My dad told me when I chose my little run-about that white was the worst of all colours.
“It’ll show the dirt, Tina.”
“I can clean it.”
“Scuff easier than cheap shoes from the market.”
“Not if I’m careful with it.”
“You’ll look like half the other cars on the road.”
I put it down to some kind of generational racism, ignored him with a hug. He never told me it might kill me, but why on earth would he know?
I was driving home for Christmas, home to my mum’s. A surprise, the best present I could give her in my current state, living off loose change and free doughnuts, waiting tables in the café near my digs. There was just enough petrol in my car to get me the fifty miles or so through the highlands to the coal fires of home; my Christmas present from her would be the fuel to reverse the journey.
We didn’t get on, my mum and I; when I told her I’d lost weight, she asked if I was sure. When Benny asked me out, she wondered why. Things used to be better, before they split, but when I looked in the mirror I saw my dad with better hair. That couldn’t be easy for her, but it definitely wasn’t for me, not since the divorce and the push-me-pull-you of possessions between her and my dad. But with the chemo and all, and the café closed after the flood, I’d figured it might be wise to try for one last merry Christmas.
The drive was a slow one, the higher I drove the whiter the way. Thick slow flakes blew through the fuzzed sky, reminding me of the confetti thrown by mum’s friends as my dad drank away the divorce in his local. Moving out of radio range, I switched the thing off as the static crackled on my nerves: just the steady pause and thump, pause and thump of the wipers clearing my view on the slowest setting kept me company.
The white dancing and swirling over the vanishing road was making me yawn, reminding me of the old insomniacs’ cure of counting sheep. But no sheep here, the shepherds would have cleared their flocks from the highest peaks, brought them down for food and shelter. I drove past the pink stain of fresh road kill, my foot on the brake as I slowed and slid round the corner to the car park.
Though it was harder to tell in the blizzard, there was usually a cracking view from the far side, right across the valley to the North Sea. I parked beside the verge. Closing the car door with a thump, I was glad to get out in the fresh air.
The snow was crisp and crunched under my boots, and despite the nip in the air I kept my hands out my pockets in case I slipped and fell. I’d been here before, several times, so I knew there was a path under the soft duvet of snow and followed it round white hillocks, round as rolls in a baker’s window, in case the view was better round there. The horizon was uncertain in the whirling snow, and the world was smaller, quieter, sleepier than before.
I was utterly alone. Out of sight. Out of touch. Free.
Glad of the breather, I smiled to myself. I sniffed, and wiped my nose on my hand, then my hand on my jeans. A snowplough grumbled, low, as it crested the pass behind me. I looked at my watch, considering. If I wanted time to talk to my mum before her boyfriend got home, I had to be there before six. It was nearly three now, dark delivered in half an hour.
Puffing warm breaths into the freezing air, I followed filling-in footprints back to my car. I used my sleeve to clear the windscreen; some of the flakes fell into the cuff and melted cool against my skin. Shaking what I could off my arm, I sighed: the sleeve would soon dry in the heat of the car.
The blizzard was turning the sky from pink to grey, the flakes thickening. I hopped in, started the engine with a wish and a splutter. Heater on and gusting, the car took a few seconds to grind out of the dips.
Reversing, I slid towards the exit, the wheels slipping on the snow but nothing I couldn’t handle …
Oh no. Oh no no no.
That hadn’t been a snowplough, or at least, if it was, it hadn’t just been out ploughing snow. The solid metal of the barrier arm had been real enough through the swirl of ice.
The heavy silver padlock dangled, anything but Christmassy. I checked my phone, though I knew there was no point, really. No bars.
I looked up through the windscreen again. Yes, somebody had locked the car park.
No way out, no way round, no way through. No food, just water frozen white all around me.
The key was tiny in my hand as I turned it, locking the door. Tugging the zip on my coat as high as it would go, I shrank into the warmth of its folds as I abandoned the car.
Cold in my soul, I started walking.
published 6 August 2011