On Hot Tar and Tow Trucks

I donít know what we were thinking. Starting our summer holiday camping with two toddler girls was craziness itself. Throwing in a pregnant, hormonal thirty year old was madness. I was enormous, nauseous and grumpy as anything and made sure that everyone suffered accordingly. And it was hot. Terribly, terribly hot. I spent hours fantasising about relaxing in the air-conditioned luxury of my husband Mikeís new car. Forget the idyllic mountain cottage we were heading to next, all I could picture was the tender embrace of soft leather seats and streams of delicious, icy air cascading over my boiling body.

With the camping ordeal finally over and the air conditioning on maximum, my mood lifted. I think I may even have shared a laugh with my children and some light hearted banter with my longsuffering husband. Somewhere between the campsite and miles of nowhere we saw something flat lying in the road. Instead of swerving we drove straight over it. The almighty thud that followed let us know that we should have swerved. We pulled over to inspect the damage. My husbandís forlorn expression jolted me out of my pregnant trance. The flat piece of nothing turned out to be a sharp metal sheet which had sliced clean through the fuel tank. Petrol was rapidly pouring out and forming sticky puddles on the boiling hot tar. Images of the grand blaze our car would form if a cigarette butt flew out of a passing car spurred me into action. Quickly I grabbed some snacks and, balancing one toddler on my bulge and hopping over the blistering tar with the other, I headed for an abandoned farm stall. Grateful for the shade, the children and I collapsed in a wilted heap and nibbled on dried bananas and sipped rations of lukewarm juice. Meanwhile, Mike phoned the roadside breakdown service. He came back looking very pleased- a tow truck was on its way. What good news it seemed. After an hour the news seemed a little less good. After two hours of waiting I would happily have left the car and hitchhiked along the scorching tar. After three hours I was ready to throw a match into the petrol myself. It was a sweltering 35 degrees and we were sitting under a corrugated iron roof being slow cooked. Scanning the hazy mirages in either direction for any sign of life became Mikeís half hourly ritual. Mine was visiting the scrubby little bush nearby to relieve my pregnant bladder. When the girls stopped complaining and lay in limp heaps on the dusty concrete floor I started to despair.

And then as if by magic, a tow truck emerged out of the distant haze, followed by a new courtesy car for us. I quickly installed my children into the courtesy car and lowered my parboiled self into the front seat to watch our car being loaded onto the tow truck. Slowly she was winched up and chained into place. And then slowly, very slowly she began to roll backwards, picking up speed as gravity pulled her down. Flinging the snapped chains aside she jumped off the ramps and lifted into the air for a split second before colliding nose first with the back of the tow truck and bouncing back onto the tar. Forget women who have been scorned, it is pregnant women overflowing with hormones who need to be feared above all. The sliced and broken nose of our car became the embodiment of all my frustration, nausea and discomfort. Our car had been beautiful and now she was broken. Something like me and the dejected whale I had become. Flying out of the car I began to scream and rant at the startled truck driver. Mike looked embarrassed, the children began to cry and still I did not let up. By the time we arrived at the nearest town I had exhausted myself, and all those around me.

That night at a cheap hotel my sleep was broken by a recurring nightmare. Screaming I watched our car exploding over and over with my precious girls inside. The screaming became unbearable, overwhelming. Tossing and turning I awoke in horror to the realisation that the screaming was not a dream. It came from next door. A woman had discovered an intruder in her apartment. What a perfectly dreadful end to a perfectly dreadful day.

H Walton

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