In Love’s Headlights

By Charles Etheridge-Nunn

I’m on to you, bitch, I know it was your fault.

He wouldn’t have cheated on me, betrayed me, left me, not if it weren’t for you.

We gave you a home. We named you. Vera. You were our first big, new, expensive thing. Vera wasn’t a great name, but the kids wanted to call you it because well, your number plate looked like Vera to them. Vera the Skoda. And so you came to be.

Our first expensive thing. Jeff and I had the house, but that was rented and Jeff’s mum paid the deposit on it. The kids came free, they just cost a lot for food, drink, school and replacement fish. When they saw you, named you, it was just a bit of fun. You were ‘thirsty’ if you were low on fuel, you had a ‘bath’ if we went to the car wash. None of this strange, none of this unusual. Once we’d worn you in, spilled crisps and drinks on your seats, left books and toys in you, then it was like you were one of us. But Jeff didn’t like it. I could see his eyes thinning, watching Zoe or Mikey drop crumbs or write in condensation. He’d tell them it’d make a permanent mark on the windows, they had to stop and sit still.

One warm summer weekend, he bought a little car hoover and started cleaning you out. I know you were a bit messy, but we’d made a bit of an effort to keep you tidy recently. It didn’t warrant a vacuum cleaning.

As he hoovered the seats, the floor, the dashboard, I remembered how we’d made fun of people who did that when we were younger. The kind to still wear a suit at weekends and devote their whole lives to their car, but I said nothing. Jeff let the kids join in making you look pretty at first, not that they helped, but it was a reason to play in the front garden, to get the hose and end up drenched but happy at the end of the day. You, sparkling and new, joining in the family fun.

He insisted on driving you more and more, taking us all to work and school instead of me, even though it took him further away from his office to drop me off. He ‘knew’ all of your flaws, all of your little tricks, so he should be the one to drive instead of me. Like I didn’t know them myself, like I couldn’t drive you safely. It was insulting. It was possessive. It could just have been concern over our big, new, expensive thing. I hoped it was just concern. Maybe it… you, had started doing something else I didn’t know about. Maybe he needed to bang into you like the Fonze to get things started. I didn’t know and tried to put it out of my mind. Rational thought took over for a time.

At night, he started going for walks. I asked if I could go with him but he refused, saying he needed some time to himself, to meditate, to think about things. I let it go for a few days, but worried about an affair I followed him one evening. He walked down the road to where you were parked and got in. Not to drive you, instead he just sat there. I couldn’t get closer without being spotted, but I was sure I could see him talking to you in the driver’s seat.

I didn’t know what to do at first. Was he practising a speech? Going over something to say to me? The next day, I moved you in front of our house when I saw a spot was free. Jeff was angry, until he realised how much closer you were to us. That night, he went for his walk and I pretended to sleep. Once he was gone, I walked up to the curtains and peeked out. He wasn’t reciting an internal monologue or a speech, listening to music or having a crafty smoke, he was talking to it, to you. He stroked your dashboard tenderly, he gripped your steering wheel with passion, he even kissed you good night when he left. He’d not done that to me when he went out.

You can understand how I began to resent you back then, but even I didn’t know exactly what you were capable of. I caught the bus to work the next day rather than get in you. The ‘other woman’. The affair. He was spending longer on his ‘walks’, and God knows what else during the day. His work phoned a couple of times when he took a day off sick. I covered for him, automatically, I guess. I kept thinking about it. Were you both going for drives? Stopping off at hotels? Car parks, maybe?

Once, he spent a whole weekend away. With you. I stayed up the whole time, worried, watching the road. Waiting. I wasn’t sure for what. By Monday I gave up. I took the kids to school on the bus, dodging questions about where Jeff was, where Vera was. I wish I knew. Mikey asked if they had run away together, just as a joke. I didn’t laugh.

After school and work had finished, I finally saw him. He was just sat in you, quiet, tired-looking, just staring forwards. I didn’t even dare to see how many miles the two of you had clocked up together. I went indoors, cooked dinner for Mikey and Zoe, then went to bed. Eventually he joined me. I asked where he’d been, but he was already asleep.

Don’t worry, we’re almost there now, but let me finish. Then you’ll know what you put me through.

So over the next few days he became distant with me. Still playing with the children, buying them toys to keep their affection, but unable to make eye contact with me. I almost wished it was another woman, then I could have been angry at her. You were an object. How would you protest? How would you fight back?

It was this thought which ended with me breaking your windscreen. It wasn’t mature, it wasn’t smart. “Let’s see if he’ll sit in that now. Amongst the glittering shards on the seats.”

Your face was broken, powerless. I’d won, at least for now. When I came back to my senses, I’d kicked a door in too. More than simple vandalism, my anger showed in every mark on your side. I sat indoors and poured a glass of wine, waiting for the inevitable confrontation.

I’m not sure when he did it, but Jeff must have picked you up and left without me noticing, because when he finally came home, you were there, as good as new. I asked him how he was and he just grunted.

His behaviour became more erratic, neighbours complained about seeing him sat naked in your driver’s seat, not doing anything, just sitting. Sometimes he would sleep there, wrapped up in you. That’s how he caught pneumonia. Even bedridden he wanted to see you, but I stopped that easily. He couldn’t put up much of a fight without coughing up phlegm and clutching his chest in pain every few seconds.

This was my time to act. With a few days without Jeff around, you were getting neglected. Poor thing. So I decided to sell you. I knew friends who needed a car, a young couple. Like us, but hopefully not too much. I let them have you for a generous price, then prepared for my argument with Jeff. I bought us all bus passes, I couldn’t risk him running off with another car, not after you. He wouldn’t be able to have an affair with a bus now, would he?

Jeff argued with me, he shouted and threw things. He had the tact to keep it away from the kids. I didn’t care about the arguments, I’d won, he’d lost. No matter what happened, I wouldn’t let him know where you were. Once he was well, Jeff went out to work and didn’t come back. He’d done this before with you, but now was different. Would he return at all? I imagined him running down streets desperately searching for you. A week went by and my life was back on track.

Finally, the phone rang, I thought it could have been Jeff, apologetic for letting us all down, for leaving us. But it was my friend. Her husband was livid. He’d loved their new car so much and someone had stolen it. It must have been Jeff. Did he have his own keys? I should have checked. From the shouting in the background, it sounded like you had started breaking up another home. Were you that good? That fast?

It must have been you, I decided. Not Jeff. I had to find you and stop this madness. I checked our old bank statements, from when he last went away. He used the same motel repeatedly. A sleazy roadside place with a private car park I’d guessed, out of sight and just for you two. I got a taxi there and saw you both. We followed you and Jeff until he went to his room.

When I knocked on the door he only opened it part way. I barged in and hit him with the phone, knocking him out. I checked his pulse, made sure he was okay, then took his car keys. He would understand. One day, he would understand.

I finally reached you, realising I had not been inside you for weeks and not driven you for months. The smell inside was awful, the little tree air freshener did nothing to help. Had he been living in you? What had he been doing in here? What had you done to him?

That’s why we’re here. I’ve had enough of you. The metal home wrecker, crushed into a tiny cube. In time he’ll forgive me. In time he’ll see my side of the story, I couldn’t have you ruin our lives or anyone else’s. Maybe we’ll laugh about it. Maybe I’ll have lost him for good. Either way, I can’t lose my husband, the father of my children, to our first big, new, expensive thing, a cheap metal tart like you.

2 Responses to In Love’s Headlights

  1. Sue says:

    Fantastic! So funny yet sad as well, another Radio 4 short play!

  2. Pingback: The Last Cigarette e-book edition | Faked Tales – Short Stories

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