Cheap Petrol

The engine stuttered, and then died. Luckily for Thomas there was an empty parking bay that he could steer the lumbering car into. Luckier still was the fact that the road was completely empty, making the manoeuvre less perilous. He removed the keys from the ignition, exited the car and walked around to inspect under the bonnet. He was kidding himself, he thought, knowing full well he couldn’t tell a spark plug from a carburettor, let alone diagnose the cause of death here, as it were. It was better left to professionals. Without opening the bonnet he returned to the driver seat and picked up his mobile phone to call for emergency assistance. 

As he stood there holding his phone, he paused, raising his head in search of a sign or some other indication of where he was. He looked to his left, in the direction he had been headed and saw that the road turned out of view ahead. Looking back in the direction from which he had come he saw road peel away into the distance, straight and shrinking as it rolled over small hills, eventually falling over the crest of one and out of sight. He made the call to the AA—the best directions he could give being that he had passed the small village of Collingham some ten minutes earlier. They would be there as soon as possible. He ended the call and for a moment everything seemed still. Eerily so. The low whisper of wind slithered across the fields and rolled up the tree trunks shaking their leafy boughs. It was not yet Autumn and as the wind blew, their populous branches stirred up a din. A cacophony of creaks and hisses that would surely have drowned in the noise of a passing car, but this road was empty and so the din persevered. The wind brought with it the smell of manure. It clung to the air stickily and as Thomas inhaled he could practically taste it. The odour brought a short smile to his face as he did so.

The parking bay that he had steered into and was now stood in, belonged to an old garage, post-apocalyptic in its decor. The forecourt, cracked and broken and overrun with some form of invasive green weed, bore the rusted scabs of four petrol pumps. A tall sign, peppered with pigeon guano still stood, and indeed stood still, near the roadside, its once white facade was now a filthy brownish hue and its black, squinted numbers sheltered from the wind inside. 53.00p. Away from the roadside, at the oppose edge of the forecourt was the old garage shop. Its windows were clouded as if they had cataracts and the door had long been boarded shut. He walked over to one of the slightly clearer panes and pressed his face up against it, leaning his entire body weight on his forehead for a moment in a way that mysteriously pleased him. He raised his palms to the side of his head like horses blinkers and peered through the window.

Giant sweet jars sat ornamentally on the shelves behind the counter; kola-kubes, pear drops, and midget gems-their colourful stickers faded to a pale, sickly yellow and only the traces of powdered sugar inside. Old boxes once containing chocolate bananas, macaroon bars and Fry’s Chocolate Creams lay on the dusty counter and on the floor directly in front of it, nestled beneath the wiry frame of an old chewing gum dispenser. That, too, empty. The shop floor itself was small, made to look even less spacious by the deluge of empty containers, shredded paper and disused shelving. Only the highest shelves had remained untouched, holding cases of cheap lightbulbs and firelighters. The ironic overseers of the dark and dusty store.

Thomas turned away from the window and squinted as the low sun shone through the trees painting the road like tiger stripes. Something else had arrived, not borne on the wind like the thick scent of manure, nor was it-he was disappointed to discover-the sound of an approaching car. It faded into view; a memory. Becoming clearer and yet remaining vague as only memories can it poured over him. Thomas stood, unresisting, and allowed it to engulf him. 

The memory spat Thomas out at a farm, far away from where it had taken him. He was much younger, young enough that his recollections are mostly sounds and smells, rather than thoughts. He can hear the low hum of a tractor cutting grass and smell the diesel. It coalesces with the aroma of stale dung and freshly cut grass and as he breathes in he smiles. As he watches the grass twitch in the breeze he hears his mother calling from behind, and when he turns he sees her in the distance waving. She too was young, and thin, with bright lips and freckled arms and a happy voice. Stood behind her left shoulder was his father. He leans on a stye with one arm draped across his trousered knee, the other hand brings a white cigarette to his mouth. As he exhales he whispers something and she rolls her eyes playfully. Thomas looks at the enormous stone farmhouse to his left, watching as the wind carries loose strands of barley past its thin, high windows and away into the distance, shaking the giant, ancient trees as it passes. He shivers as the cold breeze kisses the back of his neck, and in this moment the dream begins to fade, peacefully leaving him where it found him.

The sun had almost faded beyond the tree line now and it was a different kind of orange glow that speckled the road. The AA van pulled into the forecourt and parked at the front of Thomas’ car. The driver climbed down from his seat and smiled. 

'Lucky you had somewhere to pull over.' He said. 'Just a shame there's nothing here anymore.'

Thomas looked around him one final time; at the shop window, at the cracked forecourt, at the shaking trees and quivering fields and smiled. 

'No. Not anymore.' He said.