At the age of seventy-three, Florence felt she understood death. She didn’t really know very much about it, but she had heard the word. She had lost people. So she had some memory of it, some vague notion of yearning for souls lost.
There was no sunlight in this barn. No clear road. She felt age take her over. The air seeped from her tyres. Rust started to nibble the corner of her bodywork. Mice found ways in and shredded the stuffing of her red leather seats, once so shiny and proud, now home to a family of mice.
So this, she thought, was death. Not a sudden bang for her, just a slow fading.
Maybe that was best, she mused. At least it gave her time to look back and think.
She remembered the people and the happy times together. Doctor Glossop, always cheerful, who called her “old girl”. His son, Henry, who she remembered bringing them home from the hospital. But she was old now. Henry would be old now. Sometimes, she dreamed that maybe one day, Henry would come to visit her. Perhaps he might be looking for her right now, wanting to see her again.
A year passed. Then two. Then three. Florence’s windscreen became matted with dirt. The driver’s window cracked. Everything was stiff. This, she felt, was the end. Even if someone did find her, who would want her now, as old and broken as she was. She remembered a trip to a horrible place, years ago. Cars broken down, smashed up, crashed, broken to pieces, crushed. It frightened her, more than anything she had ever seen – more even than the crash on the motorway with the two people lying dead. She never did work out why they went there to see those cars. Maybe she’d done something wrong.
And she missed Miss Harper. She taught children. The kids liked her – she was an old car already by then, and they all came to look at her.
There were others too, fogged up, somewhere in her memory.
Over ten years passed. Nearly four thousand days. She couldn’t see them, but Florence could sense the sunsets.
“It’s in here,” a voice said. “Been here a long time, don’t know if it will be worth having, but it’s yours for – shall we say two hundred?”
The woman looked the car all over. Florence wasn’t sure if she liked her. Whether she was kind or bot. “Needs a lot of work I’d think. I mean, there’s rust, obviously, you’ll get that. I’ll need to look at the exhaust… How long’s it been in here, exactly?”
Three thousand, nine hundred and seventy-two days, if I can count correctly, Florence wanted to scream.
“Hmm… maybe ten years or so?” the man replied. “Couldn’t say really.”
The woman walked round Florence, tested the tyres, and tutted. She rattled her bumper, and opened the boot.
“Ack!” she shouted, jumping back as a rat jumped out and skittered away, startled by the light.
“Oh,” the man said. “That means they’ve got through the bottom.”
“I can deal with that,” she said. “Just startled me is all. Now…”
In all, the inspection lasted another two or three minutes. Eventually, they shook hands, she handed the man some money, and between them they loaded Florence onto the back of a recovery truck.
So, Florence thought, this was it. After such a short time that could only mean they’d be taking her to that horrible place to be broken up for parts. But in the mean time, she would have a final taste of the open road, even if she wasn’t going under her own steam. She decided she was going to make the best of it, and settled back to enjoy the open road, one last time.
It took an hour to get where they were going. This time, to a garage. There were other cars. She sat in a corner, and waited for the end.
Would it hurt, she wondered, when they cut her up?
The woman came back in the morning, loaded Florence onto the platform and took a look underneath her. She spent four or five hours working on the car, humming mildly, playing songs that were loud, fast and incomprehensible to Florence. Snakes of light and cake demons – if she was hearing right. It all washed over her.
The important point was that… she was being repaired?
“Hey Daisy,” a man said, coming into the garage. “I’m off to the pub are you coming?”
“Give me a few minutes Dave,” she replied. “I’m just finishing up with my new toy.”
“How’s it coming?”
“It’s in better shape than I thought,” she said. “Not that bad for ten years in a barn.”
He walked round the car, looked over it, and patted the bonnet.
“Florence,” he said.
“What?” Daisy asked, looking out from under the car.
“She looks like a Florence,” he said.
“Why do you say that?”
“I dunno,” he shrugged. “Just a feeling.”
A few minutes later they left. Florence could hardly believe it. Inside, she was feeling better already, even if the lady – Daisy, was it – had done almost nothing as yet. And she liked Dave and Daisy. They seemed nice people And maybe she’d even get to like that music – eventually. Although maybe not that one that sounded like a frog was singing it.
This was the pattern for a while. If there was no other work on, and sometimes a few hours on a weekend, Daisy would work on Florence. The rusty parts were repaired or replaced. The hole in the exhaust was fixed. The broken window was replaced.
They had only been working on her for six months, and not everything was done – the paintwork was still patchy – but Daisy and Dave took Florence for an unexpected treat – a long drive, under her own power. And the destination was some kind of a show. Florence was excited to see so many other other cars her age. Some big, expensive cars, some small. She wasn’t in the show, just the car park, but even so, there was a steady stream of appreciative passers by..
The modern cars didn’t communicate with her. In fact, she wondered if any of them had thoughts of their own at all. They all seemed so much the same, so uniform, that they seemed like part of a hive mind, like ants, rather than their own being.
