don't know what drew me back to that house and even now I'm surprised it should have possessed sufficient gravity after all those years to lure me from my course. I recall little of the journey that delivered me there, only a slow surfacing to the realisation that I'd pulled the car over, switched off the engine and had been staring at the place for what already seemed like an age.
It had changed. I'd been expecting the same painted window frames and the same mahogany door with the little rose window at the top, but it had all been replaced by a uniform white PVC. There had been a willow tree in a corner of the front garden but that had gone too, along with the neatly clipped privet hedge in order to make way for a rather vulgar block-paved driveway.
The passing of twenty years had left its mark. Or was it longer? Just when was the last time I'd swung my course by Langholm Avenue? I thought I'd finished with all that nonsense by now, but if that were true, then why was I sitting there, forty two years old, going on seventeen once more?
I was there for an hour, perhaps longer, I can't say for certain but it was long enough to alert the Neighbourhood Watch, who alerted the police, who sent their dowdy little patrol car to investigate my mysterious sojourn. It pulled up quietly behind me and for a moment nothing happened, though I suppose my registration number was being passed through a computer somewhere.
Endorsements none, I imagined it saying; convictions none; parking ticket in the summer of 1982 or thereabouts - altogether a rather dull biography of my motoring years. Eventually, a lone policewoman emerged. She looked no more than twenty, and she might have been pretty except she seemed at pains to hide this gift beneath a mask of dour severity. I wound the window down at her request, and in her driest tone she said: "Been having a nap have we, sir?"
Without waiting for an answer, she began to circle the car, inspecting it with a patient and practised eye for the easy hit: road tax, bald tyres, anything broken or hanging off. But even though the old Midget had definitely seen better days, I was confident it had scored well.
"Live round here, do you?" she asked.
"Parbold," I replied. But her computer had already told her that. Was she trying to catch me out? And what else had it told her? Did it also know I'd been married for fifteen years? Wife's name: Annie. Supplementary information: Separated at five thirty yesterday afternoon. Reason: Annie preferred wide-arsed gent by the name of Alistair,...
"I'm going to visit my dad," I told her. "He lives in Arkwright Street."
"Well, this is Langholm Avenue" she replied. "Forgotten our way have we perhaps?"
Her tone was irritating, as if she was trying to tempt out my anger, make me swear and shake my fist so she'd have reason to beat me senseless with her stick. She was wasting her time. There was no anger, nothing left inside of me now.
"Has there been a complaint?" I asked.
She ignored the question and instead demanded to see my documents - insurance certificate, MOT, driver's licence, the usual. I reached behind the passenger seat and pulled out an envelope which I handed to her. She was disappointed perhaps that I should have had the papers on me, but right then most of
my life seemed to be in the car, or at least as much of it as I'd thought to rescue from the house that morning.
Everything was in order. She scanned through the papers slowly and handed them back without a murmur. Then she looked at the car again, her gaze passing lazily from one end to the other as if she couldn't believe there wasn't something she could book me for.
"A bit untidy isn't it sir?"
"I've not had it long. I've changed the tyres, done the electrics and brakes and such. It's perfectly road worthy."
She regarded me closely, her eyes narrowing for the kill. "Waiting for someone are we, perhaps?"
"No, I was just thinking," I said. "Thinking?"
She sighed. "Mind opening the boot, sir?"
I flipped open the boot, and stood back while she ran her hands over the surface of my possessions. It was filled to the brim and she didn't know where to start. Eventually, she registered the main items: my antique laptop computer, an old sketch book, my camera gear and a boxed chess set my father had given me for my eighteenth birthday. Then there was the case of clothes, the shaving kit,...
"Can't get much else in here can you?" she said. "I take it you can prove all this stuff is yours?"
"I don't suppose I can. It's mostly very old. I've no receipts or anything if that's what you mean."
"Then how do you explain it?"