I flick the indicator, dog-leg the gear lever down to second and ease the car round the corner into the terrace. While my sensible side scopes the margins for a place to park, another part of me is already soaking in a perfumed bath, a glass of wine by the soap dish, Mozart on the CD player and the sweet smell of oven-baked lasagne wafting up the stairs.
Sometimes, I like to imagine the street’s original inhabitants. Prim Edwardians who’d never have dreamt of an indoor bathroom or a motor at the kerbside, yet couldn’t last a day without a maid to hold the house together. A century on, the servant bells are purely ornamental, but we can all get territorial over the stretch of road alongside our bay windows. Even I, house-sitting while the owners are abroad, want to stake a claim on my few feet of tarmac. So it’s a little jarring when I see the hatchback in my parking space, even if it is such a pretty duck-egg blue.
As I edge nearer, I notice someone in the driving seat, so I slow right down and give them a look that might nudge them to move on. They give me a look back that says I’m not budging for anyone, girl, and, I realise, too late, it’s not just any old car, not just any old driver, it’s you. And you’ve certainly clocked me. Your gaze zips through laminated glass and pressed steel, peels away layers of lycra and organic cotton, till I’m raw and helpless as a baby, bound by your desire. Goodbye bubble-bath and Beaujolais. Goodbye servant bells. Goodbye me.
You incline your head towards a gap between a white Transit and a blood-red roadster a little farther down the terrace on the left. Fear fizzes through my stomach and I don’t stop to argue. I line up my car against the van and wiggle the gear-stick into reverse.
I’m not wonderful at parking at the best of times, and my first attempt leaves the wheels a couple of feet from the kerb. I hear a car door slam as I weave back into position alongside the white van. Through the rear-view mirror I see you looming in the road, arms akimbo, your face a strange amalgam of adulation and hate.
I think of how hard I’ve worked to get away from you, the homes I’ve fled, the jobs. I don’t dare look back as I let the car nose beyond the Transit, like I’m giving a horse its head. I let it lunge past a battered mini and a pair of motorbikes, and soon we’re careering to the end of the terrace, scooting up the back alley and hurtling onto the main road. I drive like my life depends on it, my sanity, my self.
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