with a nonchalant press of the key fob and began walking back towards the shops. He released his wife’s wrists and held up his hands, palms out in apology. She looked at her hands for a split second then placed them carefully on her lap.
He risked a glance in the mirror. Five cars loomed in the reflective surface. One wife loomed angrily to his left. He tried to make them see the apology in his eyes but it was overpowered by the hate in theirs. He raised a doleful hand in apology and pulled forward.
“There John, straight ahead” a small car was pulling out five spaces away.
“You can just drive straight in, it’s perfect” “Please John, don’t do anything silly” she begged him.
“Define silly” he demanded as he spun the car ready to reverse.
The vacated spot was a lucky find, one of those rare spaces that could make your day. No steering necessary on the way out. Just accelerate and go. Of course he would have to reverse in, that was not “Silly”.
Normally Georgia would have agreed with him. Reverse parking showed class, but it would mean holding up the traffic again. Once had been acceptable but after the initial aborted parking fiasco to do it again would cause comment, and possibly a honked horn.
She looked behind checking what sort of thugs lurked behind them. She let out a small sigh of relief.
“A Two year old Jag” she said, “Thank God it wasn’t a BMW”.
John made a trumpet sound as their car slid triumphantly home, accompanied by a fanfare of beeps from the front and rear parking aides.
Hand Brake on, engine off.
The cars behind stampeded past expectantly searching for the slot with their name on.
“Can I get the ticket Dad?”
John jumped a little as his daughter sprung into view on the back seat.
He was a rational man who liked rational things, and a fast moving, noisy and erratic girl was not even close to being a rational man who liked rational things.
“No” He said bravely and was about to launch into a passionate defence of his decision using reason and common sense when his wife said.
“Of course dear” Georgia’s eyes had widened and a smile had invaded her face. “Give her the money Dad”
He reluctantly reached for the dashboard flap and was shocked when her hand swatted his aside.
“Give her the money out of your pocket Dad” These words were spoken slowly. They held a meaning that eluded him.
“The change is in the cubby hole Dear” He replied equally slowly.
“So are the.” She faltered momentarily, searching for the appropriate lie “The things and stuff”
“Things and stuff?” He parroted causing her eyes to flash a warning. Understanding would have to wait he realized and he obediently began to force a hand into his trouser pocket. After a bout of contortion and an acceptable amount of pain he squeezed out a two pound coin and passed it triumphantly to his wife. She gently took it and held it up for inspection by their daughter who was vibrating with excitement.
“You only need to get a half hour ticket” She explained “You can keep what’s left” It had always amazed John how attentive a seven year old girl could become when a shiny coin was at stake. A tiny hand shot out to grasp the glittering treasure.
“Half an hour” Georgia repeated still holding the prize. Emily soberly nodded her understanding and the coin was released.
“Mind the traffic Ems” John added to reassure himself he mattered.
She dashed off unwatched nimbly dodging the traffic.
“A Two pound coin! Why have I just given Emily a two pond coin?”
With a terrible slowness Georgia extended her arm and flicked his ear.
“Ow” John said as he cupped his throbbing lobe and waited for an explanation. Finally understanding was to be delivered.
Using the same finger that had been used to assault him she pulled the catch on the dashboard and opened the storage compartment. Inside was an open packet of Fisherman’s friends, a tatty overstuffed wallet, two cheap gas lighters, a collection of coins perfect for buying car parking tickets, odds and sods that to his surprise could reasonably be described as “Things and stuff” and a bright blue, virgin packet of cigarettes.
“Ah” The penny dropped.
“Now” Georgia continued in honeyed tones “In a moment, Ems will return. When she does you will give her Ten pounds” One of his eye brows rose slightly at this but he knew better than to interrupt. “She will then walk on her own to the book shop and buy a book” He attempted a question but she didn’t stop “She hasn’t done this on her own before but I am confident she will manage admirably.”
“But” He was quite proud of this effort and her smile encouraged him to try again soon.
“We my sweet” She turned and their eyes locked, he could see the hunger in them. “We will be..” Her eyes widened and she gulped in air.
“Hello Emily sweet heart” It took John a second to work out that his daughter was behind him outside the window. Larger and closer than he had thought possible. She was holding aloft a ticket and in her other hand was the coin.
“Can I keep the Two pound?” Her breath was in his face, warm and smelling slightly of toothpaste.
He took the slightly soiled piece of paper from her hand and examined it.
“Where did you get this ticket Ems?” Georgia asked.
“Bloody hell” John interrupted his excitement clear. “This has hours left on it” He held it up to the light as if checking for a watermark.
Georgia patiently waited for John to complete his inspection then repeated her question.
“A man gave it to me”, then remembering all the talks she had had at school as well as from her mum she added “He didn’t touch me anywhere”.
“You mustn’t take things from strangers Ems” Georgia said at exactly the same time John said “Clever girl Emily”.
“Shall I give it back?” She asked carefully, one wrong move and her two pound could disappear. She pointed to the ticket machine where a man was standing looking anxiously across at them.
Emily’s parents instantly turned on their paedophile detection stares, whilst waving and giving reassuring gestures that conveyed they considered the man a prince among men.
“Many thanks” John boomed out somewhat too loudly.
“He doesn’t look like Jimmy Saville” He managed to whisper whilst still grinning broadly at the man as he began walking away.
