It’s a dark dawn in early October when the cracks first appear. I’m being dropped off at a meeting point on the N11 from where I’ll be picked up and escorted to the AGM in Kildare. Only I don’t quite get there. The sound of a helicopter hovers close by. Ever closer. Ever louder.
‘Is that noise coming from our car?’
Then silence. We glide along in dark disbelieving silence, the engine no longer propelling us forward, but something else. A freewheeling willpower. I can’t miss the bloody AGM.
He pulls over, throws on the hazards and seamlessly dials the AA while trying to attract the attention of a FreeNow. Immediate acceptance of the situation while I’m in the throes of utter denial.
Minutes later I’m waltzing up the middle of the deserted taxi-less road to get closer to the meeting point. A large white van passes and beeps at me, at this strange forlorn sight. As if the Friday night out on the tiles hasn’t gone so well and I’m lost. Disoriented. Which I am. I resist the urge to stick the middle finger up. Cheek of him.
We’re carless for the next week. Busing and accepting lifts and walking to Tesco’s with a pull along suitcase. When I pick her up I’m told the battery was faulty, so they’ve replaced it. I describe the helicopter noise that didn’t seem to me to be indicative of a battery issue. I’m told that she perhaps isn’t fixed after all then. No kidding.
‘Test it out over the next few days. Take a long spin off down the M50. We’ll soon know if it’s fixed or not’.
Eh, no thanks.
I drive off anyway. I need to drop marque 2 somewhere. On the way back, stuck at the lights, I glance in the rear view mirror. Someone behind me is stressed to the hilt, vaping like mad. Huge plumes of white smoke billow from his window. Got to be bad for you I think as I take off in a different direction and the white plumes follow me.
Straight back to the garage.
He opens the bonnet in a display of care. He shakes his head.
‘It could be the turbo, burning the oil. Not good, not good at all’.
He calls an accomplice. They both shake their heads.
‘What are you trying to tell me?’
‘Well, at this age there’s only so much we can do you know? And you have to weigh up the cost. Is it worth trying to fix her?’
Of course it bloody well is.
‘Is it safe to drive?’
‘Just small local bits until we know more. It could be dangerous. Could just explode, you know?’
Not really, no. Off I go for a second opinion. We all need a second opinion. Our midterm holiday is scuppered now but no matter. We will do our best by her.
It’s December. Our second opinion person is still deliberating. His garage is opposite my workplace and I’ve got used to seeing her there every day, waiting patiently for her diagnosis. It’s a case of an organ transplant. He thinks. If we can get the organ. Which we can’t. She’s a Japanese import. Scrap yards and eBay and DoneDeal throw up not a sausage. Weeks have slipped past. We’re renting cars. Depleting non-existent funds. Another solution is tossed our way. We can remove the current organ, transfer it to a hospital, get it mended, pop it back in. Marvellous.
It’s the week before Christmas. To speed things up the father offers to wait for the removal of the organ and then drive like the clappers with it, sirens ablast in the rental, all the way to Cappagh. The name Cappagh is enough to send me running in the opposite direction. An orthopaedic hospital. Somewhere I was supposed to go to as a teenager to correct a trauma induced slight scoliosis. For a metal rod to be inserted down along the spine.
Eh, no thanks.
He goes it alone. Delivers the organ and, the following day collects it mended. In blinding rain and stationary traffic. Through great swathes of industrial estate and many a pot-hole. By the time he returns he’s too late for a party he was due to go along to. Oh well.
The next day the revamped old part is re-inserted. We Christmas shop galore. Hurtle briquettes into the welcoming boot – too nervous to do this in a rental. We just need to get through the next few days and then a week of bliss in the West beckons.
The day before the travel he goes for a spin. A little test to see the performance at, say, 80 kilometres per hour rather than our tootling at 50. All the phones seem to ring simultaneously. The noise was deafening he tells me. People stopping to stare. He’s pulled in at the Rambler’s Rest pub. Waiting for the AA. We collectively deflate. We won’t be heading off for the New Year after all.
The AA deliver her back to our second opinion guy. He has no more opinions. He talks about stripping the engine right back to see what it might be. Going on eBay or DoneDeal if we discover what it is. Yada yada. We’re done. Three months and two missed holidays later.
We task marque 1 with finding a replacement. A temporary solution. On a minuscule budget. We can’t afford a real solution. We want it all for nothing at all, of course. Character and space. Just like we had. But we know this is not the right time for that. Just something to get us all around for a couple of months. He finds something that seems to fit the bill. Kind of. Price wise at least. It’s a cold Saturday afternoon in January and we book a FreeNow to take us off out to the car supermarket in Naas, collecting marque 1 from work on the way. Before going I show marque 2 a picture of it. He nods in silence. A nod that says he most certainly does not approve. It’s what he calls ‘a soccer Mom car’. Totally unbefitting of this family.
A €40 taxi fare is handed over but no matter. We’ll be driving home. We tell the myriad of sales guys which car we’re here to see. They eye us with great suspicion, nay on contempt. Something’s not adding up.
‘You know that’s a trade car don’t you?’
‘A what now?’
‘Trade. No warranty. No guarantees’.
‘But we phoned up and asked if there’s a warranty – and we were told there is. We’ve just got a taxi all the way over here on the strength of that call’.
‘Sure what sort of a warranty would you be expecting for a price like that?’
It’s a whole other language that we don’t know but what we do know, straight off, is that we’re not buying it. He may as well have said it’s guaranteed to fall to bits on the way out of the garage. Taxi?
