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Noel K Fletcher

Wet Blanket

Rain; nothing but rain, rain and even more rain. It hadn’t stopped for three days and
everywhere was waterlogged. There were flooded roads where drains were overwhelmed;
rivers raced through open lock gates; crops were flattened in the fields. This evening was
no different – stair rods, cats and dogs, bucketing down, enough to sink a battleship were
all expressions that sprung to mind as I drove steadily through the unlit country lanes of
Wiltshire, following what I questioningly thought to be a diversion from the main road
which had been closed due to a monumental landslip, according to the local traffic report
on the radio.
  The road was narrow and unlit; it twisted between vast open fields lined with high
hedgerows – well, that’s what I would have seen if it hadn’t been night time and
hammering down with rain. It was a strange feeling, being out there all alone, almost like
being the last person on earth. No cars followed me, no cars passed me; there were no
pedestrians and I saw no animals, just the blurred vision of a narrow ribbon of road
glistening in my inefficient headlights.
  At some stage I passed through a small village; just a few houses and a pub, all with
curtains drawn against the cold, unfriendly night outside. The warm, yellow comforting
light of habitation glowed through chinks in the heavily curtained windows, reflecting the
colour in the shiny wet pavement and puddled road. A single dim streetlamp offered a
halo of dancing sparkles in the small cone of welcome orange light which fought to
illuminate the area immediately below it. But it was fighting a rear-guard action against
the might of darkness and the ever lashing horizontal rain.
  My wheels splashed along the uneven roads. My windscreen wipers worked
overtime in vain effort to keep the torrent from obstructing the view ahead, albeit that the
poor efficiency of my headlights was dramatically reduced by the refraction of the light
as it passed through the myriad of water droplets. Leaving the little village to its quiet
cosy solitude, my journey continued further into the black, rain-swept countryside.
  The late night radio programme kept me company. It offered a selection of sixties
popular songs: Beatles, Stones, The Who, Cilla and Cliff – all the usual ones; they would
have been played on other programmes some time earlier during the day; but I enjoyed
the sounds, and tapped along with the cheery and somewhat hypnotic rhythm on my
steering wheel.
  My enjoyment of the old songs didn’t detract from the focus of my concentration –
the road ahead – I peered through the arcing throb, throb, throb of the wipers, as they
pounded back and forth across the screen, into the shadowy tunnel of light ahead of me.
  Then, just as the Paul McCartney was getting into the first verse of Yesterday I caught a
glimpse of pulsating orange hazard warning lights of a car parked at the side of the road.
  As I rounded a slight bend there they were, orange lights flashing on and off, clashing
with the rain on my windscreen with each flash. I slowed in anticipation and saw that the interior light was on. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the car but I stopped to check, honking my horn a couple of times as I came to a halt next to the car. I unfastened my seat belt and leaned over my empty passenger seat to get a closer look. The car seemed to be empty, the engine was off as were the headlights and the driver’s door wasn’t properly closed, probably the reason the interior light was on.
  Switching off my radio, I wound down the passenger window and called out – no response. I blew my horn a couple more times – still no response other than a face full of cold rain. Nothing to be done here I thought, so I wound up the window, refastened my seat belt and slowly continued on my way keeping an eye out for anyone along the way.
  I hadn’t driven more than half a mile when at the furthest extreme of my headlights I caught sight of a flash of white. As I got closer I could see that it was a woman walking along the side of the road. She had no umbrella, wore no raincoat and had no boots. She looked to be soaked to the skin, with her arms folded across her chest for warmth and her head bowed against the driving rain. She was walking with a slight limp.
  I pulled up beside her and flicked the switch to wind down my passenger window, leaned across and called, ‘Can I help?’ I asked ‘Is that your car back there?’
  She stopped and looked at me with apprehension.
  ‘Yes… Yes, I mean, yes zat is my car’.
  I turned on my interior light so that she could see me and hope that would indicate to her that I meant no harm. In the weak light and the reflection from my headlights, I guessed that she was about twenty five to thirty, slim attractive and very, very wet.
  ‘Can I give you a lift somewhere? You look soaked and frozen’.
  ‘Oh. Er… yes, tank you’.
  ‘Get in then. At least it’s warm and dry in here’. I leaned over and unlatched the door.
  ‘Tank you’ she said again and plonked herself down in the passenger seat. I wound up the window but didn’t drive off, I sat there looking at her and asked, ‘What happened?’
  She told me, ‘Ze front tyre burst and pulled the car into ze grassy bank. I couldn’t change ze wheel, I tink ze wheel, it is damaged somehow, and anyway I am not strong enough to undo ze nuts of the wheel. My mobile phone has no signal so I try to walk to get help, then I twist my ankle in ze dark’. She brushed a soggy strand of jet black hair from her forehead and shivered. ‘Do you have a tissue please?’ she asked with a little sniff.
  ‘Here’ I said handing her a small pack from the glove compartment, ‘Help yourself and you had better wrap yourself up to keep warm’ I reached over into the back seat a grabbed a small car blanket which I offered to her; she took it and wrapped it around her shoulders.
  ‘Tank you’ There was a definite suggestion of somewhere foreign in her voice. ‘I need to get out of zees wet tings; I am dripping in your car’. I turned the heater onto full boost and directed its warming flow onto her side of the car hoping that it would help.
  ‘There’s a small village someway back beyond your car, we could go there. I saw a pub, perhaps we could get help for you?’
  ‘Tank you but that is where I have come from. Zere is no garage and the telephones do not work - the rain I tink. We should go on to Amesbury’.
  ‘Probably’ I agreed. I started the car and drove off. ‘You need to get dry though’.

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