2011 NZWC Short Story Joint 3rd Place_2

Careless Driving - by Stephanie Attwood

     “Mum! I’m gutted you’d blame me straight up! What happened to asking first?” Rob’s voice broke indignantly. “Could’ve been Sam! Blonde and female.” He stressed the combination, hoping his twin wasn’t within hearing.

     Paula’s glare swung incredulously from her son back to the dents taunting her from the otherwise immaculate car.

     “You’re pushin’ it mate. If Sam’d done this, she would’ve told me as soon as.”

     “Yeah well I would’ve told you straight up too ‘cept you weren’t home.” Rob peered up through his fringe with puppy dog eyes. “I was working round to it.”

     Paula, bending to examine the damage, completely missed the ploy. “Headlight, bumper, side panel. Shit mate, the doors creased too! It’s not the cost, y’know. That’ll be the least of y’worries.”

     She smoothed her hand over the bonnet. “It’s not perfect now – that’s what’ll bother him!”

     “Oh, and what about me? Am I still perfect? Well, yes, I am actually, no whiplash or anything, thanks for asking!” Mum’s lack of interest in his welfare over-rode his guilt.

     Paula’s drawn face hardened. “And I should care? You know better than to cross your dad and he expressly told both you and Sam to keep your mitts off until he got back.”

     Her fury was real but Rob sensed her thoughts were already turning to damage control.

      She would be wondering if there was time to get it fixed before Dad’s return from his business trip. And he knew for sure she wouldn’t think twice about keeping this from his dad if it were at all possible.

      All sorts of dramas never made it past first base and he hoped like hell this wasn’t going to be the curveball that struck out the sentry that was his feisty mother.

     When he’d been sprung smoking at school; the false ID she’d found in the washing machine; the time the vodka bottle had been mysteriously filled with water… just between them.

     There was an unspoken acknowledgement between the lioness and her cubs - what Dad was told was strictly on a ‘need to know’ basis.

     “I’ll have to make some calls.” She glanced quickly at her watch. “But its too late now, we’ll have to wait till tomorrow. What possessed you?”

     Without waiting for a response or explanation she went on. “Did the cops show up?”
Rob’s pained expression spoke volumes.

     “Aww Robbie…” at the sight of his pitiful face her tone softened. “What happened, mate? Come on, tell us while I get the washing in.”

     Rob listlessly pulled a few garments from the line and tossed them into the basket. His sister’s stuff took up most of the line. Stupid girls and their fancy flippen designer gear.

       “It’s not as if the Holden’s that special,” he balled a pair of socks with a sulky roll. “Dad gets a new car every time we move. This must be what… his eighth?” 

      A warning look from his mother spurred him back on course. “OK, ok. I know I shouldn’t have taken the car. I know Dad’ll be pissed off. But it was an accident, mum, a pure’n’simple accident.”

      Here goes nothing. “There was this girl, see -”

      “Bloody hell, Rob! Is she alright?”

      “She wasn’t in the car with me. She’s in my English class.”

      The tension in the air shifted and settled. The transition from hard-nosed mum to inquisitive mum was instant and he silently congratulated himself. I’ve read her right.

     It was as plain as the nose on her face; she was rapt with this development. Talk about pressing the right button. If there was one thing mum wanted, he knew it was for him to start showing an interest in girls.

      He wondered, not for the first time, if this was to discount the alternative. 

      He continued his explanation - about being distracted, seeing this girl he had the hots for walking along the street and waving at her - that was all - and then this dickhead in front of him suddenly grounding to a stop to turn right - no indicators or anything!

     Hell, it was either ram him or do what he had done, swerve with an embarrassingly loud screech of tyres and hit a rubbish bin. Shit! He felt his face burning up again at the shaming that had followed.

      Getting out, trying to be off-hand about the damage, having to suck it in as the other driver had torn a strip off him.

      He followed his mother inside and hoisted himself up onto the bench while she started folding the washing.

      “I knew she’d be going that way, see, and I was only going to do a drive round the block, just so she’d see me.” He was genuinely embarrassed under his mother’s unwavering stare.

      “I’ve been trying to get her attention for weeks, but she doesn’t even know I exist! I thought, well, I didn’t think, really, did I?” He risked a smile.

      She ruffled his curls and gave his shoulder a push. “Go on, Romeo.”

      Rob shrewdly focused on the girl. “She’s a real stunner, mum.” He kept on in similar vein until his mum looked like interrupting.

      “You’d just love her style, mum, much like yours.” Oh I’m good.

     “Well, you sure got her attention today, matey.” Frowning again.

