On the drive back from Fiesole the windscreen wiper broke. I was doing 130 in the driving rain (kilometres – it was legal) and we were all listening to Lily Allen (who sounds very cross and depressed, but perhaps she’s just young). The dog was cowering miserably under the double bass and we weren’t even out of Florence when the thing just stopped going. I decided to try and make it home. If I went fast enough the rain sort of flew off the glass upwards and I could see. My husband found this unnerving. When there was traffic at roadworks or a crash (Italians crash – a lot) I pressed my face to the glass and peered through the cascading tears. We had at least another hour and a half of this to go and it was getting dark.
‘Just pull over,’ my husband said, increasingly hysterical. ‘You’re going to kill someone.’
‘I swear to you,’ I hissed through gritted teeth, eyes glued to as much of the road as I could see. ‘That putting any of us or anyone else in danger is the last thing I am going to do. I just want to get there.’
I was upset that he thought I was risking our lives when in fact I was responding to a desperate desire to get us all home safe and warm, to avoid standing on the hard shoulder in the monsoon rain, hungry and cold, sprayed by thundering lorries. He gripped his seat and let himself be swept away by loathing of me. I clenched my jaw tighter. I felt (though I don’t always) trapped in an endless grinding conflict. Life is full of difficult, if minor, decisions. We take them and then, for the Lord’s sake, we are attacked for taking them.
‘I’m going to have a cup of tea now.’
‘Why? You’ve just had a cup of tea? How much tea do you need to drink? We’ll be late if you have a cup of tea now. You should have had one half an hour ago. Anyway, there isn’t any tea.’
I didn’t make that up. It came from a friend of mine who is now divorced. Why, he wondered, couldn’t his wife have said: ‘You look as though you need a cup of tea, I’ll make you one.’
I didn’t have an answer to this apart from, ‘I’ll make you a cup of tea if you like.’
‘I don’t want one,’ he said. (I should stress that my own husband makes me lots of cups and tea and coffee, but you get the more general point).
Anyway, there I am driving through the gloomy rain with no windscreen wiper and a car full of angry people, dogs and bulky carved items (cello, bass and violin), effectively alone in my insanity and determination.
‘But why can’t I have any chewing gum?’ my son whined.
‘Because I am a horrible person! Is that the answer you need?’ I shouted. It was, I think.
And maybe I WAS being stupid. But one day I won’t be able to look after everyone and get them home safely. One day my eye sight will be weak, I will need to be helped home myself, the children will visit me on sufferance and all I’ll have is a head full of memories, muscles that don’t work any more and bones that hurt. So, while I can get us home, I will. This (perhaps very mad) attitude is demonstrated in my feelings towards soup. I hate soup. Not because of the taste, but while my jaw is not wired and my teeth are still in my head, while I am not paralysed from the neck down or too weak to lift a fork laden with food, I will have my food unpureed thank you very much.
Later that evening (mission gruellingly accomplished), when the fires were lit and the rain was a comforting noise at the windows rather than a living threat, and the children had eaten hot chicken and then clementine cake (Nigella) I was talking to my husband (who is in something of a dream man phase again) about my gnawing fears. ‘When we are choosing a husband or wife, we don’t tend to wonder whether or not this is someone who will be kind when we need wheeling around the place, soup dribbling down our chins,’ I sighed.
‘No?’ He looked up scowling from his computer.
‘But maybe we should,’ I thought, the dreadful fear rising.
‘Should what?’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ I said.