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The War upon the Motorcar (Continued) Pile up your Rubbish!

November 15, 2013

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Darren’s condition remained stable but, however passionately Clara and Jason pleaded, the hospital would not let them take him home, explaining or at least claiming that he needed ‘special care’. This may well have been true, as the coma persisted for weeks, then months, and the doctors worked to stop the boy’s head swelling and pressing into his skull, but to Clara in particular it could seem as if “they” had simply decided to adopt her son for themselves. Every comment seemed like a criticism of her as a mother, and the way the ever smiling Dr Simbese (“Call me Joan”) spoke to her didn’t help.

“We’ll give your son the best care!” she said, “You must carry on your lives as normal, ready to welcome him home when he is ready.”

“Nothing is normal!”

Clara snapped, while Jason tried to be positive but to be supportive to Clara and to glean the best information and, of course, felt utterly useless in himself.

“Nothing is normal.”

While Darren was confined to a hospital bed and fed by tubes and could only be visited under strict supervision, Clara couldn’t think about much else. She tried, but couldn’t consider any of the temporary roles she was offered, even though the benefits agencies, seeing that Darren’s condition had stabilised and that Jason had failed to find a permanent job for himself, prepared the best way to force her back to work and, ideally, off at least some of the benefits she was in receipt of, as a mother whose child was under full time care.

Clara was aware, dimly, that Jason would shut off his PC and go out at night as soon as she had made him think that she was asleep.

She wanted to believe that he had some scheme, however mad, to bring Darren back home and, without destroying that hope by putting it into words, would ask him questions that seemed to Jason – who felt completely out of his depth – like further attempts to discover the secret of the war upon the motorcar (which, for her own protection, he couldn’t share with Clara) or just like veiled criticisms of himself as a father, a provider and as a man. So their relationship continued to deteriorate.

Thanks to his “magic spray” Jason could decimate up to five cars a night – the only satisfaction he was getting out of life – and, while anxious to escape detection, it didn’t seem to make any difference to the relentless flow of traffic round Southampton and Jason even began to be annoyed that his campaign wasn’t getting any attention apart from a few references on line, to the point where he began to think about how he could possibly go public without being arrested immediately.

As a kind of stop gap measure, a step towards fully revealing the true nature of his campaign, Jason started a subsidiary campaign, which was inspired by what appeared to be conditions deteriorating around the estate.

People seemed to be increasing the amounts of rubbish being dumped around the place – old furniture, including chairs, shelf units which varied in showiness of design but had all proved unable and too flimsy to meet the first test of an antique and last anything remotely close to fifty years of practical use before being rejected and thrown out – wardrobes, beds and all sorts of smaller items,outmoded flat screen TVs that had been replaced by other flat screen TVs that were even bigger or more digital, children’s toys, mattresses and so on and on, anything, in short, that the council would charge to have removed properly and which – the council having moved the town tip to a more distant spot only reachable by car – the inhabitants could only afford to jettison by stealth, often by simply throwing items from the most convenient window or balcony before clearing it away properly, or not.

As a conscientious green and “free cycler” himself, Jason would notice this buildup of random items placed near the bins behind each block, near the recycling bins by each car park or just anywhere, and in happier days he had picked up a lot of rubbish and a few treasures, leading to lively discussions with Clara as to which category each item he brought home fell into. And, having grown up on the rubbish strewn streets of central London, he would even feel a nostalgic inner glow where others might just complain about the neighbours causing such a mess, or blame the council for not clearing it up quicker.

The increase that might have been noticed at that time was really just for the usual reasons – people moving in or out, or dying, or wanting to treat themselves to “new” or different stuff, or finding a bargain of some sort, or selling ‘up’ or ‘down’ as their circumstances seemed to dictate.

After the shock of Darren’s accident had worn off a little and Jason began to notice his surroundings again the normal chaos seemed to be just more grist for the mill of his depression at first, but then he saw certain possibilities which he attempted to exploit.

“Hello!”

Jason ‘s greeting to an elderly man who had approached the two large bins stored under their block at the same time as him was so unusual and so artificially boisterous that it almost frightened the life out of him!

Jason suppressed his irritation at being regarded with such fear and suspicion, and his distaste at observing the other’s unsorted waste, and attempted to strike up a friendly conversation.

“What do you think of all the rubbish dumped around here?”

“Eh?”

“The rubbish round here!”

“I aint deaf!”

“The rubbish round here!”

“Yeah, it’s terrible; they should go back to their own countries, or Millbrook or wherever they came from.”

Racist as well as an irresponsible sorter of his own domestic detritus. This was why Jason generally didn’t speak to others living on the estate, or fancied himself to be a cut or two above them.

“Well, there is a lot of it, but sometimes it adds a bit of colour round the place, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the trees. And there’s a lot of good stuff mixed in with it, I expect. What’s that you’ve got there?”

Jason terrified the poor old boy again by diving boldly into his open carrier bag and pulling out an item that looked promising, but hard to assign to either the big general waste bin or the recycling one.

“That’s my old radio!” The man (who was called Charles and affectionately known as Charlie by the dwindling number of people who knew and liked him) retorted with the sudden interest that energises people when other people take a sudden interest in something they’re about to throw out.

“A radio! Oh yeah. Is it broken?”

“Had it for years.”

“Much better than the TV, aren’t they? The pictures are better.”

“It’s got no pictures, it’s a radio!”

“You know what I mean! Er, what’s wrong with it, is it broken?”

Jason couldn’t go so far as to claim that he could fix it, but the two of them did bond a little as they examined the ancient transistor, neither remembering that non digital radio signals had recently been taken off the air.

“Don’t know what you mean about the rubbish looking good, mate, it’s a disgrace! The council should keep up with it all and take it away properly.”

“Quite right!”