      “She laughed at me mum. She and her mates all stood there wetting themselves, then before the cops showed up they shot the gap. She didn’t even look back.”

     He could see that his mum was wavering between giving him a clip or a cuddle. Not actually wanting either he slid off the bench and went over to the fridge, grabbed a coke.

     I’m so sick of this!  Geez, mum knows how hard it is to make new friends all the time.

     She’d told him often enough, after a few wines, that it was her and Dad’s transient lifestyle that had made him and his sister what they were.

     Sam was Miss Popularity, gliding in and out of relationships easily, leaving and making new friends like there was no tomorrow.

     He, on the other hand, was the complete opposite.

     “I didn’t even touch the other car, so the old dickhead wasn’t hurt or anything, maybe just a bit shocked, but he called the cops and they rocked up and – ”

      “You didn’t admit anything did you?” his mum’s tone startled him.

     “What do you mean?”

     “You never admit guilt at an accident. It’s the surest way of getting copped for careless.” 

     “I didn’t say anything to them about being distracted.” Rob said, noting with relief his mother’s nod of approval. “But I had to show them my license so they knew I was breaching the conditions.”

     He padded around the house behind her as she distributed the clean laundry.

     “Pigs. Breaching your rights, speaking to you without an adult there to look out for you! Did they ping you for anything else?” She held out her hand.

     Rob fished around in the pocket of his jeans for the crumpled ticket. Before handing it over he hesitantly told her about the careless driving charge.

     She went ballistic.

     He’d never seen his mother so angry or heard such language and it freaked him out. He wanted his mum back, not this imposter.

     He had to come clean then and tell her how the old guy had told the cops about watching him approach in his rear vision mirror, speeding up behind him, weaving across the centre line, yelling out at the girls on the footpath; in short about him being a dickhead.

     The tongue lashing his mum gave him then was worse than anything he could expect from his dad later.

     Dinner was a brittle affair and Rob took himself off to bed shortly afterwards with a leaden feeling in his belly. 

     His father would be home tomorrow and he’d have to face the music all over again, not to mention Dad’s boot. He gave that some thought.

     His dad hadn’t touched him in anger for some time, almost all this year when he thought about it. Is that because I’m taller than him now? Or have I not been such a clown?

      The familiar ache of morbid anticipation began, along with the nervous chewing of his fingernails. Rob knew the tips would be red and painfully swollen by the time he had to front up about the car.

     His brow crinkled as he thought about how he could enhance his role in the version he’d be telling his father.
     He drifted off feeling very sorry for himself.

     The sudden jangling of the phone dragged him from his troubled sleep. When he heard his dad’s voice his gut spasmed.

     “Where’s your mum?”

     “What time is it? She and Sam must still be at the movies.”

     “That’ll explain why her cell’s off.” Dad sounded like he was holding himself in check. It was weird but it emboldened Rob somehow.

     “Dad, I’ve got something to tell you.”

     “Yeah, look son, ahh, I’ve had my one phone call, I’m only getting this one ‘cause I’m such a good bastard.” His dad laughed but it wasn’t a happy sound.

     “Dad, I’ve got to -”

     “Look, I don’t have much time here, mate, and this is not going to make much sense to you but mum needs to know. Tell her….”

     Rob couldn’t believe his ears.

     He quickly found a pen and jotted down key words to help him remember every damned thing he was hearing.

     Undercover cops.

     Search warrants.

     A meth lab. Shit!

     Money to be moved; mum would know exactly what to do – ‘stick to the plan.’

     Dad done for dealing.

     Big time.

     “Look after your mum and sister, Rob, you’ll have to be the man of the house now. Till I’m back anyway eh? Take care of things for me, son.”

     Rob straightened his shoulders, glanced down at his hand and smoothed a ragged quick. “Sure thing, Dad, sure thing. I’ll take care of things.”                                 

Stephanie-Attwood  Bio for Stephanie Atwood

Stephanie Attwood entered, and won her first short story competition in 1986 (South Island Writers’ Association) with her University Entrance exam story ‘The Break.’

She didn’t write again until undertaking the New Zealand Writers’ College Short Story Writing Course early in 2010.

She began submitting stories almost immediately and ‘Dressing Down’ (assignment five) was accepted by UK magazine The Weekly News in June.

Her story ‘The Letterbox’ was one of five runners up in the open section of the BNZ Literary Awards 2010.

Stephanie credits tutor Ginny Swart for validating and nurturing her talent and says it is overwhelming when your work is publicly recognised.

“Selling that first story was a defining moment; I was proud but humbled at the same time…then I was just plain stoked and cracked a Moet!”