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THE BLUE DATSUN

1. Buying the car
In the fading daylight the jumbled strip of small traders were closing their shops for the night. The local corner cafés and fish and chips vendors were turning on their lights in anticipation of slow but steady business into the night. It was somewhere around my 40th year in the late 1980s and I needed to replace a car that had recently died. As I drove, I mused on the fact that here I was, a mid-life career scientist, looking for a very used car on the wrong side of the tracks. But somehow the scenario of meeting a grey-suited car salesman to finalise a hire-purchase agreement on a two-year old pre-owned medium-sized family sedan made me cringe. So, as instructed, I took a left turn off the Main Road into the dark maw of the disintegrating terraces of single-storey Victorian cottages that were like a set of teeth: discoloured, decaying and missing …

I looked over the car for a general feel of its physical and emotional condition, and requested a test drive. Nervous about my borrowed car being stolen while I was out around the block, I cut the test drive short. I couldn’t find any places where the rust was close to causing collapse, the engine felt smooth and didn’t smoke, and the steering and brakes worked alright. I took the plunge and said I’d take it. I arranged for payment and collection the following day, fairly confident that it would be able to meet the transport challenges I was going to place before it.

The car was an 11-year old blue Datsun 120Y station wagon, a model recognised as reliable, rugged and underpowered. If I were a person who gave cars personal names, I might have been tempted to call this one “Brak”.

Back home I set about doing the ‘too late’ finer inspection. The seller had done a reasonable clean of the car, but there were a few papers in the cubby hole. On shuffling through them, I came across an item that puzzled me by being out of context in this early dialogue with the car. It was a permit for entry into a country hiking area, one which I knew well – the idyllic Witels Kloof in the Hex River mountains that I’d traversed several times over the years. I couldn’t quite reconcile this clue to the car’s provenance with the seemingly embattled community where I had signed and sealed the back-street purchase. I hoped that this wasn’t indicative of an illegal transfer of ownership that might mark me as a receiver of stolen goods. But I chose instead to regard it as a positive sign, and how much joy it had brought to an anonymous hiker.

2. Character of the car.
The car turned out to be functional, economical and quirky. Not my own sort of quirkiness exactly, but rather a mischievous series of actions that you might expect from an intelligent rescue dog. One thing I soon learned was that security was not a strength of this blue Datsun. I discovered that the lock on the driver’s door would yield easily to a completely different range of keys and, that while driving sometimes, the key could be removed from the ignition switch without turning off the motor. It caught me out on a number of occasions. I’d pull up at my destination and reach down to cut the engine only to find the keyhole empty and my bunch of keys lying at my feet.

The issue of key promiscuity worked to my advantage one evening when I had worked late at the university, and had mislaid my full set of keys. Wondering how I might resolve the situation, my mind moved towards the interchangeability of key functions that this car had demonstrated. At which moment a car approached coming up the hill. To my cautious delight it was a Datsun 120Y. I stepped out into the road and waved the driver down. He wound down the window and looked at me quizzically when I asked him if I could borrow his key for a minute, but obliged. Being as calm as I could manage, I stepped over to my car, unlocked the driver’s door (right on!), inserted the same key into the ignition key-hole (a fit!), and gave it a twist. The engine sprang to life. Leaving the switch in the on position and the engine idling smoothly, I withdrew the key and returned it to its flabbergasted owner. I waited until he’d driven on around the corner before I punched the air with a match-point sense of achievement. It was a good moment for solidarity between naïve owner and impish car.

In time the ignition switch failed altogether. Fortunately, I had already learned the trick of hot-wiring, a simple procedure using a short length of electrical wire connecting two points in the fuse-box just under the dash-board at the level of the driver’s knee. After a while, I consolidated that method for ease of use by fixing more permanently to each of the critical points and a household light bulb socket on the other. In this way, insertion of a standard domestic bayonet light bulb brought the car’s electrical system to life. This solution, however, didn’t include activation of the starter motor, so parking on a hill became the norm – usually easy enough, living on the slopes of Tamboerskloof and working at the majestic University of Cape Town campus, blessed with lots of hilly terrain in the shadows of Devil’s Peak.

A less benign mishap occurred one morning when I was in a hurry to get to work and hadn’t tied my shoe laces. Unnoticed by me, the car door closed on the lace of my right shoe. Well, not noticed until I reached the first stop sign of the day. The slack in the shoe lace allowed me to use the accelerator as normal, but when it came to moving my right foot away from the door to the brake, it was pulled to a sudden halt inches away from the pedal. Fortunately, it was a minor intersection and no traffic was present to effect a much more calamitous halt. I learned to check on shoe lace status and the freedom of my right foot before setting off in the car.

