Chapter 13

I originally wrote this as part of a novel writing course. My novel was rather a gloomy story about a woman on her way to meet her ex-husband. Her journey seemed endless, and I couldn’t quite get her to her destination, so I wrote a comedy section to lighten the mood, and later turned this into ‘Chapter 13. Chapter 13 was published in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special in 2007’.

Magdelana stood by the sweet counter in the queue for the till in the Esso Garage.   
    ‘This shouldn’t be happening,’ she thought to herself. ‘I’m sure the story said I would keep on driving until I got to the converted gothic castle where my ex-husband lives with his lover. I wasn’t meant to run out of fuel in the middle of Chapter Thirteen.’
     Magdelana didn’t remember any mention of meeting a new man at this point in the plot either, but she couldn’t stop her eyes from sliding towards the man in front of her who had black shiny hair and a rugged jaw line. He reminded her of Heathcliff, Mr Rochester, Mr Darcy all rolled into one.
     Her gaze met his over a row of Juicy Fruit chewing gum and some Perry Como cds.  She noticed that his eyes were a fascinating shade of petrol blue, flecked with green, like engine oil dispersing in a puddle of rainwater.
     ‘Are you okay?’ the man asked her.
      He had a dark, deep voice with a hint of Welsh in his vowels.  Magdelana realised she was crying. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, splashing her Armani t shirt.  Everything seemed to be going wrong. Since her divorce in chapter four, she seemed to burst into tears at the drop of a hat. And now she’d filled up her car with twenty- four litres of diesel before realising she didn’t have any money with her.  She was dreading having to explain her predicament to the woman at the till.
     ‘Here, take this,’ he said producing a handkerchief from his pocket. Magdelana accepted the handkerchief and noticed a monogram in the corner.  The letter ‘E’ was embroidered in blue. She wondered what he might be called. Edward, Edwin, Eugene, Englebert?  Most likely something bizarre. None of the other characters in the book had ordinary names.
    ‘The name’s Euan, Euan Jones,’ he said. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’
     Magdelana sniffed then looked him up and down. ‘Euan Euan, that’s an unusual name.’
    ‘No Euan Jones. Just the one Euan,’ he said appearing confused.
     On closer inspection Euan Jones looked pretty smart. In fact he looked like the kind of character who might have his own petrol account.
     ‘The thing is,’ she lied, ‘I seem to have left my Gold Card in my other car.  I’ve filled up the car and now I can’t pay.’
     ‘Goodness me, that’s terrible,’ he said.
     The queue moved forward and Euan Jones was at the till.  The sales assistant, a woman with yellow back-combed hair and nails like a miniature row of varnished bird’s beaks, handed him a pen.
     ‘Which pump you are on?’ he asked Magdelana. ‘I could pay for your fuel and then perhaps we could meet up later on so you could pay me back.’
     ‘Number six,’ she replied, averting her eyes from the impatient glare of the woman at the till. ‘What number are you?’
     ‘Number nine – you see, by the silver Aston Martin convertible.’
      Magdelana perked up.  Her last romantic encounter had been with an odd job man who’d come to her house to fix the shower at the beginning of chapter eleven.  She stared out of the window at the pile of technological mastery that shimmered beside pump number nine.
       Magdelania blew her nose and peeked at Euan above the handkerchief.  He glanced up at her, mid signature and smiled. His smile reminded her someone.  Who was it that always drove an Astin Martin?  That was it! James Bond. Yes - there was definitely a hint of 007 about this man! Was it possible that she’d accidentally strayed into an Ian Flemming novel?  She could be standing next to James Bond, except of course his name was wrong - and the accent didn’t quite tally.  But that could all be a cover – of course. James Bond travelling incognito!
      ‘ Is there anything else I can do to help?’ Euan asked as he handed her the receipt.
       ‘No, no, really. You’ve been too kind already and… all this is unbelievably stupid I know,’ Magdelana replied. ‘It’s my ex-husband’s fault, of course. Since he ran off with a tele sales operative with the unlikely name of Doreen, leaving me to bring up our five-year-old daughter with insufficient funds to satisfy my insatiable addiction to designer clothes, I really don't know if I'm coming or going. On top of which,’ she added, aware of the cashier tapping the tips of her fingernails on the edge of the till waiting for the return of her pen. ‘On top of which my West Highland Terrier, Bonzo, disappeared from our front garden in mysterious circumstances and my daughter’s pet gerbil has developed rat flu.’
     ‘Your life sounds like the plot of a fairly amateurish novel,’ Euan  replied,  ‘But at least I’ve managed to alleviate your suffering to a small degree by paying for  your unroadworthy-looking car to be filled up with petrol.’
     ‘It's diesel, actually.’
