It was 8.30am. Somehow I’d managed to get my six-year-old up, dressed, fed and washed. I’d packed his lunchbox, found his P.E kit and reading packet, but that was it. I was still in my cow pattern onsie. My hair looked as though I’d had a fight with a hedge and lost and my make-up, so carefully applied yesterday evening, now dripped down my face. I really shouldn’t have gone out last night; or perhaps I should have climbed (or more accurately fallen) into the taxi before 3am, or maybe I should have stuck to drinking cola … minus the vodka. Still I was eternally grateful that Emma had said she’d take Ryan to school. She hadn’t come out with us last night. Not because she was conscientious or morally superior; she’d not been able to find a sitter. I swore on all things holy that I’d return the favour one day.
It was as I was waving the trio off, Emma flanked by two enviably lively kids that I first noticed the red Toyota Yaris parked across the street. I only noticed it because it had a brand new number plate. As kids, my sister and I had won five gold stars from our Nan for being the first to spot the new number plates. The childhood competiveness had stayed with me into adulthood and still when I noticed new number plates the mantra “Five gold stars for me! Ner ner nah ner ner.”
As Emma and the kids rounded the corner and went out of sight I contemplated taking my throbbing head back to bed but surveying the bomb site that was my home, I decided better of it.
“Coffee, toast, paracetamol not necessarily in that order.” I told the character on the kids TV programme still blaring from the screen. I hit the red favourites button and the Absolute Classic Rock station replaced the kids show and Aerosmith’s, ‘Janey Got a Gun’ filled the living room.
Having had said coffee, toast and painkillers, I’d put the dishes into the sink to soak… (Dried on Weetabix would not, could not, be removed without a blow torch or an hour soaking in scalding hot water) …I’d picked up seven felt pens, five even had tops! stood on a Lego brick with bare feet (there’s no pain on earth like it) sworn profusely and turned up the volume as Meatloaf’s unabridged ‘I Would do Anything For Love’ began when I saw the new Toyota still hadn’t moved. I wondered whether one of the neighbours had bought a new car but then everyone parks on their drive or leaves their car in the garage. I fell over Ryan’s Nerf gun, cursed again and went to tackle the Weetabix encrusted dishes in the sink.
The kitchen was now tidy. The dishes were scrubbed, dried and put away and I decided I really should get showered and dressed as the 10am news took over from the rock music. I was heading through the now almost tidy living room when I saw the Toyota hadn’t moved. This time however I noticed the car had an occupant. He was elderly looking bloke perhaps in his mid to late 60’s. His head was tilted back on the headrest mouth a gape, in the driver’s seat.
I strained my eyes to see whether I recognised him but didn’t. How long had he been there? What if he’s been there all night? There’s regularly items on the news about people freezing to death in their cars… or what about that story on Watchdog when the bloke in the traffic jam had been poisoned by exhaust fumes getting in through the air conditioning?
I tried to remember whether the man had been in the car when I’d waved Emma and the kids off an hour and half earlier, but I hadn’t noticed. I was too impressed that I’d beaten my sister to the five gold stars. I rang Emma to see if she’d noticed him and told her why I was worried about him. She told me in no uncertain terms to get a grip and hung up laughing at my over active imagination.
I supposed she was right… but then again, what if she was wrong? Visions of police barricades, white tents and TV crews asking awkward questions about why no one had noticed or cared enough to check on the grandfather of nine who had pulled over, probably because he wasn’t feeling well, before dying from a heart attack. Could he have been saved if he’d been noticed and medical attention sought? What was the world coming to when a kind, gentle man could die un-noticed in a quiet cul-de-sac?
I hesitated for exactly 15 seconds before opening my front door and slopping across the road, still in my Onesie, with as yet untamed hair and my hilarious Miss Piggy slippers. (Well Emma thought they were hilarious when she’d presented them to me at my birthday party the week before!) They had been the first item of footwear I’d come to in the pile at the bottom of the stairs. (I could have worn the five inch high, black and fluorescent pink, stripper heels I’d worn last night, but thought the slippers were the lesser of two evils.)
With my hands framing my face, I pressed my forehead to the driver’s window. I don’t know who was more frightened, me or the man. We both screamed at the same time but whilst he was in the confines of his car, I was in the wide open street. I managed not to land on my bum as I fell backwards. My heart racing, I turned, apologising pointless to the poor chap, and ran towards my house. I all but went face down as I tripped over in the bloody Miss Piggy slippers, only preventing my face meeting the tarmac by way of flailing arms. My mind was racing:
“Get in the house. Nobody’s about. Nobody saw. Hide. Quick. There’s time to get showered and dressed and look presentable before the police turn up wanting to know why I’d seen fit to give an old man a heart attack! Oh crap! I bet he thinks Halloween’s come early and he’s the butt of some bizarre prank.”
I slammed and locked the front door behind me before launching the bloody slippers across the living room. Crawling on my hands and knees, I crept to the curtains and pulled them shut. I rested my back against the wall, my heart still beating at least five times faster than was normal. I wondered whether I should call for an ambulance for myself, let alone the poor chap in the car!
“Oh crap!” A horrid thought had suddenly occurred to me. What if I’d been set up by one of my so called friends? What if there was a hidden camera somewhere, waiting to capture the hysterically funny account of a woman in a Onesie scaring an elderly bloke half to death before falling head over tail trying to get back to her house? “Nah. That wouldn’t happen here surely. Even my mates wouldn’t do that to me.” I consoled myself.
I’d just started to get my breathing under control and my heart had slowed to a bearable rate when my mobile beeped, informing me I’d received a text message. I hadn’t had time to retrieve it from the table by the sofa before it beeped again, then almost instantly for a third time. I swiped my index finger over the screen to open the first message. It was from Emma;
“OMG! U sin FB? ROFL Txt wen u av. PMSL” (Luckily I speak fluent text!)
The next was from Ryan’s dad “FFS Helen! WTF? C FB LOL” What was the sudden obsession with my social network feeds? Didn’t they realise I’d been too busy being a conscientious neighbour to look at Facebook this morning?
I was reading the third message “ROFL LMFAO OMFG Oni u sis! Ring me!” when my phone informed me I had 16 new Facebook messages.
It was with more than a little trepidation that I opened my laptop and clicked on the white F in the blue box.
There, staring at me from the screen, a grainy picture with an arrow inviting people to view the entire video. The caption ‘Is it a cow? Is it a scarecrow? No it’s Helen on a mission!’ told me just about all I needed to know.
I tried to resist temptation, but failed and clicked on the arrow. OK so Steven Spielberg had nothing to worry about, but it was obviously me. Someone (the video had been posted under a nickname I didn’t recognise) had recorded for posterity my morning escapade. I did try to convince myself that no one would recognise me, but the list of comments shattered that delusion.
I closed the lap top, sloped up to the shower and sat on the base as hot water tried to wash away the morning’s activity. I tried to console myself with the thought that maybe, somewhere, in some corner of the world; someone would not see the video. They wouldn’t know that the mad woman with scary hair and terrible fashion sense, scaring a man to within an inch of his life was me.
I can hope… can’t I?