FLYING mushy peas. And baked beans. And spaghetti sauce, and sprouts and electric toothbrush heads and washing powder and left-handed can openers. Things and labels in frenzied slow motion, batting off windscreens and crash barriers and the big blue sign for Junction 26. It’s like a plague of locusts. A biblical event. And it’s all because of me.
There’s bloated Johnny, in the backseat of Mum and Dad’s new Vauxhall Meriva, a clever family car, his head turned from the DVD screen and its Avatar blue people. He fills the adult seat, fat arms folded, his giddy-girly sister rocking the seats, squawking “Are we nearly there yet?”, while crisp crumbs and chocolate cling in chubby finger marks around his mouth. And I watch as the air above his car fills with apples. Dozens of flying boxes and scores of trays bursting open in fruity green fireworks. Granny Smiths fly and fall and bounce off the car, and bloated Johnny buries his round, terrorised face beneath his arms while the world rains down a wonderful orchard.
And twirling ham slices and breadsticks and Milk Tray and cans of prunes and butter biscuits and batteries and spinning, whirling pizzas. It’s like being in the middle of a plague of locusts. A biblical event. And it’s all because of me.
There’s Mr Sales Executive, earphoned and Bluetoothed and Vorsprung durch Techniked to his executive car. He’s busy, typing, Powerpointing, a Riveria-tanned mannequin tucked into a shirt made plastic with starch and obsessive ironing. His wife’s dressing-room farewell still air-kisses his ear. “I’ve ironed your shirt, my darling. Don’t forget your Dell, my dear! Do have a good day, my love!” But the Blackberry is ringing, bleating, screaming, late! you’re late! YOU’RE LATE! and I watch as party packs of felt Fez hats break apart across his rear windscreen. The little red domes with their black tassels engulf the car and make it the centre stage of a riotous comedy act.
And what’s a don’t-touch, don’t-look blonde to do when she has nothing to do? She sun-loungers her silicone breasts and belt-for-skirt legs into a convertible, places designer shades on her head to keep the peroxide hair from her eyes, and drives some place, any place, where somebody will surely want to look, to touch. And no doubt they do, or at least did, before the wholesale contraception box bounces off the emergency phone box, explodes into value packs of 12, and fills her lap with Ribbed Rockets and Strawberry Dynamite.
And spinning with them go kettles and toasters and kids’ shoes and frozen chickens and curry powder and Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good cakes. It’s like a plague of locusts, a biblical event. And it’s all because of me.
But this, I think, is what happened. I was driving my supermarket lorry south, towards Birmingham. The guys at work told me I was crazy, I was supposed to take time off, but they couldn’t stop me. And sure enough, all I could do was think about last night. I replayed the events over and over in my mind. I’m sure I saw the stationary traffic ahead, the blinking pairs of hazard lights, some brightened under the shadow of a road bridge, and the shattered glass glittering in the lanes before it. But then I froze. I can’t explain it, really. I just…froze. My mind switched off. My body went into stasis. And I kept on driving. Drove my 40-tonne truck at 60 miles an hour. As far as I know it was only a matter of seconds before I swear I heard an audible snap, a click, as though someone pressed a switch, and suddenly I was careering at full throttle towards the rear of a stationary Audi, revving angrily at the arse-end of a queue of traffic. I slammed on the brakes and gritted my teeth but there was oil as well as glass on the road and from the pull on the steering wheel and the sound at the back of the cab I knew the trailer was jack-knifing. I looked in the mirror and saw it, all 40 supermarket-branded feet of it, sliding right, extending sideways, closing the gap between itself and the central crash barrier and sending up fans of blue smoke from the protesting tyres. I gave a loud blast on the horn to warn those in front of the impending impact and it was only then that I saw the bridge properly, an older design with its central support pillar encroached towards the fast lane, and only then did I dare calculate what I believed was about to happen.
The trailer must have struck the pillar, catapulting its load straight through the side, right through the supermarket logo, for there was no other way to explain the flying sprouts, the toppling kettles, the spinning Granny Smiths. And the mushy peas, of course. Funny how they flew towards my windscreen. Funny for two reasons, not least because they defied the laws of physics, flying, it seemed, back to where they came from. Funny mostly because of the coincidence, if indeed that’s what it was, because the motorway incident was not my first experience of flying mushy peas. Or even my second.
My first mushy pea episode left a smiley green face on the dining room wall. It also left pieces of Wedgwood plate, chips and battered cod on the floor, my elder daughter locked in her bedroom with Kurt Cobain, and my cheating wife in the full-time care of her lover shortly thereafter. My steroid-taking wife, Melanie (always Melanie, never Mel) whose tits became plains as her biceps became mountains, stood in an uncanny Mr Universe pose, one massive arm out straight having just shot-putted her chippie supper across the table. Moments before she’d read the sent-text message on my phone, out loud for the benefit of the whole family, of course. “Good luck to him, it’s like fucking a man anyway,” she said, at which point a strangely random thought popped into my head: I had no idea what colour her eyes were. So I shrugged, and she just stood there, waiting for more. Maybe I shouldn’t have sniggered then, but I did.
