Sunday 11 September 2011

Sample Sunday: Paying The Piper

An extract from WIP Paying The Piper:

The rear tyre blew at eighty-five miles per hour in the outside lane of the M25, just past junction eleven. Amanda didn’t hear it go, but she felt the steering wheel wrench from her grip just as Mika launched into Grace Kelly on the car’s CD player. The screech of tyres didn’t improve the quality of the music as the car swerved towards the central reservation, and the scrape of metal against metal seemed perfectly timed to the song.

She pulled hard to the left, narrowly missing the Renault in the middle lane. The driver flashed his headlights several times in succession, overtook on the inside and accelerated away out of danger, making a crude gesture with his fingers as he passed her. Just like a man. Anything to avoid trouble. Never wants to get involved. The car skidded on the wet road and she hit the brake instinctively, only deepening the skid as all four tyres lost contact with the tarmac.

Suddenly, the world reduced to four wheels and an engine. Frantically, she tried to remember what they’d said on the advanced driving talk which the office had laid on for them all. Two winters ago, when five company cars had been written off in as many weeks, the firm had decided that a driving seminar was called for. At the time, all the staff had been concerned about was the fact that they were expected to come in for an evening without pay; right now, Amanda reckoned that survival would be payment enough. She eased her foot off the brake and steered into the skid, thanking whatever Gods were listening that there were no other cars on the inside. The motorway was quiet and most sensible people would be at work, not speeding round the M25 with their life in ruins. 

Surprisingly enough, the car responded. She could feel the difference through the steering wheel as the remaining tyres began to grip the road. She touched the brake once, twice – cadence braking, just like she’d been taught – and the car slowed and straightened as she eased it across to the inside lane and onto the hard shoulder. Coming to a standstill, she switched off the engine, cutting Mika off in his prime. The sudden silence was overwhelming, the smell of burning rubber filled the car and she wondered what she was going to do now. 

For the third time that day, Amanda burst into tears. It hadn’t exactly been a spectacular success so far. She’d been on the move three hours now, ever since arriving at the nursery at lunchtime and discovering that Paul had already picked up Melanie. At home, she found he’d taken a suitcase; some of his clothes were missing, and a stack of nappies had gone with some sleepsuits from Mel’s room. And three hours later, where had she got to? Halfway across the country, with what seemed like days stuck in a motorway tailback on the M4, and no nearer finding her daughter than she had been when she’d set out with just her handbag, and only that because she knew it contained her credit cards and phone and the one thing she was going to need was money. Money for petrol and food, probably somewhere to stay the night and no doubt cash to bribe his family. Because that’s where he’d be, running home to mummy and that awful interfering sister of his. Running home with Melanie.

Mel. The thought made her cry even harder. How could he have taken their daughter with him? Aside from the fact that he knew next to nothing about caring for a nine-month old baby, Paul had never given any indication about the way he felt before. True, he’d never been a man of many emotions; that’s what she’d loved about him – his calm competence, easy acceptance of redundancy and the optimism with which he’d set about finding himself a new job, even when it had involved a move across the country. She’d gone willingly, six months pregnant and excited at the thought of a new life together. And then it had all started to fall apart.

Damn Bristol. She thumped the car horn loudly with her fist, wishing it was somebody’s head. Damn Carroll’s Limited; there was nothing limited about the liberties the directors were apparently prepared to take with their employees. And damn to Hell and back Mark Cartland for taking her to the office post-Christmas party and then to his bed. She hadn’t meant it to happen, hadn’t set out with the idea of adultery in her mind, but Paul had been working late again, keen to impress his new boss and she’d been lonely in the new house. Mark had been so understanding when she’d had to take time off at short notice when Melanie was ill. She couldn’t refuse his invitation. She hadn’t wanted to. He was a nice guy in his own way, though not really her type. Besides, nobody else had asked her to accompany them to the dinner at a local hotel and as usual Paul had been too busy.

Stop making excuses, Amanda. You slept with your boss and your husband found out. End of story. Who could blame Paul for the way he’d reacted? But how could he run off like that, without giving her the chance to explain, to apologise and try to make up for what she’d done. It was as if he didn’t want to know any more. Perhaps he would never be able to forgive her. Perhaps he’d never let her see Melanie again.

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