• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 09


She laughs when I ask if she wouldn’t rather come in the car with me. But your bags, I say, indicating the straps clutched in her right hand, heavy-bellied fabric dangling dangerously close to the wet tarmac. She makes a dismissive motion, as though I really ought to have thought of something better. I’ve carried heavier, love, she tells me. You wait till you get to my age.

Up ahead, in the drizzle, the lights blink slowly through their cycle. Red, orange, green, orange, red. Nothing moves, the traffic backed up all the way to the bridge. It’s like this often in the mornings, but for this time of day such a snarl-up is unusual. Something must have happened, an accident or a burst water main, right on the very edge of the inner district. The other drivers around me seem to sense this also. They wait patiently, resignedly, no one blaring their horn or trying to edge forward into a minuscule gap, gain whatever small advantage they can.

You could at least sit in out of the rain, I try, but again she brushes off my suggestion as though swatting away an insect, lip curled slightly at the corner, brow furrowed in irritation. Droplets shower from her umbrella, bead in her tight-set hair.

You won’t be going anywhere like this, she says, indicating the traffic. I’m better off walking. And besides – she shifts as though to straighten – a little bit of exercise never hurt anyone. This last seems rather pointed, and I begin to regret having reached automatically for my car keys when I saw it was raining; having stopped to chat to Mrs Henderson in the hallway, exchanging thoughts on how often to water a potted hydrangea; having opted to take what’s usually a shortcut over the bridge because I was running late by then; having stuck to the outside lane to avoid cutting up



some other driver; having rolled down my window and stuck out an arm when I saw the bright-pink shape of her approaching through the grey. What began as an ordinary, even pleasant afternoon has taken on a sour note, the tang of disappointment. Hers. I am six again and fumbling my laces, fourteen and racing up the stairs to retrieve a forgotten book. Twenty-three and opening the front door bleary-eyed, milk stains spreading on my chest. Thirty-five and sitting in a car stuck in traffic, unable to move either forward or back.

I open my mouth to respond but no words find their way to my lips, and so I shut it again and she nods, satisfied. I’ll be off, then, she says, need to get on – and she unbends at the waist and backs away from the car.

Bye, Mum, I say, to myself now. And I watch her in the rear-view mirror as she moves off against the suspended flow of traffic, a lone figure forging brightly through the rain.