We’ve stalled. Stopped. Stationary. We’re in the Mall, in Dad’s Rolls-Royce, with three strangers in the back, and my husband’s just nowhere. It’s the stuff of nightmares, but this is as real as the sweat smudging my mascara, panda-fashion.
Panic sweeps through my body like waves on the beach, a swirling powerful undertow drawing me down into fumbling inertia. I’m panting like a steam train.
My hands greasy with sweat, I attempt once again to turn the key in the ignition, but there’s not a sound, not a stutter, from the Roller. Until yesterday, it had stood in peaceful idleness in the garage since my dear papa’s passing over a year ago. Whose idea was it to drive it in the Royal Platinum Jubilee Pageant? Mine. And at whose invitation were we here? HMQ.
Tears tickle my cheeks. What must I look like? I daren’t look in the driving mirror.
As a teenager, I had wanted to be famous, but my dad used to tilt his head on one side and say, ‘Just be kind.’
Dad himself was famous in the town where we lived, cruising around in his old Rolls-Royce, visiting someone in hospital, in a care home, or just lonely. Dad was kind.
I married someone famous. Tony doesn’t sing much nowadays. We’re both the wrong side of sixty. Although Radio 2 occasionally play his records, providing a nice bit of pocket money by way of Performing Rights, we were gobsmacked when we received that stiff envelope with the royal seal on the back.
‘We can't do the Jubilee Pageant in our ten-year-old Fiesta,’ said Tony.
I leaned over his shoulder, my foot tap-tapping on the kitchen floor. I couldn’t keep still, too exciting. ‘“Her Majesty has commanded me…”’ I read aloud from the letter which was signed by an ‘Equerry’. ‘We must go.’ I’d wear a big hat. I’d seen just the thing in the charity shop.
‘How long would we be in the procession?’ My husband scrunched up his face in that manner I knew too well. ‘You know… old man’s complaint. Remember the poor old DE at the last jubilee?’
‘Just don’t drink anything. You’ll be fine. About the motor, I have an idea.’
I intended to practise driving Dad’s pride and joy beforehand. I wrote ‘Roller’ on all the Monday and Wednesday squares in May on our calendar, but things happen, don’t they? Posts about Ukrainian refugees needing accommodation in our area started appearing on our village Facebook page. We volunteered, of course, and suddenly our every moment was taken up getting ready our two spare rooms. When they had departed for university two decades ago, our darling daughters had left most of their stuff in ‘their’ rooms and, when we asked, ‘didn’t have space for it’ where they were living now. So much clearing up, cleaning and trips to the tip. Tony and I were exhausted.
Marianna and her two teenage sons, Oleg and Fidor, arrived two days ago. Marianna brought me flowers, and, in her broken English, thanked me for cooking a meal for them that evening, but went on to say that she wished to cook Ukrainian food for her family from now on. Then they trundled upstairs with their heavy bags, she taking the biggest.
What were we doing inviting these strangers into our house?
My father would have done it, though. Dad was kind. Come on, girl. Tony invited them to join us for the Pageant. They nodded, although I suspect they didn’t know what he was talking about.
I toss the floppy hat into the vacant passenger seat. What’s point in wearing it inside the car? Tony, I need you. Now. Oh yes, I saw the ‘Gents’ sign a few yards back, but, really, Tony. During a Royal Pageant?
Already, I’m aware of the reptiles of the press turning in our direction, their cameras, with flash attachments as big as iPads, poised. Tony, come on.
Ukrainian words burble in the back-seat. They think I can't drive this Roller. They’re right. I should never have–
They’re getting out. Even my refugees are deserting me.
There’s a bump from behind. I swivel around. Marianna, Fidor and Oleg are crouched over the boot? She’s shouting, a piercing cry to resonate across the steppe. ‘Poosh.’
The Rolls-Royce edges forwards… a little. In the haze that’s everything beyond my motor, the pressmen are running towards us, some in long athletic strides, others all arms and legs as if they’re taking part in the school fathers’ race.
‘Poosh… poosh…’ cries Marianna.
‘Poosh… poosh…’ echo her two strapping sons.
With one hand on the steering wheel, I leap out the car and thrust my weight behind the door frame. The Roller’s moving. Slowly. I don’t care how.
A line of Jags, Bentleys and other posh cars has built up behind us. They are going to have to wait. We’re doing our best. I dare to turn the ignition key again. Chug. Stutter. Yes, Roller, yes. Again, please. ‘Marianna, push, push… keep pushing.’
On the next attempt, the engine bursts into life. In reality, the whole ghastly incident lasts only a few minutes.
When our Roller purrs around the Victoria Monument in front of Buckingham Palace, I want to jump out and dance, but I don’t. Reporters are flocking around me like I’m Paul McCartney or something, rattling off questions like machine-gun fire, and thrusting their furry microphones in my face. I don’t know why the engine stalled or why it restarted, and so I tell them. I’m not a mechanic, or even my dad for whom the Roller always ran without hitch.
Tony doesn’t reappear until afterwards. (‘“Tony of Tony and the Tremblers pushing a car? Not good for my professional image”, he says.’) So, it’s my photo – with Marianna, Oleg and Fidor – and my words which appear in the newspapers next day.
I wanted to be famous, but not like this.
About the author
Rosemary has had short stories published in The Copperfield Review, Scribble, Mslexia, Fiction on the Web and 101 Words and is seeking a publisher for a novel about the Solidarity period in Poland. She lives with her husband in Essex. WordPress blog: https://rosemaryreaderandwriter.wordpress.com. Twitter: @REJohnsonWriter Instagram: @REJohnsonwriter
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