3. Back on the rough side of town.
During that period, I was training regularly and rigorously in the art of Karate. Sensei Jack ran a homely dojo in the industrial area close to where I had bought the blue car. The Kushi Do Karate Academy comprised a single large room on the first floor of a functional concrete building whose ground level was occupied by a dubious ‘events organisation’ company. There was sufficient parking inside the gates of the property for both the cars of the cadre of martial artists and the vans of the business. Our vehicles were relatively safe from opportunistic smash and grabs that were common in the neighbourhood. I hadn’t foreseen an enemy from within, however.
One evening, after a tough and sweaty class, I came downstairs to find one of the event vans leaning its rear bumper on the now dented rear hatch door of my blue Datsun. Someone had parked the large delivery van without setting the hand-brake, and it had drifted backwards and come to rest with the help of my car. The building was closed and locked, and cell phones hadn’t yet been invented, so with the help a couple of karateka, we managed to push the offending van back up the slight gradient, and restrained it with a couple of feral bricks. I left a note under the wiper blade. The dent didn’t affect the functionality of the car – it was dented as badly in a couple of other places – but I was incensed in principle that someone should have been so careless.

The next day I got through to someone in a management position at the events company and laid out my grievance. He gave me a sympathetic hearing and said that they would have the dent removed by a local mechanic who did routine maintenance on their company vehicles. So, with some juggling with lifts, borrowed cars and other logistics associated with the busy but off-the-beaten track location, I got the car back to the scene of the crime and left it in the hands of the manager. After more than a couple of query calls, he said that the car would be ready the following evening and that I’d be able to pick it up after my karate class. He gave me an address somewhere in the immediate neighbourhood. When I arrived on foot at the address, I saw my car on the pavement outside a particularly run-down and litter-adorned terrace of houses. When I moved closer to inspect the work done, the single fairly clean dent had been replaced by a pool of jagged ripples, like a restive body of water in a high wind. Probably the tool used was the 4-pound sledge hammer lying on the floor of the car, which I could see through the hole that had previously housed the rear window.

“I’m sorry,” said the panel-beater. “It just shattered when I was nearly finished. But I’ll fix it, no charge.”

Choked with anger and dismay, I wasn’t able to reply immediately. A bit more desperately, he continued, “But I’m a bit broke at the moment, so it may only be next week before I can get one from the scrap-yard.”

I declined the offer and retrieved the low-security ignition key and went home for supper and a stiff whisky. After a few more angry calls to the events manager, who was now saying that the latest damage was not their responsibility, I gave up and resigned myself to my own devices, starting with a couple of months of driving without a rear window.

4. Hitchhikers on Kloof Nek Rd
Not having a rear window presented one with further security concerns. Not only did it make the car impossible to lock, even if that measure was pure placebo, but it also could permit invasion of one’s personal safety. I learned this a matter of days before I had the window replaced and its purpose as a shield restored. That evening I set out to visit a friend in Camps Bay, an up-market coastal enclave on the other side of the mountain. The most direct route from our Tamboerskloof house was up the steep, busy and well-lit Kloof Nek Road, over the Kloof Nek saddle and then down the snaking Camps Bay Drive, through the darkness towards the lights of the suburb. Close to the start of my journey, I stopped for a friendly-looking hitchhiker, a young black guy who said he was on his way to work a shift at one of the Camps Bay restaurants. I opened the passenger door for him and he clambered in. While he was doing this, I suddenly became aware – in the rear-view mirror – of a lithe body sliding gracefully through the missing window space.

“Hey,” I shouted.

“It’s OK,” said my passenger in the front seat. “He’s with me.”