“Nor did Bob Holness” This fait accompli was said just as his wife had grown bored of waving and had resumed looking at him.
He paused to inspect her statement for factual errors, finding no obvious ones he replied “True enough” and let the matter rest.
“Come round my side Ems” Georgia instructed her daughter. As Emily skipped round she hissed “Now John”, “Now”.
“Now what” he managed in response just as Emily arrived like the Road Runner at Georgia’s window
“Sorry my sweet” she said as she beamed at the girl. “Daddies got the money, run round and see him” Emily Beep Beeped and set off again, back around the front of the car.
“Get the fucking tenner John” her desperation was now fully revealed. He could only manage a strangled “What” before his daughters over eager face presented itself next to his.
He looked hard at his wife then turned his head to face Emily. “The moneys in my wallet dear” He said to her intense angelic face.
“I know” was her clipped response. She waited, he waited. Time ticked on, the glove box pulsed in his peripheral vision like a human heart. Her eyes trapped his.
“Silly Mummy” Georgia’s words broke the spell. “Come back here Ems”
Emily’s eyes held his gaze a fraction too long and then she was gone. The race had begun.
“Please John” His wife’s desperate plea sounded distant. The rest of the world froze, the only movement his daughter racing around his car.
He had to move.
His hand darted out.
She had turned the first corner, leaning like a motor bike.
The catch was pulled.
She flew past the number plate.
“Open and in” his brain ordered his hand. His arm darted forward, one fluid movement of precision and speed. He could do this, never before had he moved so well or so sharply.
Emily rounded the home bend, her cat like eyes found his and her mouth twitched into a grin.
Where was it? Where was his wallet, the glove box was gone, replaced by a stadium of space that swallowed his hand.
Then she was there, all smiles and pig tails as if this was some sort of game. Her eyes still held his and they shone with victory. Bang! A noise caused her to glance away for a fraction of a second allowing the world to restart.
Then the pain arrived. Georgia had slammed the lid down onto his wrist. His hand was stuck in the glove box with hers on top holding it tightly closed.
“Get the wallet John” her voice was calm but firm. His fingers located it and he started the painful withdrawal. Every knuckle and bone scraped against the lid, the catch ploughing a furrow in his flesh. His hand finally dragged itself free as the lid snapped shut with the sound of a cheap plastic coffin lid.
He deposited the wallet into his wife’s lap before rubbing his wrist and breathing for the first time in a while.
“You know which one to get?” His wife was saying as she handed over a crisp ten pound note to Emily before she happily nodded and started to skip away. “Be careful of the traffic Hun” Georgia called after the disappearing girl.
“And watch out for Bob Holness” John giggled under his breath.
Georgia watched her daughter disappear behind a van then turned to John and laughed. “Did that hurt?”
“No” He replied his sarcasm evident.
“Good Boy” he was rewarded with a pat on the head.
“You must keep a look out John” she had become a blur of motion “She can’t see me do this”. The cigarettes and lighter were pulled out and the wrapper was torn off.
“Please John” she beseeched “Warn me when she comes back”. The lighter flared and a drag was taken. It was full and long, if her lungs had the power they would have sucked forever.
“I’ll make a noise like a Tawny owl” He replied softly “Twit Twoo Twit Twoo” and sat back in the seat wrinkling his nose at the acrid smell.
The smoke was expelled first from her nose and then from her mouth. Grey and white, it wreathed itself around her face. It framed her features in a poisonous cloud. Her eyes closed in serene contemplation as she pulled hard on the cigarette. Red lipstick stained the filter and as she lifted it away, her bottom lip was dragged slightly forward by the cosmetic glue.
John’s head rested back on the support, his eyes closing to allow his nose to open.
The smell changed, it was no longer an unwelcome intrusion. It had become the smell of Georgia.
The smell of his wife.
In a pub laughing, a cigarette in her hand as her dark hair danced, choreographed by her glee.
It was the smell of driving too fast in a battered Datsun on a rainy day, a ciggie gripped in her mouth, the destination irrelevant, the journey everything.
Georgia had always smoked, it was only since Emily had arrived that things had changed.
“I’m giving up the fags John” she had told him 8 years ago.
“Great” he replied after the initial surprise “That’s really great”
“I don’t want to” she informed him sulkily “But I have to” She looked straight at him hoping for some indication that he understood.
“I want you to” he replied encouragingly “It will be nice to finally smell the real you”
She laughed a genuine laugh then looked sadly at him. “The real me smells of smoke John”
He had forgotten that.
Nine months later Emily was born and Georgia’s smell had changed forever.
He must have dozed off and he guiltily opened his eyes. Lookouts did not fall asleep.
The car park had barely changed and Emily was standing next to his window. He shut his eyes again and breathed in the real smell of his wife for one last time.
“Georgia” He said at last.
“Yes dear” her voice was distant and peaceful, he could hear the crackle of combustion and the rustle of her blouse as she inhaled deeply.
“Twit twoo Twit twoo”.
A Tawny Owl never calls “twit twoo”. In fact the “twit” or more accurately “ke-wick” is a Tawny Owl’s contact call and the “twoo” or again more accurately “hoo-hoo-oooo” is the male’s territorial call. Consequently, if you hear “ke-wick hoo-hoo-oooo” it is most likely a male answering a female (or another male).