“And, John, you promised you’d put that damned shelf up two weekends ago! WHERE ELSE CAN WE PUT THE NEW LAMP?” she shrieks, their argument finally reaching a crescendo. A door slams. The sound of glass breaking rings through the quiet, suburban street and finally John appears, red-faced and dishevelled at the front door.
“You can shove it up your arse!” he screams, the familiar vein appearing in his neck, protruding above his blue shirt collar and snaking its way up behind his ear. With a final huff of frustration he slams the front door too, kicks over his wife’s favourite pot of daisy marguerites and opens my door harshly. I wince.
He only drives me to the end of our street before he stops and lights up his pipe. I hate it when he smokes; he gets the fumes in my upholstery and now I have a permanent stench. “Stupid bitch,” he mutters, taking a long drag. John does this every time he and Jen fight in the morning, which is every day except Sunday now, when we go to golf before she wakes up. I should be glad that he still takes me, but parking me down the road so his friends don’t see me hurts a bit. He inhales deeply once more and finally relieves me by putting my gear stick in neutral, taking his foot off of my clutch and pulling my hand-brake on. We sit in a rare moment of contented companionship whilst John bubbles the dottle left over in his pipe, muttering about Jen under his breath, and I steel myself for the drive ahead.
Once again we’re on the A30, on the way to work, and I’m competing for my place on the road. John is pushing me and it’s making me uncomfortable. All of the stopping and starting is making me feel sick. I can feel his gaze burning into my rear-view mirror before he flips off the lorry driver behind. If I could blush I would. The car in front, a pretty little Audi, brakes suddenly but John doesn’t notice because he is too busy continuing his mimed argument with the guy behind. If I had been any closer to the car when he finally slammed my brakes on we’d have snapped the owner’s neck. A few cars back someone blasts their horn. A space opens up in the fast lane and my steering wheel is wrenched to the right impatiently, only for me to have to slow down almost straight away for a Mini. John pounds my horn with his fist. “Shit,” he hisses. “Get out of the fucking way! Some of us work for a living!”
I used to like John driving me, when I was new. I used to be his pride and joy and he’d spend every weekend waxing and cleaning my silver body work until it shone. I was the best cared for car on the street and all of the other vehicles were jealous; when I was new. He loved to take Jen and me out for the evening. On several occasions he surprised Jen with flowers and a nice dress and then all three of us would cruise down to Brighton. I liked being parked in the Marina, on the open top floor of the car park where I could watch John and Jen walk hand in hand towards that floating Chinese restaurant. Those were the days. We haven’t all been out together just for the fun of it like that in ages. John never used to call Jen ugly either. He doesn’t want to show us off anymore. He wants a new car, a “lovely ride, like a Jag,” and a “cute blonde” to go with it. Well, now he’s confessed that’s in his sights, I guess.
We’re at a standstill, back in the slow lane with the lorry driver in front. Every time I crawl forward I grit my grille because I know the arsehole in front—John’s words, not mine—is waiting to slam his brakes on hard so we go up the back of him. Why does John have to vent his anger at general life whilst he’s driving me? I used to be so happy, excited even, at the prospect of John taking me out and now if I could cower and whimper away from him like a kicked dog I would. John lights up once more and blows the putrid smoke at my windscreen.
“Oh, Mike,” he whispers and involuntarily my engine purrs. His affection has become alien. “Look at me, talking to a bloody car,” he scolds himself, slapping his palm on my dashboard. He inhales and opens my window. “Come on! Move! Step on it!” he yells out of it, waving his pipe and punching my horn a few times for good measure. He pauses for a second, eyes glazed, before pulling himself back inside and doing the window up. “I can’t carry on like this.” The vein is back but this time it’s accompanied by a rare, single tear.
Yesterday Mr. Next Door had caught John just before we’d left for work.
“You alright, John, mate? How’s life treating you?” the neighbour had asked, leaning his grubby hand against my door. I wished I could shake it off.