I turned to face the newcomer in the back, and took in a slim young white guy with lanky dark hair in a leather jacket. I didn’t engage with him beyond giving him the most severe up-and-down look I could muster, before restarting up the steep hill towards Kloof Nek. The car was now loaded with three adults, and the small engine struggled a bit. In doing so, it held up a number of cars behind us, which I soon realised had the makings of a self-defence plan. The back-seat passenger remained sitting where I could see his profile in the mirror as a silhouette against the headlights of the car behind me. I awoke to the potentially sticky position I’d created for myself when, in the rear mirror, I saw that the rider behind me was running some long thin object through his long thin hair. I hoped for protection from a witness effect and began to swap lanes unpredictably to prevent the cars behind me from passing. At the summit of the pass, the road split and to my dismay they all turned off onto the alternative route towards the seaside suburb. I lost my silhouette view of the passenger in the back, and any further chance of monitoring his supposed weapon and body language. At this point. I gave up all pretenses that this was a normal drive over the hill. About 100 metres head of me, I could see the tail lights of a car travelling sedately. I sunk my accelerator foot to the floor and was soon tailgating it at close quarters. As soon as I had half a non-suicidal chance of overtaking, I did so at speed. I pulled in front of it and slowed right down so that its headlights once again enabled me to monitor the threat from behind. Within a few minutes we entered the suburb and its street-lamped roads. A measure of relief, but not out of the poorly-populated woods yet, I remarked inwardly. When the guardian angel car behind me turned off, I put my foot down again and was soon on the busy main road where I made a robust stop at the first traffic light that presented itself. Before I could say, “This is as far as I’m going. Have a good evening,” Jack in the back was out of the hole that he’d entered by and was gone. The front man was not quite as quick, but he didn’t stop to make conversation. I’ll never know whether they regarded the event as a failed felony, or just a terrifying ride with a very bad driver.

5. A family car
Its crude functionality and battered condition notwithstanding, the blue Datsun served well as a family car. Its back bumper carried a message for following drivers to stay their distance because ‘This car runs on prune juice” and, of course, there was an appeal to “Save the Whales”. Inside the car, littering the floor and seats, were a miscellany of toys, lost socks, unpaid utility bills and, in the cubby hole, various items including a spare light bulb for activating the ignition. The back seat was almost always folded away, allowing for a level playing field for kids, dogs, toys, frisbees and surfboards.

6. …now you don’t
The last time I saw the blue Datsun alive was when I parked in in front of Claude’s Fast Food trailer on the Grand Parade, not far from the pole that I would climb in order to see Nelson Mandela deliver his freedom speech a couple of years later. On the night in question, however, I was on my way to attend a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It was to be a gala event involving an after-party with fine wines and canapes, and an opportunity to mix and mingle with members of the choir who sang under the baton of Langa’s own Duke Ngcukana. They had received a standing ovation on completion of Ode to Joy and were in high spirits as they socialised, with flashing smiles and heads thrown back in laughter. I enjoyed a half-glass of bubbly white wine and some interchanges of appreciation before I took my leave and strode out onto the Parade vocalizing my joie de vivre: “Ta ta teedum/ ta tatti teedum /ta tee ta/ …”. The soft celebratory sounds in my head faded and were replaced by a rapidly rising crescendo of screeching anxiety as I tried to come to terms with the empty parking bay in front of me. I walked the Parade in an expanding spiral just in case, but in my heart I knew that it was in the hands of callous carnappers.

7. Farewell
About 10 days later, I had a telephone call from someone in the municipal cleansing department to tell me that a team of public open space cleaners had discovered a car in the dunes along the Strandfontein coast of False Bay. They had traced the car’s registration to me. He must have heard a rise of optimism in the tone of my voice and was quick to explain that I shouldn’t get my hopes up for the victim’s recovery. He gave me detailed, landmarked instructions as to where the car was in the dune system: off the main tarmac road, onto a gravel road, then onto a sandy track which petered out after 300 metres or so, and then a heart-stopping, isolated five minute walk to the far side of the big dune where the track ended. I wasn’t prepared for the sight that awaited me. The car was like the carcass of a Wildebeest, butchered and stripped bare by a violent squabble of vultures and hyenas: no wheels, no windows, no seats, no engine. Surrounding the mortal remains of the Datsun, amidst the sand and stunted dune vegetation, lay personal items clearly thrown from the car while the plunderers were making sure that nothing of value was being overlooked. Close to the car, next to where the passenger door had previously been, lying face-down in the sand, was a purple knitted cuddly companion belonging to our daughter. I picked it up and brushed off the sand, muttering tunelessly into the muffled wilderness,“…teedum/ ta tatti teedum /…”. Walking away from the crime scene, I stopped and turned round once to bid a last farewell to the blue Datsun who gestured good-bye with a reminder to me of our duty to “Save the Whales”.

