The light is fading fast. Driving through the Lakes the sky was tinged with gold. Where we’re headed it’s black as graphite, laden with snow. It’s eighty, ninety miles to Glasgow so I accelerate. Milo, our Jack Russell, is restless in the back. He begins to shake. Joe points at Milo and giggles. Joe finds a crumb of cookie in the folds of his blanket and focuses on it as if he holds the secret of alchemy in his hand. He munches, then closes his eyes. A knife and fork sign appears.
‘What do you reckon?’
Tracey shrugs. Powdery flakes of snow begin to fall from the darkness. Tracey is biting her thumbnail. Big decisions always come down to one pivotal moment.
‘Don’t start quoting Robert Frost to me,’ Tracey says, reading my mind, ‘Frost didn’t write about Little Chefs or Julie’s Pantry.’
I accelerate onwards into the black hills of southern Scotland. We travel half a mile, the snow thickens, the traffic grinds to a halt. I pretend to consult the map. We’re stuck on the M74, so the only option is to find an exit road and share a Hansel and Gretel cottage with an escaped convict and a chainsaw. The motion of a car is the best babysitter. But when the car stops………Joe’s eye pops open and he wails.
‘Have you got a sweet?’
‘I’m not filling him with sweets all the way to Fife,’ Tracey says.
The car in front inches forward. It’s a seven-series BMW with a bumper sticker that reads: ‘Accountants do it Double Entry’. I take the handbrake off, my foot hovering over the accelerator. The right lane lurches forward. The BMW sees it can gain twelve feet and skids across without a signal. Horns toot along the line.
‘Least we got rid of that moron.’
Joe starts crying. The car fills with over-cooked cabbage; the ripeness of a filled nappy. I check the petrol gauge; there’s half a tank but the heater’s on full. We carry on like this for three hours; inching forward, braking, praying we don’t stop on an incline or slide. Every two hundred yards or so the BMW rejoins us, always just in front, it’s bumper sticker framed in our headlights.
The petrol gauge dips to a third.
‘Dinner, dinner,’ Joe screams.
Finally, we begin to move. Tracey hands Joe a toffee.
‘At least it’ll keep him quiet.’
I watch Joe in the rear-view mirror. He gulps the toffee down, like a snake swallowing an egg. Then he starts to wail.