Charlotte Clarke looked again at the clock on the mantel piece as she crossed living room, drink in hand. It must have been the one hundredth time she had looked at the clock and, as before, the time had only moved on a few minutes. She placed the highball glass of gin and a splash of tonic down on the coaster next to her husband. It was only the rattling of the ice in the glass that caused him to notice, he was so far gone.
He picked up the glass and guided it unsteadily to his mouth. Charlotte had been fixing his drinks all night and she had been fixing them good and strong. He noticed at first and she offered to replace it, knowing that he wouldn’t want her to. It’s not that Philip was an alcoholic, but he did like a drink and when Charlotte offered to make him a G&T she knew he would not say no.
That was several drinks ago and although Philip was still alert and reasonably coherent, he swayed when he went to the toilet, his head now looked too heavy for his neck and he slumped in the armchair more than before. Charlotte had had two glasses of red wine; more to combat the nerves than to enjoy a drink with her husband. She glanced at the clock again: almost nine. He should be here soon.
At 9:02 Todd came through the front door and into the lounge looking distressed.
“Dad, Mum, there’s been an accident. I think someone is hurt.” Todd didn’t take his eyes off his mother. They both turned to Philip.
Philip was already getting unsteadily to his feet. Todd had only passed his test months before and Philip had reluctantly allowed him to drive his car.
“What? Where? How? Are you ok?” Philip’s words slurred a little, but the shock had seemed to rouse him from his stupor.
“On the Old Mere Road…I…I crashed your car, dad. I’m sorry!” Charlotte exchanged glances with her son once more.
“Don’t worry about that son. Are you ok? Who’s hurt?”, asked Philip.
“I think I hit someone. We need to help them.”
Philip swiftly took command of the situation. “Charlotte, stay here and call the police and ambulance. We are going out there to see what we can do.”
“Perhaps I should come with you.”
“No, call the police and stay in case Laura wakes up”.
“I am awake! What’s going on?”
Their 5 year old daughter stood halfway down the stairs that led into the living room rubbing her eyes.
Philip looked up at Laura while Charlotte and Todd looked for meaning in each other’s faces. They’re eyes darted nervously. Philip looked at his wife.
“Hell, we’ll all go, but Laura, you have to stay in the back of the car with your mother, OK?”
Charlotte was thankful that no one had seen her sigh with relief when those words passed Philip’s lips.
They left the house, not noticing the bike Todd had leaned against the garage wall, and made their way to the car. Instinctively, Philip got into the driver’s seat and studiously followed Todd’s directions to the scene of the crash. Laura soon fell asleep in the back of the car, safe in the knowledge that were anything to happen, she would not miss it. They journeyed in silence. Charlotte smelled the stench of booze emitting from Philip and she smiled and looked out of the side window to avoid him seeing it.
Over the brow of a hill, by a humpback stone bridge Todd opened his mouth to tell his father to stop, but he had already seen the car and was slowing down. Deep grooves were fresh in the mud where the car had left the road and the trail led to a large old tree. The car was mangled up against it, nose first. The airbag had deployed and billowed like a used parachute in the open doorway of the driver’s side.
Philip got out of the car open mouthed and he walked towards the steaming mass of metal. Charlotte and Todd followed behind. Charlotte allowed herself to give Todd a congratulatory hug. Todd smiled. Philip turned to them and their smiles dropped immediately.
“What did you do?” asked Philip, but he expected no response. This was not the time for questions. Todd had moved to the back of the car and was rummaging on the boot, presumably to get a blanket for the victim.
Philip turned back to the crash and thought to himself that if Todd had hit anyone with the car, they were surely dead and the blanket would only serve as a shroud until the ambulance arrived with a body bag. He trudged closer, looking to the front of the wreck for a sign of a body. Instead, he noticed, at the base of the tree, a shining object. He couldn’t make out what it was, but even in this mess of wreckage, it looked out of place. He moved closer and shouted over his shoulder for Charlotte to call the police and an ambulance. Charlotte lifted the phone from her pocket, raised it and switched it off just as Philip reached the base of the tree and picked the object up. It was a crash helmet.