RONALD, THE GATE AND THE GUN

Ron and Phyllis are a struggling couple in their late 70s. Until recently they lived directly opposite me in our quiet, friendly suburban street. Well, mostly quiet and friendly during the twenty years that I’ve lived here, the only exceptions being, two cases of arson, one accidental kitchen fire started by the computer geek in the cottage adjoining mine, and two murders.  But those are stories for another time. Here I aim to recount what I’ve seen of Ron’s story, one about the private hells churning beneath the tranquil surface of daily pleasantries about the lovely sunny weather and the need for some rain to favour our summer-stressed gardens.

A short while before they left, on a Saturday morning, I was up to my elbows in soap suds at the kitchen sink, trying to reverse the entropy generated by the previous evening’s meal, when I heard a thump from the direction of the front door – an errant bird hitting the front window maybe? Hands dripping, I went through to investigate and found Ron standing uncertainly on the front stoep, looking like he was on the verge of leaving before he’d arrived. He was in slippers, wearing his usual baggy brown sweater, and his gaunt face was unshaven. The morning back-lighting accentuated a drip suspended from his lean nose, and his eyes were red.

“Ron,” I said, “what’s the matter?”

“Phyllis is dead,” he squeezed out between a couple of stifled sobs. “The hospital called to tell me this morning.”

I knew she had been hospitalized few days earlier and had been admitted to ICU to deal with an acute case of septic gall stones. I also knew that his sister-in-law, Phyllis’ sister, was seeing to his needs.

“Have you let Phyllis’ sister know?,” I asked after some awkward attempts at sympathetic consolation.

“No, I don’t know how to use the cell phone she’s left me.”

“Let me try,” I suggested, taking the phone and going to the contact list to look for ‘Ingrid’.  She answered almost immediately, and was flabbergasted at the news, but also level-headed enough to say she’d call back after she’d spoken to the hospital. Minutes later the phone rang and the sister could report the good news that Phyllis was in good spirits and recovering well.

When I moved into my house two decades ago, Ron had an old brown Ford Escort with a seriously noisy silencer parked in their driveway. He only drove it occasionally, and after a while not at all. He seemed to be retired, while she went off to work every day at an insurance company, and played golf with a work colleague at the week-ends. The going started getting tough for them when she was retrenched. The car lapsed into total disuse, and the weeds grew up around it. One day, several years after its last outing, it was towed away by a rough and ready backyard mechanic for spare parts. So the sliding steel gate became a pedestrian portal to the property, and the electric motor was only called upon to make a 2-foot wide gap for Phyllis to take her daily walk up to the village to visit the library, buy supplies and probably meet a friend for coffee. Once a week it needed to be opened a little extra to accommodate the passage of her bag of golf clubs out and into the BMW boot of her ex-work colleague. In time this pattern also fell by the wayside, possibly because the green fees had become a drain on their now meagre resources. The next thing to go was the gate motor. For a while Ron took to unlocking the mechanism so that he could slide it by hand to let Phyllis out on her daily excursions. I never saw her operate the gate manually herself, and don’t know if it was beyond her physical strength, or whether Ron regarded it as his male role to be the gate-keeper. He would let her out, go back inside to do whatever he spent his time doing, then returning to gate duty to watch out for her to let her in again, sometimes posting himself there for up to an hour, peering up the road waiting for her to come around the corner.

I more or less got to know Ron through the bars of his gate during this period. Sometimes I would take advantage of his ritual guard duty to go across the road and put in an appearance to do a non-invasive neighbourly check on their well-being over a short chat.

If I waved and shouted “Hi Ron,” he would chirpily respond with one of two standard greetings – either: “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!  Bird thou never wert,” or otherwise a wave and: “Good morrow kind sir.” If I were to ask him about his state of well-being, he would usually dig for a Scottish accent and respond with: “Nae sa wirse.” The first quote I Googled as being from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s To a Skylark, but the last has evaded me.

The next stage of the compounding gate crisis was when the override mechanism also failed. The procedure that Ron applied to get the gate open was one often used by strong-arm burglars wanting access to a property. Lifting one end of the tonne of steel off its tracks will disengage the driving gear from the toothed rack on the gate, making it possible to edge the gate sideways until there is enough room to provide passage for burglars and their swag, or in this case the gangly septuagenarian body of Phyllis.

Because of the demanding nature of the new opening technique, Ron would take considerably longer to open and close the gate. It was quite a noisy process as well, involving a metre and a half of heavy duty chain wrapped around gate and gate post several times, a sturdy padlock, and an enormous bunch of keys that, somewhere in its midst, was the one that fitted the lock. So from inside my house I would know by the clinks, rattles, clanks and creaks when an exit was being prepared for Phyllis … and then the reverse process to maintain security while she was out, and the whole procedure repeated in reverse when she returned.