My second flying mushy pea experience was the culmination of a row during a trip to the supermarket. We returned home when one of the bags ripped, as they often do, and my wife screamed, as she often did, and hurled with bench-press force whatever it was that had rolled out onto the living room carpet. It smashed into my Panasonic 50-inch plasma TV, and for several seconds I was delirious with amazement and relief that the delicate screen hadn’t broken. “You lucky bitch,” I said, finding a mark on the TV’s frame that had saved my prized possession. At that point we would have hit each other in the usual way, were it not for the sudden creak and then splintering crack as one of the TV’s brackets sprang from the wall. The flat screen swung like a pendulum, sending my Bose lifestyle sound system off its perch and into the corner of the room, where it smashed into the floor-standing Murano glass figurine. I was too horrified to move while the TV tick-tocked twice more, and then the second bracket gave way. It fell off the wall, screen downwards, and landed with a devastating crunch on top of the object my wife had thrown – a tin of mushy peas. I waited in the excruciating silence that followed, as if expecting something more. Maybe she shouldn’t have sniggered then, but she did.
We always made-up afterwards. Told the lovers it was over, and this time we meant it. We put the arguments on ice. We took it in turns to say, “Think of the children.” We have to think of our Claire, we’d tell each other earnestly, usually while staring down into coffees spinning from too much stirring. Claire, our gorgeous first child, our little miracle, who was failing at school and probably taking drugs and definitely having sex with the school caretaker. And Charley, we have to think of our Charley, and even if we did, she spent more time with the babysitter than she did with us. We should have done what most broken marriages do and called it quits. Instead we made-up. Not with a kiss, and certainly not with sex, but by buying things. We waved credit cards and bought luxury holidays, nice clothes, big televisions, expensive perfumes and toiletries, top-of-the-range cars, pointless kitchen gadgets and blu ray movies we never sat and watched. Not together, anyway. Not as a family.
For a while, the new things would distract us. And then…
And now…today. The motorway incident. My attention was diverted from Fat Johnny and his apples, Mr Sales Executive and the carpet of Fez hats, and the blonde with the timely supply of contraception. Because I watched as tins of mushy peas hurtled towards my windscreen. They were spinning, twirling my pea-related flashbacks with them. There was carnage all around my lorry and, with the memories and the flying debris, carnage inside my head, too.
The first tin struck the glass and exploded, just like the tin last night did, part of the scene that replayed over and over in my mind moments before the crash. Conventional wisdom – if such a thing could be applied to an event like this – would have had it bounce, crumple, crack the glass maybe, but not explode, not spray mushy peas and juice across the windscreen. In the same way that when I came home from work last night, the house reeling in kids-with-grandparents quiet, and found my wife in the kitchen, obviously drunk, conventional wisdom would have predicted that the tin of mushy peas in her fist would have crumpled, no more. In the event, however, I was about to have my third experience of flying mushy peas.
“What are you doing?” I said to her, but I sensed something was wrong.
“Watch this,” she slurred. The veins in her forearm stood out as she squeezed the tin. It exploded.
Moments later, she fell. A drunk’s legs giving up the struggle. That had been my impression at the time, anyway. She seemed to shrivel up before falling into a breakfast bar chair, eyes rolling, a fat, green slug of mushy pea stuck to her top lip. “Fan-fucking-tastic,” I said, and left her there. I sat and watched a blu ray. After the movie I went into the kitchen to find a microwave tea, and saw she hadn’t moved. The pea slug was still clinging to her mouth. It was the strangest thing, because when I finally realised what was happening to her, long after the realisation might have done her any good, I saw myself in a college canteen, years ago, finding a vacant chair opposite a pretty brunette. I remembered sitting there and nodding a greeting, finding admiration in the way she heartily tucked into a plate of fish, chips and mushy peas.
I caught this pretty brunette’s eye and pointed to my mouth, “You’ve got…” I said.
“Oh…” She licked the green blob from her top lip and then smiled. “Thanks. Sorry. Mushy peas – food to die for.”
The second tin hit my windscreen and, like the first, painted abstract art across the glass. By now there was a big crack in the glazing. The mushy peas were coming hard and fast, some as loose tins but others ganged-up in cases. The windscreen would shatter at any moment.
There was not enough time then to ponder the future lives of my motorway friends. But I do now. I try to predict the fate of Fat Johnny and his festering greed. I wonder what might befall Mr Sales Executive and the humour I imagine so absent from his life. And I’ve spared a thought for the blonde, who by my reckoning searches for excitement while all the time craving security.
Sitting there in my lorry, I only had time to wonder how my love of things became more important than the love of others.
“Melanie,” I said.
And now I think to myself, it wasn’t really like a plague of locusts. It wasn’t really a biblical event. But I do know one thing for sure. It was because of me.
- Copyright Phil Thomas, all rights reserved