Eggshell

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The door bursts open and a new guy appears,
ushers me into the workshop and hands me a sweat-coated phone,
(one of those new, retro Nokias, I can’t help but notice).
I put it to my ear. “Hello?”
A distant man starts telling me in broken English
about some special liquid he’s absolutely certain will fix my car.
100%. He had a friend with the exact same problem as me.
All I have to do is drive it to the nearest Ford garage,
because Ford keep their special secret liquids to themselves.
I point out that my car is broken.
He says it will be fine.
It’s only ten miles.
I will just have to drive them carefully.

It’s 3:30pm.
We broke down at six in the morning.
The day’s heat has soaked through my shirt
and we’re almost out of water.
I know the deal. It’s getting late.
They need us to be somebody else’s problem.
But there is no way I’m going to drive my broken car
ten miles in this country of maniac drivers,
who cruise bumper-to-bumper at a hundred miles per hour
flashing their lights for you to move
even though there’s a truck in the slow lane
and nowhere for you to go except forward, even faster.
Sorry to generalise.
But it’s enough to make a Brexiter out of me.
I found myself thinking they should have their motorways taken away
as punishment for this behaviour, told they can’t be trusted
with them.

No.
I am not going to drive to the Ford garage.
But first I’ll have to speak to the breakdown people back home,
tell them I want the car taken there for me;
and they’ll have to speak to their ‘correspondent,’
who is in, inexplicably, Slovenia.
And after ten to fifteen iterations of this
I can tell them that the correspondent will not pick up the phone,
but they’ll put me on hold anyway
because it’s always a different operator who answers,
always another person to start with from scratch.
And I’ll wait for five, six, seven minutes,
the music looping like it’s coiling itself around my chest
until they come back on the line, apologise,
and tell me they’ll send an email instead.

Meanwhile the mechanic is holding out my key
with a hopeful look on his face
and glancing at the clock on the wall.
I point back in the direction of the waiting room and say, “phone”
and do that thing with my fingers
that looks like Spider-man shooting webs into his ear.
He sighs and nods resignedly.
Earlier, they were telling me they’d cleared the power problem
and all I had to do was drive above 4000 RPM
for, oh, an hour or so.
Really push it, they said. Make the engine scream.
So I drove off, faking optimism,
forcing down the fear;
I put on a the brave face of a determined motorist;
I floored it, grimly,
and couldn’t even reach 3000.
And when I drove back to the garage
they sighed and told me I would need a new filter,
and I told them I already knew this
because that’s what the other mechanic told me 900 miles ago
until he changed his mind three hours later,
the weekend approaching,
and told me the problem was the sensor.
Now it’s this special secret liquid
that’s the latest magic wand,
the latest get-out-of-jail-free card
that I do not want. I just want my car
to work. All the way home. I just want them to change the
God-dammed filter.

Out in the sun,
where I have to stand to get a good signal,
I was thinking earlier about sitting in my garden
on one of the plastic chairs we’ve had there
for over twenty years. The back is split in two on one
and held together by duct tape.
It’s been like that for so long now
the top layer of tape has dried and peeled away.
As I wait, again, on hold,
my breathing shallow,
my heart rate quickened,
I realise it’s no longer the comfort it was eight hours ago.
My plastic chairs have become an irrelevant luxory,
the patterned spots upon broken eggshell.
I just want us to be someplace safe in the shade.
I just want a bed to lie down on
and water to drink.
I just want things to be functional again.
I just want to be able to breathe
and think
and feel
and close my eyes.

Two weeks later
people tell me what a great story I have
and to look upon the bright side
and it is only a car, after all.
And I laugh and smile obligingly
and make a joke about mechanics.
And I sit on my plastic chair
and feel the crack beneath the tape.
In the end, they flew us home.
We didn’t have to see
Calais.

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