This operational system was maintained for at least a year. I sometimes tried to help him lift the gate, but he would become irritated by my interference, while Phyllis stood by waiting to get in or out with a beatific smile.

That was until the gate jammed. One day I was aware of the opening ritual being in progress, but at a certain point I realized that the usual sequence of auditory markers didn’t reach the end of its cycle. It was replaced by random, indeterminate klinks and klanks, but no sound of a rolling steel wheel. I ventured out onto my front porch, and saw Ron doing battle to shift his cold steel nemesis. I sensed an element of panic rising out of their potential incarceration.

I crossed the road and waved a hullo to Phyllis, who stood on the steps of the house, her shopping bag over her arm, while Ron, straining, with his back to me, was putting in weight-lifting efforts trying to budge the jammed portal. Without being invited, I added my own energy, but to no avail. Sensing an opportunity, I went back home and rounded up a likely arsenal of heavy tools: crow-bar, pick-axe, sledge-hammer, hack-saw, monkey-wrench, and a few others. I first set to work with my long steel crow-bar to force a skinny-person sized gap so that I could be in direct contact with the offending mechanism. It was time for liberation! Ron hardly protested as I set about removing the rusty and seized electric motor, smashing the concrete pedestal to which it was bolted, and levering it out like a rotten wisdom tooth. It took me the best part of a sweaty hour to remove the machinery, but after that, with a dollop of grease on each of the little wheels, the gate could move relatively easily along its track. It was during that hour that I got some insight into Ron’s condition which I hadn’t picked up in my previous short interactions and pleasantries with him. The motorsectomy was an energetic one person job, necessitating him to stand back as a spectator, out of range of flying crow-bars and picks. While I was toiling away he said to no-one in particular: “At this point in the movie, someone will say ‘Son of a gun! This is one helluva stubborn customer’.”  I responded with a between-swings chuckle of agreement. But for the remainder of the operation he repeated that piece of dialogue, word for word, about five times before I had finished the task and was ready to enter into conversation with him. I’m sure that each time he presented the line it was, in his mind, equally fresh, innovative and witty.

Phyllis was highly appreciative of the physical and psychological release, and the next day they came together across the road and gave me a punnet of cloyingly sweet home-made fudge prepared from contents in her meagre social security grant kitchen.

Unfortunately, as life proceeds, small victories start to lose their promise as building blocks for a brighter future, and take on the role of softening the blows of mortality. Phyllis’ daily solo outings over the railway bridge and up into the village became weekly trips to the nearer convenience store, now with a walking stick and Ron for support and company.

Shortly after the taming of the gate, the two of them went out to do some shopping one day, but on the way they lost the keys to the front door. I happened to coincide with them on the street, and they explained the problem. There was a spare key, Phyllis said, in the bread bin standing on a table close to the back door, but how could we reach it? Luckily an adjacent window was not securely fastened and, with the help of sticks and wire found in the chaos of the back yard, we managed to pull the bread bin close enough to lift the prize between the burglar bars. I hoped that this would not prompt another batch of thank-you fudge. What fascinated me, though, was the fibre-glass body of a Dart sports car, which, like the Escort in the driveway, was in the process of being overtaken by the feral grass. The GSM Dart was a South African made sports car produced in small numbers in the late 50s/early 60s. It was surely a very valuable item, even in its current state of neglect. I asked Ron about it.

“I’ve got two engines for it in the garage. It’s a project I must get back to now that I’ve got rid of the bee colony.” Indeed, for a couple of years or more, the back corner of his garage had been taken over by a swarm of bees. They had built a large irregular hive easily the size of my writing desk, which took a bee expert nearly a week to remove.

Ron’s obsession with security went deeper than chains and locks, keys and gates. We were talking about security one day through the gate when he told me that if I ever had trouble with intruders, I should call him. He would come over, he said, and sort things out with his Smith and Wesson 38. I baulked at the thought of Ron’s infirm hand waving around a snub-nosed revolver and firing it into the darkness from between the bars of his securely locked gate at my assailant. “I don’t believe in guns,” was the limp response I could give in my state of shock.

