On the recommendation of the guy next door I booked the car in with C & D Motors on Hope Street (my favourite street name in Cambridge, and not a bad street either with its little hidden courtyard of junkshops in garages, but mainly I like it because walking along it makes me feel like I'm in an American country song). Of course, the damn car started perfectly when I went to take it round there, and I wondered if I was just being a bit dim and forgetting to set the "don't start" switch to "off" (go on, get your head round the double negatives) or something. When I went to pick the car up a couple of hours later, the nice gentleman expressed considerable surprise that the car had managed to start at all, which made me feel better in one way, though worse in another. Distributor cap all cobweb-patterned with hairline cracks (which is where the damp was getting in), leads perished, and one spark plug completely burned away (and all of them badly corroded). "It's probably only been firing on three cylinders half the time," he said. "Yeah, it did feel a bit that way," I said, remembering the time it had sputtered and died in the middle of the Coldham's Lane roundabout for no apparent reason and only chug-chug-chug-thunked its way home after a lot of care and cussing. (But then it was fine the next day! "Oh well," I thought, "probably just BAD KARMA in the engine or something.") I suppose it would have seemed a bit out-of-character for a ditzy girl driver who can't even clean her own spark-plugs ferchrissakes to know what "firing on three cylinders" meant, but pto452 does that all the time, though she's better in hot weather because blah blah blah expands and makes a better seal with blah blah. I bore myself to death sometimes, you know. Is anyone still reading?
When I bought the 12-year-old Renault it only had 44,000-odd miles on the clock (one careful lady owner). I've put about another 12,000 on it since then (one careless and lazy lady owner), and part of that was driving to Oxford and back what felt like a hundred times a month, at weekends, on weeknights, in the mornings, whenever, to try to drag the nails out of the coffin of an already long-dead relationship. Always tired, always hurting, in no state to drive. It caught up with me in the end, and one time I braked too late at one of the Milton Keynes roundabouts and bumped the back of the car in front of me -- entirely my own fault, I'd woken up at 6am after about 3 hours' sleep and started driving at 7, there was no way I was safe to be on the road -- and we both pulled over onto the verge and dragged ourselves out to inspect the damage. The other driver was a girl of about my age, who looked like she'd had about as much sleep as I had; we both said "sorry" and "are you okay?" about fifty times, and rubbed our red-ringed eyes as we peered at the cars, more for the sake of form, for the sake of appearing to give a damn, than because we thought there was anything wrong.
We couldn't see any damage whatsoever, but I gave her my address and phone number just in case, and as I passed her the piece of paper I thought about saying "Call me. Call me any time. I know you're bone-weary and heartsore, I know that look, I know that feeling only too well. We could drive somewhere together, and for a short time forget about the people who are grinding us down like the last of the coffee beans in the grey half-light morning. I could buy you a drink, and we could nod and laugh in recognition and say 'yeah' a few times before going our separate ways. It'd be nothing, nothing much, just the chorus of a half-heard song that we could hold on to in the times of awkward silence. And I could give you a map of Cambridge, and mark Hope Street with an X, and maybe one day you'd come back, and maybe you wouldn't, and maybe it wouldn't matter either way, but it's got to be worth a try, hasn't it?"
And she got in her car and drove away.
I hope she got to wherever she was going. I did, in the end.