It was late on a Thursday afternoon. Clouds were swallowing the last light of day and drooling a faint mizzle of rain onto a week’s worth of cereal boxes and bread.
The woman was in her mid-twenties. She wore her hair in a straggling bun at the base of her neck, held together with sparkly pink clips that looked like they had been filched from her daughter in the early morning flurry. It had been a long day and one was dangling precariously loose, scraping tiny plastic teeth against her earlobe like the exploratory first bite of a curious predator, but she had no free hand to fix it. What she had was a screaming toddler in a broken stroller and five-year-old twin boys staging an impromptu duel with celery sticks. She had an overloaded trolley and no one to help her unpack it into the boot of her car. She had bags under her eyes all the foundation in the world couldn’t conceal and traces of blue Play Dough under her nails that she hadn’t the time to scrub away.
She had had enough.
She looked around surreptitiously in a way that, had anyone actually been watching, would have been sure to draw attention. As it was, however, hers was the only car on the side-street between the supermarket and the post office, a stubborn pocket of mossy wooden palings and broad leafy branches long doomed to demolishment and rebirth through concrete and steel as units or office blocks. That had been the fate of every other street around here in recent years. Somehow this sleepy corner had clung on. Here, it was still possible to pretend the rumble of traffic along the nearby main road was just the grumble of approaching thunder, the smell of exhaust and hot chips overwritten by grass and rain.
It was a place and time prepared to wink one leafy eye for a cheat.
The woman lifted her hand and rubbed her engagement ring as hard as she could. “You said it would work,” she muttered. “You promised. If you want this wedding…”
Bags soared upwards, the contents of the trolley reshuffling itself in mid air like a bizarre card trick before diving at the car. The boot popped open just in time. The twins watched with interest, celery swords temporarily forgotten, and even the toddler’s wails petered out as the shopping arranged itself into strict alphabetical alignment, from asparagus through to toilet paper. The boot slammed smartly closed at the exact moment the car doors shot open. The heater flicked on, pumping invitingly warmed air into the drizzling afternoon.
The subsequent silence was tinted by a certain intangible smugness.
“That’s cool,” one twin said. “Can it do that to us too?”
His mother wasn’t listening. She threw back her head to the rainy sky and beamed brilliantly. “I love you!” she shouted.
The sky didn’t commit to a response, but the car purred deeply.
© Faith Mudge 2012