“Yeah, I’m living the dream, fella. Shame its Freddie Krueger’s dream.” John had replied with what was supposed to be a nonchalant shrug. The neighbour gave a sympathetic smile and leaned in closer so that his coffee-breath filled my interior. “The wife and I heard you arguing this morning. If you ever want a place to cool off my fridge is full of beer and the spare bed is always made up,” he’d offered.
“Oh, err… thanks Fella, but I’ll be alright.”
“Ok then. But just for the record, when someone wishes you dead it’s probably time to call it a day.”
Cars start to move again but John, who is now on his fourth pipe, is too slow getting going for the Fiat Punto behind us, who beeps long and loud. John stomps on my brake and I almost stall, but thankfully John saves me from that embarrassment just in time. He puts his middle finger to my rear view mirror once more and the man in the Punto reciprocates with his own rude hand gesture. “HOW DARE YOU HOOT AT ME? COME ON THEN! YOU WANT TO FIGHT? ME AND YOU, YEAH? ME AND YOU!” John screams, his spit flying everywhere, drenching my mirror and dash.
We’re pushing sixty now and John finally comes back to me, shunting me up a gear so that my engine stops straining, and focusing on the busy road ahead. There’s space in the right hand lane and I see John’s eyes linger on it before he slaps my indicator on. A Jag appears on our outside and despite the indicator it doesn’t let us out, but John just stares after it admiringly. He only ever gives way to a Jaguar. A pang of jealously resonates within me. He steers me to the right once more and we start to cross over, only for the Punto to creep up behind us on the right and pass us, almost hitting into my door. John blasts my horn again and jerks us too harshly in his hurry to get over. The white line at the edge of the carriageway drills at my tyres, making both of us cringe.
Two nights ago, after Jen had cooked herself and John baked beans and jacket potato, a meal he considers “lazy,” she had begun to nag him about his job. He’s being “shat on from above,” according to her, and she doesn’t think that it’s right. He said that work is work and in the current climate he is lucky to even be employed. That he likes work better than being at home with her. Then he told her about Angela.
“Angela as in work Angela?” she’d spat. I could see her venomous glare through the dining room window. John had only nodded resolutely. Only months ago he would have sworn to her that he’d never act on his lust.
“But, why would she fancy you?” Jen had hissed nastily, and I could just make out John clenching his hand into a fist through the white, net curtains.
“She knows the real me; the happy bloke you got your claws into and sucked the life out of. She doesn’t nag, we don’t argue. She and I want to go away together. Don’t worry about the house and car, you keep them, they’re both piles of shit anyway.”
The Punto blocks our every action and I can’t stand it anymore. We speed up, it speeds up. We pull to the left, it pulls to the left and then back to the right again as soon as my wheels shift to do the same. Cars all around us are beeping and revving angrily and I just can’t stand it. John is staring fixedly into the Punto’s rear-view mirror, gesturing and shouting vehemently every time the driver sneers at us. I can’t stand it. I hate this John. I hate the John who thinks I’m worthless, who is willing to leave his wife for the blonde office whore. He used to love us. He thumps my horn repeatedly and squashes my throttle to the floor. My engine screams in protest, desperately craving the relief that fifth gear will give. “He’s fucking insane. Fucking barmy.” John mutters feverishly to himself, licking the spit off of his lips. Sweat is dripping down his forehead and sheen of perspiration covers his top lip, but he doesn’t seem to even notice. He’s past caring about either of us, intent only on his next conquest. The Punto, a Jaguar, the slag Angela. We’re disposable. He’s disposable. I hate him. I HATE HIM. He veers into the left lane and the Punto is too slow. He clenches his pipe and my moment is ripe. I swing back into the right lane more ferociously than John directs and carry on straight, ignoring the curve in the road. As the corner accepts its kill I prevent my air-bags from deploying.