Short Story: a Car Journey

2016 HL Paper I Section C
Based on a student's essay

Write a short story that centres on two characters and a car journey

Joe grimaced as his car slid to a stop at 25 Leaving Crescent. He hated driving in the snow and he hated it here. No sign of Chloe. Eleven months older than Joe she was, and despite the fact she was good-looking, he had never fancied her. Now he detested the sight of her. But his parents had always wanted to avoid confrontation. 'For a quiet life, let them have their way,' they would say. And that was the command he had been given that morning. 'Please don't give Chloe an excuse to have Irene Hanrahan hounding us for the next month,' urged his parents. He pulled out his phone, flicked to a photo of Bob Hanrahan, and muttered 'Good riddance.' The sudden noise from the horn made him jump. He didn't intend pressing it but he had been on autopilot since he had been told about the accident.

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He jumped again at the sound of Chloe tapping the passenger window. She was the last person he wanted on a two hundred mile car journey. But what choice did he have? Her sparkling white smile and dancing blue eyes irritated him as she pressed her nose against the window. 'Hiya Joey,' she almost screamed as she roughly opened the back door and threw her bag on the seat. She quickly hopped in the front. Joe was irritated by the fact she didn't kick the snow from her boots. Chloe looked about. 'Oh my God, what a piece of crap! It looks like it wouldn't go ten feet,' shrieked Chloe. 'It's no problem to drop you to the train,' said Joe hopefully. 'No way! I hate the train,' grumbled his passenger as she fumbled in her bag. Joe bit his lip and turned the car into Paporwon Road.

Joe groaned inside as Chloe slammed her Michael Jackson CD on the dash. His mouth arched in disgust at her nails – every one a different colour. Thirty seven years of age and most of his Junior Cert students are more mature than her, thought Joe. He remembered his parents command and so refrained from asking if she was wearing those nails to her father's funeral. Chloe squinted her eyes as she looked sideways at Joe. So what if he thought little of her family? She knew her family were pillars of the community. And she knew that her father's funeral would attract crowds the likes of which the village had never seen before. She knew some of the people mocked her father, but all politicians got that abuse. She pressed the forward button to Leave Me Alone and began to drum the dashboard with her hands. For twenty miles, she had Leave Me Alone on repeat singing along as loud as she could.

The snow continued to fall lightly as Joe approached a truck loaded with pallets. 'I hate driving behind loaded lorries. Always think their stuff is going to fall off,' he said more as an excuse to turn the music down than for any desire to engage in conversation. Chloe flicked up Joe's indicator switch and turned up the volume in irritation. 'Problem solved', she shouted. 'Don' could cause an - ', said Joe more harshly than he had wished for. 'An accident Joe? Is that what you were going to say? Accidents, accidents, that's all I'm hearing about,' groaned Chloe switching the volume up another notch.

As Joe overtook the truck, Chloe waved out the window. Joe looked at the mileage. He sighed inside. Only thirty miles done. Chloe zipped up her window and threw her legs on the dash. 'Don't put your legs up there Chloe. If we crash, you'd be finished.' 'Relax Joe. Two crashes in two days. I don't think so.' Joe pressed harder on the accelerator until the speedometer caught his eye. He switched pedals. 'Back to a snail's pace, is it Joe? For a moment there I actually thought you knew how to drive,' cackled Chloe. 'Mom's going to be livid if I'm late for Daddy's funeral.' 'It's no problem to drop you to the train in Portlaoise,' said Joe in hope. Chloe turned up the music another notch. 'Why don't you play a different song or turn on the lights so we know we aren't driving into a snow drift?' 'I'll be playing this song till we get there, Joe, so the quicker you drive the less you'll have to listen to it,' screamed Chloe over the music.

