All over the world people are posting short stories about a flat tyre. This is the fault of Ron Carlson and his chapter called A Writing Lesson: Three Flat Tyres and the Outer Story, Chapter 2 in The Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing. Carlson encourages his readers to write a story based on a flat tyre. Here’s mine – a thought and writing experiment. Out of my comfort zone.
It wasn’t even our car. And I certainly had no idea what sort of car it was – maroon red, old – dull. Smelling of mould and smoke, the grey cloth seats sticky-damp And I didn’t even know what that sound was – thought we’d gone over a bump and then a deeper thrumming, an irregular, unbalanced feel to the motion of the car. “Flat” he said, pulling over. I wound down the window, smell of peat, sheep shit, seaweed. He got out, the boot screeching reluctantly as he searched for the spare. I followed, walked up the deserted road, to stretch my legs.
“Really out of our comfort zone now,” I thought to myself, thinking of crispy-skinned fish and frying pans and a warm red fire. It was dead cold. A bright moon with inky clouds racing across. The dark grasses bent and bowed in shivering rhythm to the bitter wind. He was blowing on his fingers, tucking them under his oxters, and then lying on the gritty road to attach the jack to the car and crank it up. The road ran round what looked like the shoulder of the hill – down below, a black invisible sea loch; beyond, dark hulks of hills delineated by the brighter darkness of the sky.
“I didn’t know you knew how to do that,” I said. “How’d you learn how to change a wheel?”
“Everyone knows,” he said, not really listening to me, as he rolled the spare round to the wheel hub. He blew sharply down his nose.
“Fucking spare’s fucking crap.”
It wasn’t actually true, though, what Lee said – lots of people drive cars who don’t know how to change a wheel.. Angela probably could. My stupid mum and her bloke probably couldn’t. They’d ring someone up, they’d sit in the car and wait for someone to sort them out. Poor useless, helpless rabbits. Fuck them.
“It’ll have to do,” he said, throwing the wheel and the jack back inside the boot. He looked up along the road.
“Come here then,” and pulling me towards him. Sticking his frozen hands inside my jumper, on my breasts, my nipples dead tight and stiff with cold. He laughed, playing with them. It was nice. I clung on a bit.
“Better get on,” he said, moving off and getting back behind the wheel, turning the ignition. I ran round to my side and got in.
“How far to O-ban?”
“Oban. Another hour, maybe. We’ll leave the car in a car park and wait for the first bus.”
“What will your gran say when we turn up at her’s?”
“Dunno. She’s deaf anyway.”
“I can’t go back, Lee – they’ll do me for nicking Angela’s phone and all her money and that.”
“Yeah – and this car. We’ll tell my gran we’re on holiday.”
The car thrummed on through the night, occasionally lighting up the bright yellow eyes of sheep that emerged out of the darkness.
“They’re like bleeding zombie eyes, aren’t they?” I said. “Like in the films.”
The heater was on full blast; there was only a rubbish radio in the car and I could only get some kind of late-night phone-in with stupid music. I gave up and just watched the road for a bit – nothing, nothing, a sheep, nothing, nothing, a rock, a sheep…. What would happen when Angela found out that I’d fucked off? She’d be upset, I reckoned. She’d want to find me and sit me in her office and talk to me about myself. She wouldn’t like it that I didn’t want to do that anymore, wanted to go with Lee and have a life. Lee said we could work in hotels for the summer, make some money and then go to Norway. One of his friends was on an oil rig in Norway. Lee reckoned he could get him a job. Lee said I could probably get work there too, because I look older than I am, and no-one could find us. Or Iceland. There were hot springs in Iceland, you could bathe naked in them with snow all round you. Or we could go to Ireland, I told Lee, to my dad’s family – except to be fair we couldn’t – I didn’t really know where they lived, or even their names, really. And they didn’t know mine, I thought, imagining walking up to some door in a terrace of grey brick houses and saying to someone with a weird twangy voice, “I’m Carly.” “Who?” they’d say.
The car thrummed along, a grey line like a frayed edge appearing ahead of us in the night sky. We could just keep driving, for ever, maybe, I thought. Never stop, just keep going, drive past all the people jumping into the road, trying to make us slow down: ‘stay here, we’ll get the police onto you, you belong to us, go to school, get a job, fuck yourselves up like your parents did.’ We’d drive past them all, drive to Norway, no, we wouldn’t even stop there – just drive through the night, just me and Lee, in our crap car with its crappy spare tyre and useless radio, for ever and ever.