One day I arrived home to find an ambulance outside their house. Phyllis had been loaded into it by the friendly pair of paramedics, while Ron came and went between the ambulance and the house looking for her ID book, in a bit of a spin. There was some support from Phyllis’s sister, who would keep an eye on things, but essentially Ron was going to be on his own while the hospital was sorting out Phyllis’ painful gall stone problem. I took the precaution of taking the sister’s phone number.

A morning, two or three days after her admission to hospital, I came out of my house to take my dog for a walk and to pick up the newspaper, and found Ron peering up and down the road in agitation.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“It’s Phyllis. She’s just disappeared. She went out and hasn’t come back. This is absolutely atypical behaviour. She always tells me where she’s going, and when she’ll be back.”

“Isn’t she still in hospital?” I suggested.

“I’m very worried,” he said, ignoring my suggestion. “This is not like her.”

I emptily consoled him and assured him that she would probably be back very soon. He was still there at his post when I returned from the corner store with the newspaper. I called his sister-in-law, and she said she would be fetching him within half an hour to go and see Phyllis. I reported that to him, but his eyes reflected fear and confusion and remained fixed on the horizon.

Ron’s dementia didn’t allow him much rest while Phyllis was absent, even with the support and care of Precious, a care-giver arranged by his sister-in-law. Precious was a cheerful young woman with a broad smile, and someone familiar with geriatric problems and the quirks of mentally disturbed souls.

A couple of mornings later, at the crack of dawn, Ron wandered out again before Precious arrived, and knocked on another door in the immediate neighbourhood, that of Hermione, a retired magistrate.  There was something to discuss that was criminal.  I paraphrase the conversation told me by Hermione:

Ron:              “Phyllis is dead.”

Hermione:    “Oh no! I’m so sorry.”

Ron:              “My gun has been stolen. It was in a plastic bag hanging on the back of a dining room chair, but now it’s gone and I believe has been used to kill Phyllis.”

Hermione:    “Who stole the gun?”

Ron:              “Precious. She’s a thief and steals everything, and also hides my keys. I don’t trust her an inch. The gun is probably in some Eastern Cape village by now, in the hands of criminals or anarchists.”

Hermione:    “Is Phyllis’s body still in the house?”

Ron:              “I can’t find it … But there’s a well in the back yard …”

At this point Hermione was sure that this was paranoid dementia speaking.

Hermione:    “Ron, you have to report this to the police, both the stolen gun and the suspected murder. Do you have a valid firearm licence?”

Ron:              “No, I don’t need a licence. It was issued to me as part of a Special Forces operation to assassinate Robert Mugabe.”

Ron was correct in saying that the gun had been removed from behind the dining-room chair. But it wasn’t the much maligned Precious who did it. This was the work of Phyllis’s sister and her husband, Billybob. They had spirited it away and taken it to the local Police Station where it was checked in with an appropriate affidavit to the Officer responsible for gun and liquor licences. On interrogation of the firearms register, he determined that, yes, the gun was registered to Ronald S of said address, but no valid licence had been issued. This is a serious offence that can carry a prison sentence. The records also revealed that there were three other unlicensed firearms registered to Ron. The Officer said that they would need to conduct a search of the house in an attempt to recover them. He made a concession that they could arrange to take Ron out, and that they would conduct the search in his absence.  This was done, and indeed these items, plus ammunition, were found and confiscated.

Not long after this that Phyllis was discharged from hospital. I saw Ron the day she arrived back. If before this he had been drifting, panic-stricken through deep oceanic water with no land in sight and unseen predators circling beneath his feet hanging into the dark water, he now at least had been provided with a friendly bobbing life-boat. The storm clouds moved off. Light and hope were restored, and the panic paranoia of torture and torment were discernible only as miniscule dots on the horizon, easy enough to ignore in favour of unfettered fantasy.

Plans were already afoot to relocate the couple to a home where Phyllis would have a private room on the first floor, and Ron would be cared for in the ground-floor dementia ward. Probably uninformed about some of the details, Ron seemed happy with the arrangement and said that he would finish rebuilding the Dart so that he could get out and about, and would be able to drive around on occasions to say hello to his former neighbours on the street. This was a different story to the one I heard from Billybob later that same day. He confided that he had managed to find a buyer for the pieces of the little Dart sports car, and got a good price that would cover at least three months of their accommodation in the old age home.

What will Ron remember about the gate, the guns and the Dart? What dim and fragmented memories will give him joy, and what dark voids will remain to haunt him?

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit…bird thou never wert

*Photo credit: Pixabay

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