AIDA AUSTIN: ’Never mind the tax,’ he says, ’just drive.’

IT IS the evening before my return to Ireland and I am sitting at the table in my sister’s apartment, eating Thai fish cakes with buttery green beans, and cloth table napkins.

“I’ll miss you when you go,” she says, filling wine glasses, “I’ve got used to you this past week.”

“I’ll miss you too,” I sigh, “your life is so... well ordered.”

“It’s called living alone,” she says.

“It’s just, so... sort of...civilised,” I say.

“It’s not having kids,” she continues.

“But it’s not only that...” I say.

“And being solvent...”

“It’s more than that though...”

“And not being married...”

“Yes, I can see how that would make a difference...” “It’s living in an urban environment, not the Wild West...”

“Yes, maybe it’s the urban environment...”

“Basically, I have a lifestyle that’s the absolute antithesis of yours. It’s well-ordered partly because it’s just happened that way but mainly because I’m a completely different person to you and I build it that way.”

“Meaning...?” She gives my question some consideration.

“Well?”

“You have a streak of bandit in you,” she says finally, “and I don’t.”

“It’s my husband who has the streak of bandit,” I say.

“That’s as maybe,” she says after a small pause and then looks at me piercingly, right down into the back of myself, as if to find exactly what’s there.

“You can’t blame everything on your husband,” she says, having found it.

Ireland, Friday afternoon, and I am driving home from the airport. My husband is reclining with closed eyes and crutches in the front passenger seat. He may be asleep.

We are on a stretch of familiar road; I have a split second in which to execute a manoeuvre which would nip us across the road, and off it onto a smaller one, without causing the least bit of upset to oncoming traffic.

I am quick about it, nipping left with such precision and flair that it launches my husband into upright position; his nose is pressed up against the rear-view mirror and he is shouting.

“PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN,” he commands, so suddenly and tersely it’s quite, I think in astonishment, as if our lives depended on it.

I put my foot down; a fight-or-flight decision has happened upon me and I seem to have chosen ‘flight’ without knowing why.

“GO, GO, GO,” he shouts, twisting round in his seat.

“I AM GOING,” I shout, panicked: fleeing feels especially ominous when you don’t know what you’re fleeing from.

“NOT THIS WAY, THAT WAY.”

“WHY NOT THIS WAY?”

“BECAUSE THIS WAY’S HOME, AND HE’LL FOLLOW US THERE.”

“WHO’S HE?”

“THE GARDA.”

“WHAT GARDA?” I shout.

“The one whose bonnet you cut across just now without indicating,” he says, lowering his voice. “I’ve just seen his brake lights. I think he’s turning round to follow us.”

“BUT THERE’S NO HARM DONE,” I shout.

“Yes, I’m sure he’ll see it that way.”

“Is our tax in date?” I say, my voice sinking an octave in dread.

“Never mind the tax,” he says, “just drive.”

“Is it in date?” He checks the tax disc.

“Just,” he says.

“NCT?” “Chance would be a fine thing,” he says.

“INSURANCE?” I shout.

“I’m not stupid.”

“Promise me all they can get me on is driving without indicating?”

“Promise,” he says, “now step on it. Not this road, that road.”

“Can you see him? Is he behind us?” “Not yet.” “If I get in trouble for the NCT, I shall tell him it’s totally your fault,” I say, “we agreed — I’m in charge of toilet-cleaning, you’re in charge of car documentation. I’ll just tell him that.”

“Do. I’m sure he’ll let you off so.” I have another split second decision to make.

“WHAT ROAD, WHERE?” I say.

“THAT WAY, GO, GO, GO.” I go, go, go.

“Don’t pull in here, he’ll see us, pull in over there, behind those trees.”

We are parked off the road in the rain, two bandits behind trees. And it’s cold in the Wild West; the car-radiator is broken.

“What do we do now?” I say.

“We wait,” he says.

We wait in silence; the radio doesn’t work.

“Is this a high-speed car-chase?” I say.

“Nah,” he says, “you were only going 50, and right now, we’re just admiring the view.” I look through the fogged-up windscreen, and my sister’s life feels very far away.

aidaaustin1@gmail.com


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