Thursday, 23 April 2009

Blogging Norfolk - The A140

This biographical short story was written as part of Blogging Norfolk, a Writers' Centre Norwich and BBC project. For more information and to get involved, click here

Rain slashes against the wind shield; sludgy ugly rain from a dense and foreboding sky. The road markings, (how few there even are!) dissolved hours ago. All that remains is a thick black tarmac road; terrifyingly, unremittingly black. It is the black of vast distant galaxies; the black of dancing spirits; the black of deepest darkest Norfolk on a December evening. He can no longer tell where the road ends and the hard trees and treacherous banks begin. He is no longer driving the car, the car is driving him.

He passed his driving test more than two years ago but this is the first time he has driven without the aid of an instructor. He felt confident earlier, powerful even, controlling with the flick of his fingers this majestic mechanical being, but that is a distant memory now. Now, he just wants to get home safely.

They hurtle on through Norfolk, careering absurdly out of control. All he loves is in this car: himself, his wife, two young cats newly collected from a small out-of-the-way farm on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. His first ever pets. That is why they are here. That is why they rented the car in the first place. This is all a crazy expedition they are not equipped for, to collect a pair of cats; to make their new home seem less empty. How strange that two living beings can simply be picked up, like a can of beans from a Supermarket shelf. Shouldn't there be tests? forms? gargantuan fees to pay? Perhaps it is true: the best things in life are free...

Like life.

They set off in daylight, just, but already the rain was falling steadily, and soon the fading light had been replaced with this inky dark. They made sure to get an AA Routefinder map before they left, but this three dimensional blackness is nothing like that white printout with straight lines criss-crossing the green landscape. This winding, ululating three dimensional road, framed within trees is all that remains of what he used to know as Norfolk. There are just the four of them, this car, and this endless road. They got lost on the way, mobile phone batteries died when they phoned the farm for directions. Stumbling blind down a country lane he almost fell in a duckpond. But they finally arrived in one piece, blinking against the light of a warm farmhouse cottage. There in a cage in the corner, two scared cats cowered from the visitors. But soon they were loaded into carriers, placed on the back seat of that humming, grumbling beast, and making their way to another new home.

The car is hot, air thick with scared cat diarrhoea and scared human sweat. He has a pounding headache, he cannot breathe. They will not open roll down the windows and let the cold winter sleet in, will not do anything to further discomfort their new housemates. A tiny, pathetic, meow fills the air with mournful foreboding. The car could be tumbling steadily towards a cliff and he would have no idea, not until that plummeting lunge. And perhaps not even then.

He squints his eyes tight, trying to fix the flowing colours (red for the break lights of the car in front, black for everything else) and convince himself that they are indeed still on the road, that these are not all the last flashes of thought in a brain mortally wounded on impact with a reinforced glass wind-shield.

In a nightmarish night populated with a thousand shades if blackness, the most amazing thing, he reflects months later, is that they ever made it home safely, to start a new life together.

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