We get home to a mightily relieved marque 2. While we were battling it out in Naas he was asleep and busily dreaming. About how we came home with two of the grey cars I had shown him, stuck together like supermarket trolleys. How we had screeched up in them, sounding like an un-oiled train coming into a station. How this was going to be our family for the foreseeable.
We up the budget and re-task marque 1. He does a supreme job almost instantly. A very low mileage, one owner, 7 seater, and not a soccer mom seven seater. A touch of character perhaps even. Just a smidgeon. It’s in Drogheda, but hey. They drive off, father and son, in another rental to see it. In a garage. With a warranty. It doesn’t disappoint. What’s more is they’re interested in taking our defunct jeep. For parts. Knock a grand off the price. We’re in.
‘It’s silver’, marque 2 says, not in a good way as he stares at the picture. Silver, like everyone else’s.
‘Can we get it painted a better colour, like the colour of the jeep? You know how the jeep seems to be sort of dark blue, but then in the sun you can see bits of purple coming through. I love that.’
‘Sure. We’ll paint it’, the father says.
‘It’s got a Cork reg Mum’, marque 3 points out. It does indeed.
‘So you know the way when you’re driving and you say things to the car ahead like, ah sure, take your time there, up from Cork, don’t know where you’re going. No no, don’t worry about us behind here, we can be late, just take your time’. He has me perfectly, the irritation in the voice as it rises up. I didn’t know anyone was listening.
‘Yes Mum, you do. So that will be us now. Everyone will be saying that to us, driving behind all annoyed. Can we change the reg, or, you know, colour the C in to make a D?’
It happens all too fast in the end. They announce they can get the new car to us on Thursday night and take the jeep back with them. It’s Wednesday evening. I’m feeling a little nauseous.
‘So we’re going to give the jeep a send off, right?’ Marque 1 enquires.
‘You know, get it back here to the house to say goodbye?’
‘Well, no we can’t. It’s not working, remember?’
With that they all take off. Father and sons. Down to the garage to clear it out and to say goodbye. There were tears, I’m told, as they removed all the shells of the day, stored in pockets, each one representing a beach day out West. As they found the rusty good luck horse shoe. The books stashed under seats. The camera. The lost iPod. All the memories swimming up to greet their damp eyes. Marque 2 takes a sound recording of the indicator in action. Just to have, you know?
As the guillotine hour approaches a collective guilt kicks in. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough to keep her going.
‘It’s a bit like pulling the life support plug on a grandparent and offering the parts for transplant, or the body for science’, one says.
‘It’s like saying goodbye to the family pet’, another one says.
‘I don’t think I’ll be able to go to the West ever again. Not without the jeep. It’ll be too sad’, another one says.
‘I wish I’d never found the new car’, marque 1 says.
‘It’s my fault the jeep’s going. If I hadn’t found it, we wouldn’t be doing this now’. He thinks he’s signed the execution papers. I tell him that it isn’t him, it’s me. It’s my bloody fault.
As the nausea levels rise I busy myself with the dishwasher. A call comes. They’ll be at the garage in twenty minutes. Marque 1 cycles off. All the rest get ready to walk.
‘Let’s go Mum’, marque 3 chimes as I clatter the plates a little more than necessary.
‘Ah no sure. I’ve lots to do here. See you in a bit’. I really don’t want to witness this. To see her go.
‘This is an important family moment Mum. You have to be there. All this other stuff can wait’. He seems to really know about these things.
Off we trudge in the dark. Dog an’ all. When we arrive she’s already up on the tow-truck. Ah god. She looks magnificent still. The lovely loyal old friend. She was nine when we got her and we had her for fourteen years. A whole lifetime for most of the kids. Serving and serving and asking for nothing in return. They reverse out with her and the boys run after the truck down the middle of the road, videoing her for a final time as she rounds the corner. What have we done?
We sit in the new car feeling utterly disloyal. We can’t find the lights and can’t go anywhere. Serves us right. Someone is finding it hard to breathe. It’s got to us all.
Later we bundle the family in for a little test drive. Not too far mind you. We need to swap the insurance. In Tesco’s marque 1 tells me that one of the lads who took the jeep might just keep it for himself instead of dismantling it for parts. We both smile. On she lives. Just as she should.
‘So we need to celebrate’ he says, picking up a cake. I pluck some bubbly Shloer to go with it.
‘Can we buy these party poppers?’ Marque 4 asks, waving a bag of fifty at me.
‘What for? They’re five (bloody) euros and we’re not having a party’.
‘You know it’s an important family occasion. Saying goodbye to the jeep and hello to the new car. We need to mark these moments in life’, he says, startling me with his thirteen year old maturity. We got the jeep while I was pregnant with him. He has a point.
‘Throw them in’.
It’s too soon to think that the new can replace the old and there’s no replacing a character, is there. Things work annoyingly well in the new. Press a button here and the air conditioning comes on. Press another one there, and hey presto, on comes the radio. Turn a knob and here comes the heat, just as much or as little as you like. Press a button and up rises the seat. It might even be a heated seat. It’s all so very quiet. There’s a leather clad cleanliness that will excite in time, I’m sure. But for now it’s still a little raw. I look for her as I approach work each day, hoping she has somehow been returned. That we didn’t give up on her after all. That she will take us once again across the rugged terrain in the West to the most beautiful beaches in the world and wait while we barbecue and swim. Joining in where she can. Winking at us from the headland as we come back from our walks. Offering shelter as the weather changes in an instant and the hail comes down. That the boys will steer her again on no man’s land at low tide across to Omey island. As they have done all their lives.