Aida Austin

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

9.40 p.m. I’m jog­ging along the side of the road away from my car. I am aim­ing for a safe dis­tance from an ex­plo­sion, should one oc­cur. I look back at my car. It’s parked lop­sid­edly just up from a bend in the road, half-way in a shal­low road­side ditch and a sky-blue suit­case lies un­zipped on the grass be­hind it, with con­tents spilling out. Smoke is bil­low­ing from the back. I keep jog­ging. The go­ing’s tough in flip-flops. I glance over my shoul­der again. The smoke is no longer bil­low­ing or black. Now, it’s more like steam. Plus the sparks have stopped fly­ing up from un­derneath the back wheel. Cutting the en­gine must have helped. And the soft veil of driz­zle that’s just de­scended over Cork. Things are look­ing good, I feel, but I jog on all the same; it only takes one spark to ig­nite a fire when con­di­tions are right and there might be a resid­ual spark flick­er­ing some­where un­der the car where the rain can’t reach. Like near the petrol tank, where things are dry and hot.

Dark­ness has fallen. It is hard not to catas­trophise in the dark. I mean, I’ve seen car ex­plo­sions. I saw poor Apol­lo­nia go up in The God­fa­ther. Just like that. Bits of car fly­ing ev­ery­where. I must re­mem­ber to duck. No. Dive. Into a bush, like Michael Cor­leone did.I jog on an­other few yards; I can’t stop mulling over the old say­ing, “there’s no smoke with­out fire”. I suspect this might be one of those old hy­pothe­ses orig­i­nat­ing from hard fact that stands up well to test­ing. I need to po­si­tion my­self well away from the test­ing area.

9.45pm. I stop jog­ging. Here is good. I have ev­ery­thing I need now. I can still see the test­ing area but am at a safe dis­tance from it. Plus, I have my div­ing bushes. I won­der if I should cover my ears.

A car pulls up. I am grate­ful that it’s pulling up at this pre­cise mo­ment, when I am pre­par­ing to cover my ears and not af­ter it. The car has three boys in it. They look about the same age as my sons. My only hope is that they are as kind. “Do you need some help?” the driver says, “is that your car back there with the… the… what’s the blue thing?”

“Thank you so much for stop­ping,” I say, “I’m wait­ing for my car to ex­plode but I think the crit­i­cal mo­ment’s passed. The blue thing is my suit­case. I’m just back from Lis­bon. I took it out to save it but I couldn’t run with it so I just left it there.” “I’m just drop­ping my brother to the bus sta­tion in Cork,” he says, “but I’ll be back for you as soon as I’ve dropped him.” The pas­sen­ger in the back seat leaps out of the car. “Sure I’ll wait with you,” he says, “till he gets back. We’ll wait in your car.”

We walk back to my car to­gether. I walk very slowly, anx­ious to post­pone hav­ing to in­tro­duce him to my old, ne­glected Nis­san. We ar­rive at the car. He looks at my bat­tered Nis­san, then down at my un­zipped suit­case. If my Nis­san fails to tell him ev­ery­thing he needs to know about me, then my suit­case will fill in the gaps.

“I al­ways won­dered what items I’d save from a fire,” I say, by way of dis­trac­tion, “and now I know.”

“So what did you save?” he says. I show him what I hold in my hands: a new yel­low beaded bird from Ar­ti­sans and Ad­ven­tur­ers, Lon­don, a Mac mas­cara and a phone with a dead bat­tery. “Ok,” he says, “just hop into the driver’s seat and turn the ig­ni­tion on for me there and we’ll see where we’re at.”

“That’s ex­actly what Apol­lo­nia did in The God­fa­ther,” I say, “she turned the ig­ni­tion on and BOOF: game over.”

“Ok,” he says, “first things first. I don’t sup­pose by any chance you have a tri­an­gle?”*

I could not be more sur­prised than if he grew a sec­ond head. “Last time I played one of those I was five,” I say.

*Warn­ing tri­an­gle: A safety kit for alert­ing on­com­ing traf­fic about dis­abled ve­hi­cles.

‘I’ve seen car ex­plo­sions. I saw poor Apol­lo­nia go up in The God­fa­ther

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