Sunday, 7 July 2013

FLASH FICTION AT FIVE: Patrick by Bethany Chester

Pavement. One step. Two.
Everything’s swaying. Shouldn’t have had that last beer. Best take the shortcut home, along the canal.
Then the ground’s flying up to meet me. The tarmac takes the skin off my hands. It’s the third time I’ve stumbled since I left the pub a few streets back.
Never mind that. My senses are dulled; I can hardly feel the pain.
The towpath runs too close to the water’s edge for my liking. I’m so unsteady that one false step will send me flying into it.
It’s a cloudy night, with blue mist rising off the canal, blurring my vision. Or maybe that’s just the drink. There’s something creepy about it, all the same. What’s the word? Ethereal, that’s the one.
There’s an obstacle ahead. Go around it, my subconscious reminds me. Vaguely, I wonder what it is. Most likely an abandoned shopping trolley, or an antiquated fridge.
But no, it’s bigger. The only light comes from the haze of some distant streetlights. I need to see. My phone screen will be a torch.
Light glints off pristine paintwork. It hits a reflective surface and briefly blinds me. Windows, I see, when my vision returns. And lower down, wheels.
A car, my mind triumphantly comprehends.
And not just any car. A genuine ’66 Mustang. It makes me smile; my grandfather had one exactly like it. Bought it as soon as he could afford it, and kept it till the day he died. That car was his pride and joy, and it was always immaculate. He had the paint job redone every decade or so.
He’d pull up outside our house, smiling and wearing that hat he always wore, ready to whisk us to the coast or the park. I can hear his laugh in my head now, booming and exultant. It’s enough to sober me up a little.
Who would abandon this beautifully maintained car next to a canal?
Flashing my phone towards the number plate, in search of a clue, I freeze. The white letters jump out at me, especially the last three. PTK…the same ones on the plate of my grandfather’s car. He used to call it Patrick. “Morning, Patrick”, he’d say, as he unlocked the door and patted the bonnet.
It can’t be true – and yet there’s the old checked blanket he threw over the back seat, half-slipping off as it always was.
I fumble for the handle on the driver’s side. The door’s unlocked. In a trance, I slide inside. Incredible. Everything’s just as I remember it, right down to the old-fashioned handbrake that sticks out of the dashboard like an umbrella handle.
Stupid drink-induced thoughts begin to flood my mind. Look, the keys are in the ignition. I could drive it home.
But that’s ridiculous. There won’t be any petrol in it. Or is it diesel? I can’t remember.
What’s that persistent clinking sound? Sounds like the keys – but they’re not moving. I try to grab hold of them, but my fingers keep missing. That last beer was definitely a bad idea; the one before it, too. I just can’t seem to get a hold on them.
The clinking gets louder.
“Shut up,” I say, starting to laugh, because I’m drunk.
It stops.
Unnerved, I stop laughing. I reach for the keys again, but my fingers just slip away.
You in my car again, son?
I jump, but the voice is in my head. A memory, no more. He often caught me playing at being an adult, tugging on the wheel but moving nowhere.
I told you not to go in there on your own.
It’s making me nervous now. I look around, but no-one’s there. Uncomfortably, I remember that things with Grandad ended on a bad note. We argued about something – I can’t remember what.
Get out, before I drag you out by your ear.
The words always used to sound teasing, but my mind twists them, makes them threatening.
The Mustang jolts and begins to roll backwards. Too late, I remember that the ground slopes here. The umbrella-handle handbrake was on, but it isn’t anymore.
I don’t stop to ask questions. I throw open the door and roll out, starting to run without looking back.
“What did you do with Patrick?” I ask my brother Lee the next morning.
“You know, Grandad’s car. What happened to it after he died?”
Lee looks at me strangely. “We scrapped it. Why?”
Icy fingers trace my spine. “No reason,” I say weakly.
When I return to the canal I find nothing, except a faded number plate washed up on the bank. The last three letters are PTK.

Bethany Chester

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