Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gran Torino

The car didn’t even slow down, that was what upset Maureen the most. More than her newly-permed hair whipping across her face, more than the pounding in her chest. She stood in the middle of the pedestrian crossing and watched her precious oranges bounce off down the road.

“You little toe-rag,” she screeched, waving her walking stick at the vanishing smear of the car. “Just you wait till my Harold gets hold of you.” Then she burst into tears, not from shock but because Harold was only five months in the ground and it was still too soon.

She hoped the driver would see she was frail, and stop to help. He might pick up the oranges, and the biscuits and tea that were spilled and spoiling in the road. But there was no change in the exhaust’s throaty roar, no sign of the car deviating from its route. In the distance the window wound down, an arm emerged, and a finger jabbed towards the sky. Even over the engine noise she heard his voice, roughened by triumph and too many cigarettes.

“Get out of the road, you stupid old cow!”

She phoned her grandson once she could keep the quaver out of her voice. “Who round here drives a navy blue BMW?”

“Gran? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, dear. Just answer the question.”

“If it had alloy wheels then it’s probably Wayne Bright. Lives in one of the tower blocks and nobody likes him much. Plays his music all hours of the night and he’s never done a decent day’s work in his life – he spends most of his time at the bookies in town.”

She got her mobility scooter out and trundled to the square. It was the one Harold had bought for her only the previous year; at the time he’d made some modifications she never thought she’d need. Thanks to Wayne Bright she’d changed her mind.

Bright sun bounced off the bookie’s plate-glass windows, throwing her reflection back at her, and that of a large dark car swerving in to park. She recognised that car, even back to front – the same one that had nearly knocked her down. A youth got out and slammed the door. Maureen worried that he’d spot her watching him, but he had a hoodie pulled down low over his eyes and headphones clamped to his ears, and wouldn’t notice an elephant driving a double-decker bus.

He paused to light a cigarette, hands cupping the match against the breeze. He took the first deep drag of smoke, held it in his lungs, prepared to release. Maureen seized her chance. Using Harold’s special controls she put the scooter in silent mode and sidled up behind. At the last second she hit a different control and an air-horn blasted the busy street. The result was better than she’d hoped. The lad jumped so hard he inhaled the cigarette. Tears dribbled down his face and he coughed until he retched, odd little puffs of smoke still rising from his throat.

“Out of my way, you stupid little runt,” she screeched, and flicked Harold’s third and final switch. The blades shot out of the centre of her wheels, gleaming and glinting in the sun, their edges as sharp as swords. “Out of my way,” she called again, and shot the scooter forward at ramming speed.
The lad screamed as she ran over his foot. He screamed again as the blades bit deep. He screamed a third time as the blood began to spurt. He collapsed to the pavement clutching both his legs. Around him people stopped and stood and stared, and then they began to cheer.

Harold, her dear Harold, car mechanic extraordinary and godfather of the local estate. He’d ruled these streets with a rod of iron. He would be proud of her.