It wasn’t until Jane had put a couple of miles between herself and the nozzle waver that she realised not only had she not got a can of diesel – or even a can – but she hadn’t checked Festina’s water level. She didn’t need the light on the dashboard to miraculously start working – which it didn’t, thank God, because if every life was only granted one miracle, max, she’d hang onto hers a couple of hours longer – to know things were hotting up. Hotting up seriously, with a capital S, from the amount of Steam – or was it Smoke? – rising in front of her. Only another five or six miles to go if she put her foot down – idiot, trying to trample time not space. Take it steady. Festina lente. Make haste slowly, trusty steed. I know you won’t – Festina sputtered to a standstill.
Ow, as she opened the bonnet. Ow - ow, as steam scalded skin. She drew back. Even if she managed to unscrew the radiator cap, she had no water. She stood, rabbit-fixed in the headlights, fists bunched in pockets, cheeks scorched with frost, damp hair already freezing into spikes of ice. To have come so far for this. She shivered, stirred herself to action. Turn the lights off for a start. No foolish virgin, she - she knew full well the consequences of a flat battery. She flicked a switch and all around was thick black, pitch black, stretching into silence beyond the spitter of clicking metal. Her eyes widened. Dark dissolved into moon brightness lighting verge and hedgerow - and where there was a hedge there might well be a ditch. She crunched over the clods left by the snowplough into sink-soft depths. No matter that snow overflowed the tops of her wellies. She’d have to pull them off anyway, canless as she was, fill them from the ditch – so where was it? Nothing here but a trench of snow. She turned away and turned again. What was snow, but water that had skipped the liquid course? She scooped up an armful.
Jane turned the ignition, over and over. Had she forced one snowball too many down Festina’s throat? Sod it. Sod you. Call yourself a mate? Weren’t diesel engines supposed to start in the dead of Siberian winter? Maybe it was actually colder here. You’re not the only one with a frozen chassis. Jane blew into her hands. She’d give her one more try and then – what? Walk? How long would that take? Quicker, maybe, to cut across country – could she do it? Could she keep going, step after step, snow filling each footprint, snow blanking the world till all direction was obliterated… She blinked back tiredness, put her fingers on the key. Please, my trusty steed. Just for me… And Festina kicked up her heels and galloped into the night.
* * * * *
Snow was coming down thick and fast, and where the moon had gone was anybody’s guess. Festina was having trouble holding the road but, worse than that, all the snow clogging the windscreen couldn’t hide the steam rising from her bonnet. Jane eased her foot off the accelerator. Come on, my beauty, keep going. Her foot was barely touching the pedal. Dear God, if she went much slower she would – stop.
Jane switched off the headlights. Moonless, there was nothing beyond the splat of snowflake on glass, nothing but smoke snaking through oblivion. She ground fists against forehead. Could she do it all again? She was so tired, she could go to sleep, right now. Could seal off sound and sight, shut out memory, cease all thought. Could – would - lie down right here, where there was neither light nor shadow, with night enveiling her from nevermore… The gearstick jabbed in her side. She got out of the car.
Snowflakes were falling on the bonnet, spreading into a colour-drained kaleidoscope of ice carnations. Down they came, spattering over the lattice-melt of what had gone before. More on more, through wafting steam, coming and going like lights on a ghost carousel, absorbed by the hollow gaze of wisp-breath horses harnessed in a perpetual prance, eyes dissolving till only the sockets stared out at her.
Snow had settled in a cobweb skim over the bonnet. Click-clicking through the stillness, Festina cried out for water. To start all over again… or abandon the car and go on foot? The farmhouse wasn’t that far away, would almost be visible on a sunny afternoon. At least now it had stopped snowing. There was nothing else for it. She gave Festina a pat, and left her lying in the shafts. Gathering up her hooped petticoats she ran – as fast as anyone could run in wellies - towards Tara. Because there wasn’t a moment to lose. Tomorrow might be another day for Miss Fiddle-de-dee, but tomorrow would be too late for the geese.