This gave Jason a way to work around to his potentially cunning agenda.

“We should protest!”

“That never works; it only causes more trouble than it ever sorts out. What about, anyway?”

“About all this rubbish everywhere! And if the council had any sense they’d make some money out of it by recycling it properly and not just driving it off to the nearest landfill or whatever.”

Jason continued to make his case in wearisome detail that the reader need not not at present be wearied with until, as with so many ‘politicians’ of all colours he had so wearied his listener – Charlie in this case – that he felt obliged to at least agree with him.

“Well anyway,” Charlie looked longingly toward the door of his single bedroomed but ground floor flat whilst attempting to placate this nutter long enough to make a getaway, “The council never listens to anything, so what’s the point? Do you mind?”

Jason picked up Charlie’s remaining rubbish bags and his own modest leavings, taking care to choose the right receptacle for each item, while carefully choosing his words.

“That’s why we’ve got to use reverse psychology, if you know what I mean. The council isn’t going to do anything if we just make ineffectual complaints. We’ve got to take bold and direct action!”

Heedless of the further alarm he was causing Charlie, Jason ploughed on, in effect thinking aloud.

“They won’t be bothered if we just quietly put away what we can and wait for them to deal with the big stuff. We should just leave it all to rot until it makes a big enough mess to attract nation wide attention, or city wide at least. A big enough mess to, dare I say it? Hold up the traffic!”

Rapidly reassigning Jason from the category of harmless nutter to that of a dangerous one, Charlie covered a rapid retreat with a tide of incoherent muttering, while Jason entranced himself envisioning the block’s bin area, the neighbouring patch of grass, access routes, the entrance lobby and indeed the whole ground floor of that and all the other blocks on the estate, even its one tower block, all covered in litter, scrap and trash until individual piles of waste overflowed and combined with each other into one massive ocean of junk, from the tiniest tissue to the most enormous item of domestic equipment, finally achieving his ultimate aim, causing an obstruction that would be impossible for any vehicle to get through.

Meanwhile, Clara had taken a rare afternoon off her duties at the hospital – which now consisted of patiently staying by her boy’s side tending to every possible need that the nursing staff might have missed, and pressing anyone she could find with time to talk, anyone at all, for specific answers – to go to a meeting at the quietest café that could be found near the General Hospital, for parents, mostly mothers, in a similar position.

She recognised several faces she had seen before, in those unwelcoming corridors where each of them had spent a few desperate minutes finding where their child had last been confined, to be prepared for operations and/or subjected to courses of therapy that they could never ever learn enough about until the ordeal would finally be brought to an end by the tragedy they dreaded or the resolution they dreamt of, whatever the odds.

Clara had never really been at the heart of a medical crisis before, but plenty had. After several soothing minutes of mutual sympathy and tears, with the blessed relief of exchanging the details of their individual stories, the meeting was ‘called to order’ by Shelly, the woman who claimed to have the most experience in chairing meetings and who had the most obvious chance of using the familiar routines of appointing a minutes taker, proposing procedures and setting agendas to distract herself and dull her own pain.

They started with some hope of pooling their skills and experience, and there was quiet consolation in agreeing the time and venue of the next meeting, which would be held, at her insistence, at Tracey’s beautiful home, which everyone there soon realised was all she felt she had to offer and the only place where she could hope to feel remotely normal.

The absent parents and especially the dads came in for a considerable amount of humorous mockery and bitter criticism, but Clara, though it had been good to feel like there were others there who could understand what she was going through the only way anyone possibly could, having got used to this different situation, found herself growing surprisingly irritated with everyone there, the repeated explanations of why Southampton’s health care system was so useless, the claims of knowing about the most miraculous cures, the agonising dumb show of grief and anxiety which some present were not yet able to conceal.

The meeting concluded with an agreement to organise a fund raising event, “to make people aware of the situation” which, it was finally decided after much wrangling, should be a jumble sale, the sort of worthy effort that Clara, in happier days, with Jason’s encouragement, might have affected to despise.

So they trailed out, each gloomily considering which possessions they might be willing to sacrifice to the cause, remembering the memories and efforts associated with each one of them.

There was one face that stood out for Clara and seemed to offer a real hope of companionship. Yes, Linda might not have some solid information for them all, but there was something about her tough, unsmiling expression that seemed to offer the hope of a new and mutually supportive friendship.

“Thank the Lord that’s over for another month,” Linda said to Clara boldly, as they made their way out and back to their parked cars, “I hate that sort of thing, it’s so boring, with everybody trying to be so serious. Get over yourself! That’s what I always end up saying. Stuff Tracey’s place; next time let’s meet in a pub!”

Clara certainly enjoyed the idea of doing that, but Linda had two kids due back from school and couldn’t stay to look for a suitable venue. So Clara stopped for a lonely glass of warm white wine and made her way back to the Northam estate.

She had only ever accepted living there as a temporary measure, and when she got back to it the estate, though busy with the usual after school crowd, certainly looked particularly gloomy and ramshackle on that day, kids shouting at each other, sheets of newspaper blowing around as a breeze blew up and rain started.

She was going around the back of her block to avoid the playground when she was woken out of her reverie by a solid thump and then a sudden shower of broken bits of wood spraying shockingly close to her, from the flimsy little cot of an infant babe.

That was followed by what Clara could now see was the cheap mattress that went with it, floating down to land on the grass, to be held in place by the dampness of it.

Clara looked up instinctively and saw Jason leaning out of their window at a crazy angle, struggling to work the remains of their son’s first computer out of it.

“We’ve got to pile up the rubbish!”

Jason was saying when Clara found him in the chaos that used to be Darren’s room, just about to chuck what was left of their baby’s clothes after his first bed.

“We’ve got to pile up the rubbish!”

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