By Paul Evans
Skilled hands and feet commanded the car to a smooth standstill in the dark, rain-swept car park. The little passenger transferred his gaze from the hypnotic exertions of the windscreen wipers to the wizened hands of the driver. Leathery skin draped over skeletal digits; they seemingly manipulated the vehicle’s controls without their owner’s will. Application of the handbrake was accompanied by a soft click; barely audible over the barrage of rain against the roof. A turn of the key silenced the engine to a shuddering sleep. As if bound to the vehicle’s spirit, the driver seemed to deflate into his seat as the mechanical drone died. Persistent downpour dominated the remaining sounds: the whir of hidden fans and monotonous radio dialogue at the edge of hearing.
Grandfather and Grandson sat in changing light. Dashboard symbols cast a precise but weak glow, punctuated by the regular illumination of passing headlights. Each panning beam revealed an otherwise hidden constellation of droplets on the transparent carriage shell.
The boy – bolstered on his plastic seat next to the driver – teetered on the edge of exhaustive unconsciousness. Noises and motion had retreated to distant, muffled depths. Anti-noise cast by the strangled engine hooked him to the banks of the real.
“Are we there Granddad?”
“Yes. It doesn’t look as if Mum and Dad are here yet though.”
“My mouth tastes funny.”
The man unlatched an opening near his right knee and withdrew a small cylinder clad in blue paper. He offered the boy the ruptured end.
“You’ve been sleeping. A mint will sort that out,” he advised.
Little hands fumbled with the twisted paper before revealing the next tablet of synthetic freshness. It disappeared into the boy’s mouth.
“Do you want one Granddad?” he asked, extending the confectionery to his travelling companion.
“I will. Thank you.”
“Is it true that the mints grow in your car?”
“Of course it’s true! When the last mint is eaten a new packet appears ready for the next journey. They grow in this special compartment.”
“Dad’s car grows fruit sweets.”
The man laughed; a deep sound of warm custard on toffee pudding.
“Does it really?”
The boy nodded in the semi-darkness.
“I don’t know anyone else whose car grows sweets; only yours and Dad’s. Do you think it’s magic or just that the cars are made to do that?” he enquired, rolling the giant mint in his mouth between sentences.
“Probably a bit of both.”
The boy’s usually creaseless face erupted in a furrowed brow as he considered this opinion, and then commenced scrunching his face at the passing traffic. The man regarded his descendant in the artificial light. The side effects of life had yet to leave their mark on the boy’s features, mind and soul. He briefly wondered what the boy’s future had in store, and what those bright little eyes would absorb. Hopefully not war-torn subjugation or the sustained impact of fists and boots, or the wicked teeth of a broken bottle. God willing, he would grow to shave, his features would bear lines of laughter, and his mouth would share hormonally charged contact with that of his heart’s desire. He abruptly ceased this line of thinking, realising that he was confusing the toddler’s future with his own past. Or were they the same?
As if the boy had intercepted a stray fragment of memory he enquired: “Do you still miss Granny?”
The man held a look at the boy before transferring his gaze beyond the windscreen. He cleared his throat and nodded slowly.
Face-scrunching continued. The boy had noticed that, by tightening his eyes to near closure, the lights of approaching cars stretched like white laser fire, whilst red lights transformed into the afterburners of departing starships in the blackness of space. Tiring of his experimentation, he realised that he had unintentionally started chewing his dissolving mint.
“Are you still sucking your mint Granddad?”
The question prompted more nodding.
“Are you crying Granddad? Is it because of Granny?”
The man forced a smile and nodded again. Wiping his tearful eyes, the man withdrew a white handkerchief from a breast pocket and blew his nose. He took one of the boy’s hands in his own.
“She would have loved to have met you,” he croaked, clearing his throat again.
“What was she like?”
“She was the kindest, funniest person I’ve ever known. She was my best friend and was a good mother to your Dad.”
This concept was new to the boy’s developing interpretation of life.
“Did she ever have to tell Dad off for being naughty?”
The boy’s eyes widened incredulously.
“But only when she needed to. We set predictable limits and supported each other. ‘No’ meant ‘No’; like it does in your house. Mostly we had lots of fun together; just like we did this weekend.”
Another vehicle entered the car park, and came to a halt in front on them. The rain seemed to douse the flame of its headlights.
“Here’s Mum and Dad. Wait there while I get your things from the boot. I don’t want you to get wet so I’ll say goodbye now Samir. Thank you for keeping me company; I hope you enjoyed yourself.”
“I love you Granddad.”
They embraced awkwardly.
Handover complete, the man returned to his empty home. Before bed he annotated his calendar with the date of his next family visit.