Rover 25 1.6 SXi. 5dr Hatchback, 2004, blue, one extremely careful owner from new, ONLY 8,000 miles on the clock, yes that’s correct, ONLY 8,000 miles on the clock, pristine condition, almost like brand new, for sale at the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime price of £1,200. Don’t hang around, it won’t be here long!!!!!
JASON Monk adjusted the seat to make sure his wiry 5ft 7in frame was comfortable and that his feet could reach the pedals. The previous owner must have been very tall and the wooded, beaded seat cover would definitely have to be ditched.
He drove out of the second hand car lot and onto the main road. It was his first ever car, and in mint condition, inside and out. A furry dice air freshener bobbed around in front of him and the dashboard had been polished to near perfection: it reminded him of his gran’s front room which was only used for guests and special occasions.
The sun was shining and he wound the window down to let the breeze flutter around his head, now shorn of long, straggly black hair once divided by a severe centre parting. It had been hard, having the hair shaved off but it would be worth it.
Jason nodded rhythmically to the sounds of White Zombie’s Black Sunshine, a song about a Ford Mustang, blasting out of the CD player. Okay, the car was only a Rover 25, but it would get a bit of cosmetic work such as yellow go faster stripes and Rota GT3 red alloy wheels, once he had saved up some more dosh.
He had made many sacrifices to raise the cash to buy the car, including selling his prized collection of Iggy Pop posters, but, as with the hair, it would be worth it.
Jason began to focus on the task ahead – winning the heart of Poppy Stewart.
Poppy had told him that she would never go out with someone who didn’t have a car and now Jason had wheels. She also wasn’t a rock chick and hated long hair and now Jason had none, and in an hour he was due to pick her up from outside the hairdresser’s where she worked, then on to Nandos as she had insisted on Jumbo chicken platters and watermelon Bacardi Breezers. He couldn’t wait.
Poppy Stewart looked a bit like Katy Perry but had freckles and ginger hair and okay, she was bit spindly and bow-legged but to Jason she was his dream woman. They had met in the queue at Greggs when Poppy spotted Jason’s ‘Mum’ tattoo on the back of his neck (his hair had been tied back in a ponytail that day) and had cheekily asked whether the rocker was also a mummy’s boy. When Jason replied that he wasn’t embarrassed to admit that he loved his mum, she touched him on the arm and said: “Aaah.” That had sent shivers pulsating through his body, and he was hooked.
As he pulled up at a set of traffic lights on red, Jason let his imagination go into overdrive and pictured being parked up in some secluded country lane with Poppy. She said she loved The Carpenters, and he had bought the Close To You CD at HMV (he had worn dark glasses and a woolly hat in case his mates spotted him). He closed his eyes and imagined the music working its magic with Poppy…
He hadn’t noticed the lights changing and the car lurched forward.
“Mind that clutch!”
Jason peered into the driver’s mirror and shot upright in his seat, astonished at the sight of an oldish looking man, wearing a navy blue cardigan, white shirt and black tie, sitting behind his left shoulder. He had a full mop of grey hair, a bushy grey beard and sported small, circular National Health glasses perched on a prominent, angular nose. He had weedy, beady, owly eyes which made him look as if he was permanently squinting. There’s was also some sort of sign on his forehead.
“How the…hey, don’t I know you?” said Jason, “yeah you’re…bloody hell, it can’t be… you’re….”
Jason was 19 years old and worked as a bottler at Howton’s pickling factory, a 100-year-old, family run business, which produced a variety of pickles, sauces and chutneys.
A week ago word had spread rapidly around the factory that Norman Smith, the firm’s 62 year old chief payroll clerk, had died of a heart attack whilst sharpening his pencil.
“Watch out for the cyclist. You didn’t signal then,” said Norman who spoke in a slow and deliberate drawl as if he was contemplating every single syllable.
Florence Smith paced up and down, waiting for the taxi to arrive, mentally going over her agenda. Tomorrow was her first session at the fitness centre, there was no easy route to making inroads into a 15st package which had taken years and a chronic addition to Jaffa cakes to accumulate. It was going to be painful at first, she knew that, but it would be worth it. Then it was on to the manicurist and hairdresser. But today she had something far more important planned.
Florence thought back to all those years ago when she was just Flo, an 18 year old canteen assistant at Howton’s, a lithe, some would say beautiful, young thing but oh so naïve.
When Norman from payroll started chatting her up she was flattered. It seemed he had prospects, that he was going places. In fact Norman had never strayed from Howton’s, inching his way up a moderate ladder of success to his final destination, more out of patience and persistence rather than ability, it was as if he had simply outstayed any competition.
As she stared out of the lounge window looking on to the immaculately maintained lawn and its precise array of petunias, Florence reflected that it had been a sterile and loveless marriage but at the age of 56 she was still young enough to enjoy the fruits of Norman’s penny-pinching, let’s save for a rainy day, safety-first, down right bloody mean attitude to money. He was the super-saver to top all super-savers.
