A story and a clue

Mum and the Motor Car.

Our mother had no problems with her driving. She had never been injured in an accident. She could get from home to the shops and back in half the time it took other drivers. The children were always little lambs when she was driving. Quite true. At least, no-one bothered to disagree.

Mum was never injured as our father, taking ‘defensive driving’ literally, provided her with armoured vehicles. We were ferried around the valley in a series of ‘Elliott Ness’ cars with sprung steel bumpers and running boards. Mum backed over fences, drove through closed gates, and parked on our bikes, all in perfect safety. Nor was her comment about our angelic behaviour when she was at the wheel an exaggeration. Yes, we were quiet. No, we did not play up. Yes, this was in marked contrast to what went on when Dad drove. Her driving simply scared us rigid.

Each and every journey was high speed hell on wheels. As the eldest I would claim my spot in the back seat, the pecking order working like clockwork to leave the youngest, weakest, and most disposable sister to ride shotgun. Still we were safer in the car than those poor souls outside. Particularly anyone using the road or footpath within 100 yards of our gate.

To reduce the panel beating costs Dad had removed the chimney from the side of the house, widening the driveway by about two feet, but to no avail. The extra width allowed Mum to reach even greater speeds before she hit the road, a road along which it was necessary to pass to get to and from the high school. A generation of Wainuiomata school children owes its’ enhanced reaction times to my mother’s driving.

Mum’s driving habits were usually more annoying than lethal – indicating a left turn before turning right, pulling into traffic without indicating at all, braking suddenly to avoid a dog behind a fence on the other side of the road – that sort of thing.

Away from the valley her ability to cause chaos increased exponentially.


Half past eight on a bright Monday morning and some thousands of commuters in cars, vans, buses, and trucks crowd the Wellington motorway. The road skirts the harbour, a railway line between the traffic and the sea. In the outside, city bound lane a giant black box Chevy wavers slightly as it tops 70 miles an hour.

Trapped inside the car are four pale and silent children. The driver, a small greying woman, glances over the steering wheel from time to time. She is humming to herself as she rolls a cigarette with both hands, steering the car with her knees. There is no other sound.

And then …

My eldest sister cracks. She whimpers. I whisper, urgently, “Shut up.” And Mum turns around.

The steering wheel is free. The car veers to the left. I scream. The smallest sister is showered with tobacco. Tooting, swerving, and swearing commuters scatter and brake. My sisters scream. The sea is just yards away. Mum smacks a sister at random, whips around, and aims back towards the city. We reach the guard rail protecting the railway. Ahead looms a light standard. There are sparks. More screams. The car shudders.

It crunches to a halt against the light standard, which bends.

Scared witless, we scramble from the Chevy under the horrified gaze of a trainload of civil servants. Mum pats her hair into place, switches off the engine, and exits with more dignity. She walks to the front of the car. Some chrome has come off the bumper. She walks around to our side. A strip of rubber has been ripped from the running board. She shakes her head sadly.

I really don’t know what I’ll tell your father,” she says, accusingly, “just look what you made me do.”



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