“What the hell is-“. Philip did not finish the question. As he had turned back toward his wife and son, Todd had moved in and struck his father with an almighty blow to the head. The crowbar made an audible clang. Philip stumbled forward onto his knees with a loud gasp. Todd moved in with the crowbar raised.
“Wait! Wait.” Charlotte reached her arm out to Todd and he paused at the top of his swing. “The impacts have to be consistent with the crash”. Charlotte moved over to Philip’s prostrate body and rolled him onto his back. She squatted beside him. He now smelled of alcohol and blood and he wheezed and gurgled for breath. After removing the tape measure from her pocket and measuring the distance that she had memorised from his neck to his chest; a distance that equalled that between his neck and the airbag’s most significant point of impact were he to have been driving the car; she instructed Todd to strike. Philip wheezed and gurgled no more.
Todd lifted his father into position in the car and then went to fetch the log that he had earmarked for the final touch. He brought the log to the front of the car and smashed it through the already cracked windscreen and into his father’s face. He picked up the crowbar and held hands with his mother, holding the crash helmet as they made their way back to the car. Laura was still asleep and they drove back to the house in silence except for Charlotte checking that her son was ok and, apart from a sore neck and a bruise that he could feel, but not yet see on his chest, he was.
Upon returning to the house, Todd carried Laura to bed and tucked her in and then he went to bed himself after a kiss and a hug from his mother. Charlotte finished her glass of wine. Her hands were shaking; must be the adrenaline. She went to bed. Todd had had his big moment. Charlotte’s was yet to come.
The police arrived an hour or so later. They regretted to inform Charlotte Clarke that her husband Philip Clarke had been killed in a car accident. Charlotte questioned the reliability of the information; her husband had been drinking at home that night and would have had no reason to have gone out in his car. It couldn’t be him.
Denial: The police had encountered that reaction before. It was natural. They comforted her and re-enforced the information until she understood the facts. She sobbed. An officer would stay with her until a doctor could come and give her a sedative.
Upstairs, Todd intercepted Laura making her way to the top of the stairs to see what was going on. She heard muffled voices and what sounded like crying. Todd told her it was the television and that she should go back to sleep. Laura complied. Todd returned to his room too, knowing he had only postponed the inevitable questioning that would come from Laura. Her arrival on the stairs when Todd came home had not been anticipated. Hopefully, mother would know what to do.
The following morning Charlotte broke the terrible news that the children’s father had gone out for a drive last night and had an accident. Todd was shocked for Laura’s sake and he also supported his mother when convincing Laura that she had dreamt going out in the car with mummy, daddy and Todd. It would be better for Laura that way.
Over time Laura’s nightmares went away and she eventually, with coaching from her mother and brother, learned to hate her father for being so reckless as to drink and drive. Even more so when it came to light during the police investigation that Philip had most likely been on the way to his lover’s house at the time.
The insurance money afforded the Clarke family a much more luxurious lifestyle. It turned out that Philip had been much more valuable dead than alive. They became a closer family unit. Todd and his mother often exchanged furtive glances, but never spoke of the events of that night.
The years passed until Charlotte, now old and grey was the matriarch of a family that had never moved on. Todd, now in his 30’s had not yet found a girlfriend, let alone a wife and remained in the family home. Laura too would not stray far from the home comforts and had few friends.
On Todd’s 35th birthday, Todd had chosen to spend the evening in with his mother while Laura was out running an errand. Following some champagne and some rather strong cocktails that Todd had made, Laura burst into the room looking distressed.
“Mum, Todd, there’s been an accident!”
Charlotte turned to her son and saw him grinning.
The back wheel of the bike, where Laura had left it on one side in the garden, ticked as it spun gradually to a standstill.