She smiled as she walked out to the taxi, striding purposefully alongside the empty driveway. Stopping momentarily. she kicked a stone so hard that it pinged off the brightly coloured Olympic special edition gnome before cascading away. Yippee! Today was the day she was going to start spending.
Many people would have been in a state of shock to find a ghost in the back seat of their car but not Jason Monk. A quick tour of his bedroom would have revealed that he numbered Slayer, Megadeath, Nalpalm Death, Cannibal Corpse and My Dying Bride amongst his favourite bands. Indeed, death-doom, a macabre sub genre of heavy metal, really rocked his boat. So he wasn’t going to put off by the apparition now breathing (metaphorically) down his neck.
Also thanks to his mate Stu, who worked at a funeral parlour – until the unfortunate incident with the bicycle pump, he had managed to see several dead bodies up close, including Mavis Eccleston, a rather tasty looking 34 year old check-out assistant at their local supermarket who surprisingly passed away whilst stacking Jaffa Cakes. Norman did not look dead, there weren’t any maggots dripping from his nostrils and thankfully he didn’t smell, but no-one wants a ghost as company when they go on their first date. So, how do you get rid of a ghost, that was Jason’s dilemma as the clock ticked down to his eagerly anticipated rendezvous with the gorgeous Poppy.
“Um, what do you want Mr Smith, er, Norman?” he asked as he steered the Rover onto the ring road, desperately looking for a lay-by where he could stop and discharge his unwanted passenger.
The man in the mirror pointed to the sign on his forehead and replied: “Answers, young man. See this?”
Jason nodded, although of course he couldn’t read it because it appeared back to front in the rear view mirror.
“What is the world coming to when the widow of a man cruelly cut down in the prime of his life, gets out her lipstick and writes ‘BORING OLD FART’ on his forehead just before the undertakers close the lid?”
Despite the spooky situation he had found himself in, Jason had to stifle a titter.
Norman Edward Smith was renowned through Howton’s as a real bean counter, who had joined the company 46 years ago as a trainee pay clerk and worked his way up the, rather short, corporate ladder there. Indeed he was a boring old fart who always wore the same drab, three piece suit to work every day, and even at the height of a summer scorcher, refused to loosen his tightly knotted Rotary Club tie one inch. He was a stickler for procedure, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’.
Every lunchtime he could be seen wandering around the factory grounds tutting to himself and picking up any stray litter. Norman was also the fire officer, health and safety rep and organised the National Lottery syndicate, which to this date had never won a single penny. No-one had ever seen him smile or crack a joke.
The Smiths (Jason had never met his wife) holidayed in Bournemouth for two weeks every year because Norman didn’t believe in going abroad, indeed he had stood as a UKIP candidate (unsuccessfully) in the last county council elections.
“Do I sound boring to you?”
“Mind the speed bumps…watch the cameras…mind that kerb,” urged Norman, edging closer to Jason.
He looked real enough, thought Jason, maybe he didn’t die, maybe it was all a big mistake.
“So Norman, how can I help you, what with you being dead and that? You are dead aren’t you.”
“She sold Roy. This is my car.”
“Roy? Ah… yeah.”
Roy of course was the Rover, Norman had given his car a name. What a surprise (not), thought Jason. But, he wanted to know how did Norman realise the vehicle been sold, if he was…well…dead?
“He told me.”
“The car? Oh…how?”
“We have a psychic connection, Roy and I, we are as one.”
Jason’s cheeks ballooned as he puffed out in bewilderment. Brill, his passenger was a dead man who talked to cars!
“Look at it Jason, isn’t it a beauty? You won’t find a scratch on the bodywork anywhere, serviced regularly and valeted by my own fair hands every weekend.”
“Well the mileage is exceptional.”
Norman caressed the car seat as he proudly informed Jason that the car was only used for the weekly shop to Lidl and for occasional special journeys, such as funerals or to the tip.
“She knew how much I loved that car and the first thing she did after they put me in the ground was sell it. That’s why I’ve come back you know, as a …
“Yes, as a ghost. And that’s why I need you.”
Norman paused as if to gather breath, although presumably he didn’t have any.
“You see, it seems as if I’m trapped in here so I would be ever so grateful if you could drive me to our house. I want to see what else she’s done.”
Jason looked at his watch, he had about half an hour until he was due to pick up Poppy.