Florence didn’t mind. She was back where she belonged: on the road.
It rained on the way back. Her wipers worked. It was many years since they had worked at all, and many more than that since they had worked properly. Daisy had replaced them with new ones and a new, stronger motor.
Florence was happy. But still, if you had asked her, she still had one wish. She still wanted to see Henry, if she could, one more time.
After Florence was repainted, Daisy replaced the seats. They were red leather again, but darker than they had been. They were not the fiery red they had been, but a more muted, deeper red. Dave called it “classy”.
It took Daisy eighteen months, in total. There were good times and bad ones. There was a flood of letters backwards and forwards to let Florence keep her black and white number plates – the last letter that granted permission was celebrated by dancing round the garage for a whole five minutes. There was a crunching sound in the gearbox that took several attempts to fix. An oil leak that turned out to be from a totally different place than everybody thought it would be. But for every problem there was a nice little surprise – a copy of the original manual, still in perfect condition, found on eBay. A friendly supplier who sourced the right kind of battery. Custom tyres that cost only half of what Daisy wanted to pay, and a quarter of what she was afraid she might have had to pay.
Most days, when they weren’t working on her, Florence sat outside the garage. They kept her waxed and gleaming, when they could. Children and adults visiting the garage admired her. Every so often, Daisy would let some of the children sit in the back, and would drive them around the block. They would giggle, enjoying themselves, sometimes stroking the seats. Daisy was careful choosing who got to ride in her.
They began to go out on Saturdays. Daisy would wear a uniform, put a white ribbon on her, and a lady in a big white dress would be driven to a church. Florence didn’t understand it, but it was clearly a happy day, nonetheless, even if most of them did complain that it was difficult getting in and out. Well, Florence only had the two doors – she couldn’t change that. There was always the same piece of music coming from the church, and Florence wondered why they didn’t play something more lively like they did in the garage: “They Are The Children Of The Underworld”, perhaps, or “Psychopathy Red”. Although that wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, naturally, but you had to keep up with things. She was sure she once heard one of them say “Till Death Us Do Part”, which made her wonder if someone was requesting a different piece of music. Clearly they weren’t listening, because they didn’t play that one.
Then one day, another man turned up. He drove Florence to his house, and parked her in his driveway. Night fell.
Florence began to wonder if she had another new home. It had happened before, of course. After Doctor Glossop bought the new Rover, she was passed onto – who was it now? She couldn’t remember. A fat man, she thought. Then after him it was the nice teacher – was her name Valerie? Miss Harper, anyway. Then after that the young man who delivered leaflets. Then she was sold to the farmer and he used her for a few years before the barn. And there were others, too, that she’d forgotten. There was at least ten years between the doctor and the teacher. Oh, and the man who delivered leaflets was Miss Harper’s nephew, so he was next, but then he had passed her onto – who was it now?
Her reverie was broken the next morning by the man coming out.
“Let’s get going,” he said. “Not a day to keep them waiting.”
He was wearing a uniform, too. Florence had no radio, he was disgusted to find, and he started singing. Some song about trucking. She did wonder who the “doo-dah man” was, but he never let on. If she had been able to ask someone, she would have done.
They arrived at Daisy’s house, and Daisy came out wearing one of those big white dresses. And all at once Florence realised what was happening. Today was Daisy’s turn to be the woman in the big dress. Florence knew the routine, but not the significance of it.
An older man came out with her, and sat in the back. This was usually the case, although sometimes it was a woman. Once it was two men.
When they came out of the church, Daisy came out with Dave. They was normal – they always came out with someone different. But this time, they got into Florence, instead of their own car as they usually did. But then, she realised, she was their car.
“Hello Florence,” he said to her. “Our turn today.”
Daisy smiled, leaned over and kissed him. “We couldn’t have any other car doing this,” she said.
Dave smiled, and shook his head. “And just one more thing to do, old girl.” He pointed. “Here he comes. Florence old girl,” he said. “Get ready for a surprise.”
Florence looked and saw an old man with a cane, walking fairly swiftly towards them.
“That’s a nice old car,” he said.
“It is at that,” Daisy replied. “I found her in a barn on a farm about ten miles away. Been working on her nearly two years now.”
“We had a car like that when I was a kid,” the old man said.
“Auntie Pru said,” Dave smiled. “That’s why we were waiting for you.”
“We used to call her Florence,” The old man looked in the air and closed his eyes. “Austin Seven. Top Hat. Made in 1927. Older than me, I think, but not a lot. He was a doctor, my dad.”
Dave looked at his watch.
“JBD594,” he continued. “I remember the registration so clearly, as if it was yesterday.”
Daisy grabbed the old man’s arm and pulled him round to the front of the car, pointing at the number plate.
And that is Henry Glossop’s final ride in Florence came about on Daisy’s wedding day.
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