City Break

My husband sighs to himself as we crawl along the M40 behind a caravan perched on the back of a lorry. 

It’s as if he is the only one confined to a small stuffy box on an upright seat with “stories for four-year-olds” playing on a loop.

Actually we have all been in this situation for three hours, on the way to Birmingham for half term. 

My husband holds the “I’m driving” card, so I become a snack and drink dispenser, head of diplomatic relations and a fountain of knowledge on all things to do with cars, distances and alarmingly, how an armchair can fall off a Land Rover roof at speed without breaking into pieces.

“Can I have an ice-cream?” Midnight asks for the 14th time. 

“I don’t have one,” I try to keep my voice light, when really I want to lean forward and scream into the glove box.

Maybe Midnight thinks our Transporter is an ice-cream van. Maybe he likes to ask the impossible of his mother ALL DAY LONG. Maybe he’s just a four-year-old who wants an ice-cream. 

“Can two cars have the same number plate?” asks Mayhem, passing me the crusts from his service station sandwich.

“No. That’s why they have a number plate, so they are different.” I say confidently.

“But they are already different colours and different sizes…” Milk points out.

“… and different types of cars…” adds Mayhem. “Like a Lamborghini or a Mini.”

“And trucks aren’t cars,” says Midnight with gusto.

Milk nods. “So if you had a yellow Mini and a red truck with the same number plate, you won’t exactly get them muddled up will you?” 

“Or a digger and a butt crack” squeals Midnight.

All of this is true. “Anyone want a Jaffa cake?” I say.

My husband is unable to distribute snacks, but he is able to eat them. 

“We’re nearly in Mordor,” he says to the children with his mouth full. “You’ll see orcs and everything up here”.

“And grandma and grandpa,” pipes up Midnight.

Tolkein lived across the park from where I grew up and I feel unusually sensitive about orcs and Mordor. “You haven’t actually read Lord of the Rings have you?” 

“Don’t need to read it, I’ve seen the film,” the love of my life replies, holding out his sticky hand for a drink. 

We approach my parents’ neighbourhood and Midnight is glued to the window. “Look at that stinky dirty tower!” he shouts with glee as we pass a block of flats. 

“We really need to get them out more,” I say. “They think everyone lives in cottages with a white picket fences.”

Midnight shrieks. “Look at that man! He is shouting at that wall. Why is he shouting at a wall mummy?”

“I don’t know, maybe no one is listening to him…” I say. 

“Can I have an ice-cream?”

I lean forward and open the glove box.

Stranger Things

My husband has spent the day at a snowboarding show, collecting key rings and drinking schnapps, while entering multiple competitions in the hope he will win a dream drop-off for backcountry boarding in the Japanese Alps.

“Can you pick me up from the station?” 

My husband has spent the day at a snowboarding show, collecting key rings and drinking schnapps, while entering multiple competitions in the hope he will win a dream drop-off for backcountry boarding in the Japanese Alps.

I stuff the children into the car with the promise of some “stuff” from daddy and we park up, watching train passengers spill out into the car park and disperse into the night. 

I don’t see my husband at first but when I do I find my mouth dropping open.

He is walking down the ramp from the platform like a Zombie, his head tilted on one side, his arms outstretched. 

“Look it’s Daddy” squeals Midnight kicking the back of my seat in excitement.

Milk and Mayhem lean forwards to watch their father. 

I look at my husband limping like an extra in Night of the Living Dead. Maybe he’s had too many peach schnapps or perhaps his head got trapped in the train doors as they opened and closed – either way it is definitely my husband limping towards a car which is not ours.

To be fair the car he is approaching is exactly the same model and strange gold colour as ours – but it does not contain his family. It contains someone else’s. 

“Where is daddy going?” Milk asks.

“Has he turned into a real Zombie? Mayhem says, looking worried.

I still have my mouth open and although I want to speak I also just want to see what happens next.

My husband is a few steps from the wrong gold car when the doors open and a whole family jumps out, the parents nervously eyeing my husband and guiding their children around him to catch their train. 

My husband drops his outstretched Zombie arms and looks a little flustered. I flash my lights to show him where we are parked.

“I totally thought that was our car,” he chuckles as he passes his exhibition paraphernalia to the children. They dive into the bags and giggle with glee at all the stickers, pens, postcards and other “stuff”, which will soon be sprawled across the house and forgotten about.

“I think I freaked that family out.”

“I think so too”, I say, wondering if he is having a delayed midlife crisis. The other day we had an argument about how ill he was when he took the day off work, but then decided he wanted to come with me to pick up Milk and Mayhem from their Halloween Disco.

“I’m going to hide in the boot and scare the kids when they get in,” he declared.

“But I thought you were too ill to do anything?” 

“All I’m doing is lying down in a car instead of a bed,” he replied gruffly.

I drag Midnight up the road to pick up the other two from the school disco.

My artist friend asks me how my husband is. “Is he “ill ill?”  she says. “Tucked up in bed?”

“Errr…”  I look at her and then at Midnight. If I say anything about how actually my husband is outside a school hiding in the boot of a car, Midnight will remember and spoil the surprise, but also my husband may be arrested. I weigh it all up not wanting to deceive my good friend.

“Errr.. he’s definitely not very well,” I say diplomatically.

I am greeted by a dripping wet Werewolf and a Swamp Zombie clutching sweets and buzzing with songs and halloween dance off stories. Midnight gets given a lolly and we head back to the car. I realise it’s been 40 minutes. 

I let the kids into the car and walk around to the driving seat. Before I can open the door the whole vehicle starts rocking with high pitched screams. People walking past with their children are staring at our car. 

There is a man hiding in the boot scaring my children and I am standing outside on the road paralysed with the realisation I am married to this strange human being. And the rain begins to fall.

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