Norman proposed to Florence after his first promotion in 1970 and she very quickly realised that she had signed up to a life of dull domesticity. There were no children and neither of them ever bothered to investigate the reasons why. Florence sometimes wondered if things would have been different if they had had kids but the relationship had its compensations. As long as Florence kept a ‘proper’ home, Norman was a happy bunny. He loved his garden, the model railway set in the attic and the car – that damn, spoilt, idolised and cherished car. There were times when it almost felt as if…
Their sex life was mundane and infrequent, and Florence wasn’t all that bothered. Indeed the last time he ‘fiddled’ with her was 10:30pm (it only lasted one and half minutes) on June 19, 1999, the day of Prince Edward’s wedding. Norman had said they ought to celebrate and for the first time in ages had gone to bed without wearing the bottoms to his blue striped C&A pyjamas.
Florence was left to enjoy her own creature comforts such as her beloved Jaffa cakes and Countdown (until Richard Whiteley died) and ironically it was only in the last year that her physical yearnings had returned, miraculously re-activated by the arrival of the muscular window cleaner Tony who she thought had the buttocks of an angel.
To her shame Florence had greeted the phone call informing her of Norman’s demise with delight.
As they parked up a discreet distance from Norman’s home, a smart, three bedroomed detached Victorian property, in a pleasant tree-lined avenue, he exploded with anger and for the first time, the words rattled out like a machine gun.
“She can’t do that!”
Jason thought that if a ghost could have had a heart attack then the For Sale sign outside the property would have done it for Norman.
They had only been there for a few moments when a plump, short blonde haired woman dressed in red tracksuit, glistening white trainers and blinged up to the eyeballs, walked out of the front door and after kicking something on the path limped into a waiting taxi.
Jason didn’t wait for Norman’s response and immediately set about following the taxi for the Poppy-Clock was ticking. The journey only lasted about 10 minutes before they arrived at the flashy, glass-fronted frontage of a new car dealership.
Jason turned around to look at the crestfallen ghost.
“Don’t say a word!” glared Norman.
That sat in silence for about 15 minutes before Jason raised a finger and said: “Hmm, Norman.”
Florence drove out at the wheels of a spanking new metallic black Audi TT 2.5 RS Plus Quattro and Norman said: “That’s really not on, not on at all. Follow her Jason please.”
He tailed Florence to a roundabout which led onto the motorway and the busy traffic flow meant that he was able to pull alongside her.
With the Audi stationary, Florence was busy applying make-up when she turned to her left and it was obvious straight away that she too was able to see the ghost!
There was a look of sheer horror on her face as she slammed her foot down on the accelerator and raced out into the traffic, straight into the path of an articulated lorry.
Ten minutes to go on the Poppy-Clock.
“This is all your fault,” said Florence who had instantaneously materialised in the back of the car alongside her husband as Jason was about to pull up next to the crushed remnants of the Audi lying under the lorry, its consignment of Jaffa Cakes strewn across the road.
“If you had been driving Roy, this would never have happened, he would have looked after you.” said Norman.
“It’s a bloody car, not a person,” replied an exasperated Florence.
“Off you go and splash the cash – MY cash – on a flash sports car and look where that got you,” said Norman
“Oh dear,” said Florence. Her and Norman, together, forever and ever…
Oh well, better the devil you know, she thought.
Five minutes to go on the Poppy-Clock and now two ghosts as passengers. Jason scratched his stubbly head and frowned as Norman said: “Watch your speed young man, we don’t want any more accidents do we.”
Jason shuffled uncomfortably in his seat and eased his foot off the accelerator.
“Look Norman.. err Florence… I’ve got a very important …”
Although she was well and truly dead, Florence still retained a woman’s intuition. She winked and nudged Norman.
“Oh bless, he’s got a date!”
“No, I haven’t, I…”
“Oh yes he’s has.”
“That’s okay, we can have a foursome, maybe a trip to the garden centre. How do you fancy that Florence?” grinned Norman.
“Well…nothing else to do I suppose,” said Florence, woefully accepting her fate but at least gratified that the big toe on her right foot had stopped throbbing.
“That’ll be nice, we can’t buy anything of course, just look and…and… hey, maybe we could give the young love birds a bit of advice on how to have a long and happy marriage.”
Florence’s eyebrows took off.
“I know we’ve had a few little tantrums along the way but everything’s hunky-dory now, we’re back together now, the three of us, me, you and Roy and that’s all that matters isn’t it my love. Jason, what’s your young lady’s name?”
The car screeched to a halt, an emergency stop carried out to a perfection that Jason’s driving instructor Reggie would have been proud of.
The rain was pelting it down and a drenched Poppy huddled in the doorway of the hairdresser’s shop. It had been 35 minutes since it closed.
When her mobile rang she banged her finger down on the ‘answer call’ button.
“Yeah!” she screamed. “And it better be good!”
“Sorry Pops, been a bit held up, be with you very shortly, only the bus is running late. Pops?….Poppy?….”
Rover 25 1.6 SXi. 5dr Hatchback, 2004, blue, £120. Must go soon to create space on forecourt or will go for scrap.
© Patrick O’Connor 2013