Just a couple of weeks ago he would’ve come running anyway. Now, Helmand thought, as he waited patiently for the wheelchair’s footrests to become flush with the chassis of the car, he seemed to have learned enough to know when to leave well alone.
He waited for the vehicle to accept him – wheelchair and all – into its cockpit. During the process it slowly dawned on him that he had nowhere in particular to go. This was a recurring problem no one could have prepared him for: year after year of retirement… The Grand Leisure itself, and not a thing to do with it.
He supposed he could always go down to the pub. Freddik and Mars would be there, given it was a Thursday night. Come back late. That’ll show ‘em.
“The Cough & Spittle” he said at the vehicle, and the garage doors began to swing upwards just as the car’s engine started.
And there he was, in the rear-view mirror, looking like he didn’t know what it meant to be run over by a bloody car. Helmand marvelled at the pretend gormlessness. It grated no end.
Helmand brought down the driver-side window and hollered out: I’m heading down to the pub. Don’t leave Barbara alone.
I can see her just fine, said Max, walking round to the driver side window. Are you feeling okay, Helm?
As always, Helmand tried to discern what he saw there in Max’s expression. And as always, there was nothing there to latch onto. Nothing, neither to stoke fight nor flight. Nor pity. Nor love. Nor env–
You going down to the pub, love?
Barbara, who did know what it meant to be around self-driving cars, thank you very much… and who nevertheless clung to the periphery of the garage until the very last moment of her approach. The beauty of those few moments of illogic warmed Helmand. He was smiling when she reached him.
Eh, what’re you so happy about?