     He raised his eyebrows. He’s like Roger Moore in Moonraker,  Magdelana thought to herself.
      ‘Diesel? I see. I would have had you down as a  low-sulphur, unleaded  kind of a girl.’
     ‘Well, that just goes to show - you should never judge a book by its cover.’
     ‘You can say that again.’
     ‘That’s right. I could, but I’m not going to. Repetitive dialogue can become tedious, don’t you think?’
      He smiled making his eyes crinkle at the corners and Magdelana swooned inwardly. Surely he must be in the bedroom scene she’d guessed would be part of the penultimate chapter. He looked up at the shelves behind the cashier.
      ‘While we’re here, in this garage scene,’ he said, glancing at the row of shelves behind the cashier, ‘I don’t suppose there’s anything else you’d like me to buy for you. Any sponges, crook locks, non-prescription reading glasses, unpopular videos, pens with novelty tops, a Cornish pasty perhaps? I see there’s a microwave in the corner by that Marge Simpson helium balloon.’
      ‘Hold on a minute,’ Magdelana cut in, raising her hand to stop him. ‘I may be a bit hard up but I'm not desperate.’
      ‘…Those fluorescent pink pocket torches look handy,’ he carried on, oblivious that he’d caused offence. ‘And the colour would certainly complement your eyes.  Look,’ he continued, accepting his banker’s card that the cashier was waving under his exquisitely chiselled nose,  ‘how about letting me take you away from all this?  My cousin’s a writer.  He could put you into an entirely different kind of book.  A romantic comedy, perhaps, with lots of zany characters fooling around, misreading each others’ emotions and ending up getting married.  Or how about a thirty-something humorous novel focusing on your unsuccessful attempts to lose weight?  Or maybe you’d be better as one of those quirky detective characters.  Hey! You could be an under-cover agent with a cash flow problem, or even a private detective with an eating disorder?  Listen, I don't think anyone's done that one yet. Yeah… an anorexic detective. Now that’s something you could really get your teeth into. ‘
     ‘I'll think about it,’ Magdelana said. ‘But now I should be getting on.  I'm meant to be heading off to meet my evil, estranged husband - who makes Herman Goring look like Snow White - in the unbelievable castle where he’s currently shacked up with the delectable Doreen of telesales. If I take too long she will be home from work and the whole plot will fall apart.’
     Euan gripped Magdelana’s arm and escorted her back to her car.  Her knees weakened by the strength of his squeeze.
     ‘Don't forget, I’m at the other end of the phone if you ever need anything,’ he said, handing her a gilt-edged business card.  ‘That’s my mobile number at the bottom there. Give me a buzz, any time,’ he said holding his fingers up to his ear in the shape of a phone. ‘And remember - there’s no need to spend your life as the wrong character. There’s a whole host of characters out there you could be. ‘
     She unlocked her car and he called behind him over his shoulder, ‘Hey, Ring me! And you never know - you might even feel like paying me back the money I just forked out for your petrol.’
     ‘Diesel,’ she reminded him. ‘But thank you and I’ll gladly give you a ring but don't hold your breath on the readies.  As I’ve implied, my finances, like every other aspect of my life, are a total shambles.’
     But Euan Jones wasn’t listening.  He was already over by pump number nine.  Funny though, Magdelana thought, that silver soft top Aston Martin had gone and he was getting into a different car on the other side of the pump.  A 'C' reg Volvo Estate, in fact, even older than her own scrap heap and with its back bumper tied on with string and a coat hanger instead of an ariel.
     Huh – a Volvo Estate circa 1980! How many million worlds away from an Aston Martin was that?  Magdelana decided maybe Euan Jones wasn’t her type after all.  She turned on the heater and decided to stick with the plot she was already in.    
    ‘After all,’ she thought, ‘I’ll be in chapter fourteen soon and I’m definitely due to have an affair before the climax of this novel.’
     And then a horrible thought hit her.  If her next romance was to be with Mr Clapped-Out-Volvo-Estate, what could she do to change her fate?  James Bond – my foot! She prayed they wouldn’t meet again and decided that maybe if she stepped on the gas she might catch up with the real owner of that Aston Martin! Yes, that had to be it.  She must have caught the eye of the wrong character in the queue for the till just now when they were in the garage.
     Still, this was only the first draft of the novel so hopefully there was a good chance this garage scene might be edited out before publication. 
     Magdelana turned out of the forecourt.  Left, right, or straight on? She swung to the left and carried along the dual carriageway still in the direction of the castle, her ex-husband and everything else involved in the sub-plot surrounding his lover, Doreen from telesales.
     Only time, and the next sixty pages would tell where the rest of the story would take her in the end.     


    © Alison Clink 2007

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