International copyright remains with the individual author, ie Becky Deans and any similarities to any people or organisations living or dead is just one of those bizarre coincidences! Enjoy! This is the only short story I wrote in my married phase (I think) and uses the same characters as the novel published in Magpie (2000).
Make Sure You Have One
It was eight o’clock. If Simon had had a shave while Sarah was cooking breakfast. Hell, if Sarah had let him have a shave while she had gone to the trouble of cooking breakfast, things would have been better. They were now stuck in a queue outside Bardill’s Island that stretched from junction 25 of the M1. Simon reckoned there was at least three miles of queuing to go and who knows how long that would take.
Simon rubbed his face, his freshly shaved follicles still bristling slightly. He was a hairy man. Sarah scrutinised him, annoyed by the scratching, like nails on sandpaper. Even if he was doing it without meaning it, he was winding her up. She felt he was drawing her attention to his shave, to the fact he had to help with breakfast.
But why should she cook while he shaved? She couldn’t see why she should be fulfilling the working class role of woman-who-gets-up-early-to-feed-her-man, while he set about preening. That was the kind of thing her grandma used to do. Didn’t she deserve time for herself before work? It was all she could do to put mascara on these days before she was shooed out of the house.
They went this early to avoid the traffic. Which traffic they were actually avoiding escaped Sarah’s attention, stuck as they were behind the whole of a car dealership’s forecourt, lights gleaming like rubies, exhausts smoking like factories. Apparently, they were avoiding the real peak flow that rolled out of their drives at eight thirty to try to reach Nottingham by nine-ish. Those who had to queue at Bardill’s roundabout even further back than the M1 junction.
After seven-thirty, every ten minutes they started late added another twenty to the journey. It had all been much worse since the railways had started playing up. The car purred along with throaty male aggression.
Sarah tried to listen to Radio One and remember who she was. ‘One love, one life, make sure you have one.’ She was young. This was a stopgap. She checked her makeup in the sun visor mirror and sang along to All Saints. She tried to forget she was even in a car.
‘Do you have to?’ Simon turned the radio off. Suddenly the engine noise seemed to engulf the whole car. Sarah carried on singing at the top of her voice.
‘Stop it. You look like a loony. What do you think people at work are going to say with me with a loony in my car. This is not a disco. And anyway, you’re out of tune.’
‘How would you know? You can’t even play the recorder.’ Sarah sneered at him and carried on singing. She could drown out the engine noise and the sound of Simon scratching his face, even the work she was going to, by singing. Sarah knew she was a good singer. Her piano teacher once suggested she sing on one of his dance tracks when he got his dance tracks ready. Her Mum said she was better than the Spice Girls. She put the radio back on.
‘I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else but here. Wouldn’t want to change anything at all. Anything, oh why.’
It was a job she never wanted to go to in the first place. She didn’t start until 9.15 either. They were now in the right hand lane about three cars from the island. They had been queuing for five minutes and Simon said the engine temperature was rising.
‘Perhaps we won’t get there,’ Sarah said breaking off her song.
‘Don’t sound so happy about that. I’ve got a presentation at nine and I’ve got some preparation to do before that. This car has always been so reliable.’ He gritted his teeth and prepared to go onto the roundabout. They were going straight on. A rusty Volvo from the junction they were passing pulled in front and nearly went into the side of them as they went left onto the A52 and he went right on to Toton. ‘Bloody weekend drivers.’
Simon’s mutterings gave her inner dread. When they first got together, she thought she was going out with somebody reasonable and cool but now she was beginning to wonder if every man turned into their cardigan-wearing Dad about the age of thirty. Too much time talking about taxes, too many bank accounts, too many banks and all too much television. Soon watching the television and sitting in traffic jams would be all Sarah did outside of work.
Simon continued to stare at the dials in front of him, then creep forward a little, then stare at the dials some more, then stare at the traffic. His eyes stared intently as if the road had good calves or an excellent pair of tits.
‘We don’t have sex anymore.’
Simon carried on looking straight ahead. Anticipating the road. It was as if he hadn’t heard her.
‘We don’t do it. What happened?’
Sarah watched a grey Mondeo change from the right-hand lane to the left and a black Mercedes go from the left to the right. This ballet of the road caused Simon to break twice, curse twice.
‘It’s idiots like these who make the damn things slower. Why can’t people just get into the right lane?’ He banged his fist on the steering wheel then looked right at her, pitifully. ‘What’s happened to this country?’
He looked so weak. So feeble. So much like he needed her. It was dangerous.
‘Keep your eye on the road if you are not going to pay attention to me.’ He put his hand on her thigh, like he used to all the time when they first went out. They used to like driving along like this, still connected. Sarah stroked his face. It bristled. They started to progress at normal speed again.
She had to give him his hand back as they approached another queue. It was road works at Bramcote Island. They chugged along in the left hand lane. Sarah started to rap along to Eminem. Simon didn’t seem to hear.
Simon kept staring at the dashboard. They were only going 20 mph. Sarah started to sing along to Madonna. Simon didn’t.
‘Is the car all right?’ She thought she’d better sound interested. The car always was all right. In a way, it was the one constant thing in her life. It wasn’t hers and she didn’t own any part of it.
‘The red light’s flashing.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘I’m not one hundred percent sure. I think it means we’re overheating.’ Sarah put her face next to his to look. ‘Careful,’ Simon said.
‘You think.’ Sarah turned the radio off. ‘What do we need to do?’
‘We don’t need to be in this queue. It will only make it worse.’
They were ten cars behind the traffic lights, where they would turn left and go down a rat run that normally didn’t clog up. They couldn’t afford to crawl along for much longer. Simon turned off the engine.
‘Will that help?’
‘It can’t get any hotter.’ The traffic lights changed and he had to move again and switched the engine back up again. The red light flashed again.
‘Should we go home?’
‘I’ve still got work to do. I’ll need to take it to the garage. Fuck, I can’t afford the time off. What am I going to do?’ Sarah noticed drops of sweat on his face.
She took a tissue and wiped his face. ‘We’ll sort it out.’ They were half way around the roundabout now. Suddenly a siren started. ‘Is that the car?’
It was an ambulance coming up behind them.
‘God, this is all we need. And it can’t get past. It will have to go behind us. We can’t afford to stop anymore.’
Now there were two flashing lights in the car, the ambulance aching to get past, and the engine aching to cool. Was five pounds an hour worth it? Sarah’s head hurt.
They started up again and Simon turned left into Bramcote village, praying there wouldn’t be any more interruptions to their journey. The ambulance pulled past them and down to the left, to the A52.
‘Accident on the M1, I suppose.’
He shrugged. It was commonplace.
‘They didn’t have to wait long, did they? No.’ She paused. ‘How is the car?’
‘It’s holding it’s own, just about, I s’pose. I just hope it gets us to work.’ Simon rubbed his face again. Now she knew it wasn’t aimed at her. His face was red where he’d rubbed it. She stroked it. ‘I’m trying to concentrate.’
She thought she went to work because she needed the money but if she really thought about it she wondered what the hell she was doing. Simon earned three times more than her. He let her keep her money; she didn’t contribute to the house; it was a stopgap until she sorted herself out. Pretty long stopgap; Sarah thought at some point she would have to concede that her administration job was all she was going to get. She’d been trying so long to get out of all that. She was a graduate. She had a brain. So had so many other people like her. As her grandma would say, ‘life’s hectic if you don’t weaken’.
All around her the arteries of the city clogged to a slow funereal procession, the light on the dashboard flashed and Simon swore. She turned the radio all the way up and didn’t stop singing until they were in car park B.