As the lyrics meandered through Chloe, she thought of the greatness that was Bob Hanrahan. How the people had voted for him in their thousands and how every time he was elected he was carried shoulder high through the village as his name was chanted. 'Your father will miss Daddy,' shouted Chloe. Not likely, thought Joe. But he remembered his mother's request for calm. 'They spent a lot of time together, alright,' he replied biting his lip. 'And he'll miss all of Daddy's advice,' continued Chloe. Joe put his hand to his head and rubbed his temple as he fumed inside. He wanted to say, 'Your father was so thick, Chloe, that he could never do anything without asking my father, but your lying thieving scumbag family always twist everything to suit themselves.' Instead he said, 'This will be especially hard on your sister so soon after losing her husband.' Joe was pleased that he had got an opportunity to remind Chloe of the Hanrahans' mounting misfortune. Chloe sighed deeply and turned up the music another notch.

Within seconds Chloe had it turned down again 'Bridget is tough. She'll recover. That man is in Heaven with Daddy now.' Chloe waited a few seconds to see if there would be a response coming from Joe and then turned up the music. Joe pressed hard on the accelerator as the flakes got bigger. One hundred and twenty miles to go. The one thing he had hoped for since he heard the news was that Bob Hanrahan would be paying for his sins and not living it up in Heaven. His mother was right, 'Don't get into an argument with Chloe. You can't beat her or any of the Hanrahans. We're not built like them.' He knew he would never win a verbal battle with the Hanrahans. They were masters at oratory defence and attack – always twisting and turning the truth until it moulded into something that benefited only the Hanrahans.

Chloe turned down the music as her phone rang. 'Hi Mom... Yeah, yeah.' She turned to Joe, 'Mom wants to know what reading you'll do.' Joe's mouth dropped open. He wanted to say 'Aren't there enough Hanrahans there? Haven't I done enough for your thieving family?' He inhaled and as calmly as he could said, 'I'd rather not.' 'He says he doesn't want to do it… Joe, Mom says you have to because Daddy was like a father to you.' The explosion in Joe's chest could not be contained. 'Look Chloe, your father was nothing but a conman and a crook. He used my parents like he used everyone, and I still have to go for physio after the way he worked me as a child.' For the next 100 miles Chloe blared the music as loud as she could.

For ninety of those miles, despite his mother's plea, Joe was pleased to have got one up on the Hanrahans. His heart was warm at the thought of Irene boiling with rage at what Joe had said. Slowly the roads became windier and narrower. Snow had turned to rain. As they edged nearer to Bob's hometown, the memories started flooding back to Joe of the good times he had with the Hanrahans. Every hairpin bend, every whitewashed gate, every perfectly kept hedge and empty winter field seemed to arouse a memory. He had only been away twelve hours, but it all seemed different. That morning every gate, every hedge, every field evoked memories of the back-breaking work Bob inflicted on Joe. Now, it was the good times he thought about.

As they climbed higher, the snow returned. Three miles from the village, they passed the fields Bob had rented for his yearling cattle. Joe looked across at Chloe, 'Hey, do you remember the day you came with us to bring the cattle down home?' 'Oh my God, will I ever forget? I thought the cattle were going to kill me, so I just hopped behind the tree and the cattle went a mile up that passageway.' 'Well I'm glad they didn't kill you, Clo. I would have missed you.' 'Thanks,' smiled Chloe. 'I'm sorry I got you here late, Clo.' 'Sure Dad was always late. He would have liked that touch,' smiled Chloe as she looked out at the ghost estate on the edge of the village.

Joe pulled into the Hanrahan farmyard half a mile outside the village. He wanted to say to Chloe 'Sorry for your loss,' but she was already running towards the house. He looked across to see the same snow prints he had made that morning as he fed Bob's cattle. He walked over to the gate and rubbed the head of the first cow. He felt his eyes water as he thought of the times Bob had put his hand on Joe's head and told Joe he loved him. Joe didn't know if Bob ever meant it, but at the time it meant something to Joe. Joe looked to the clearing evening sky: 'Yes I'll do a reading at your funeral Bob Hanrahan, and if I'm asked, I'll shoulder your coffin.' His eyes returned to the cow. 'I guess everybody deserves a bit of peace in their own place Missy. Bob Hanrahan was a good man. As good as the rest of us.'

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