Canterbury Jails

This story was read aloud at Story Salon in 2006.

Canterbury Jails

It was a wet November Evening in Canterbury.   My friends and I stepped out of the Old Locomotive Pub at eleven thirty lifting up collars and stuffing hands in Jackets.   The pub was now closed, and we were forced to go home, but I was happy.

As the group split toward their different homes, I walked with Aine toward her apartment.   I had had a crush on her for months now.   She was small and lithe, when she looked up at you with those large brown eyes it was like a fifties starlet, her voice was soft and spoke in a deep Irish accent.   And her black hair curled in commas around her face and neck.

That afternoon she had called, said people were going out drinking and that I should park my car at her apartment and we could walk together.

The mist turned to slight rain as we hurried home.   And Joy, joy, joy, she invited me in for a drink.   Her apartment was small and dark, and she brought out the beer.   We sat on the bed and chatted.   I have no memory of what we talked about, but at some point I made a sarcastic comment, and she became offended.   I do not remember the comment, I don’t even remember the context.

But before I could realize what was happening, I was standing in the rain looking at the light in her second floor window.

What the hell just happened?

In my car, spinning the tires on the slick road pulling out of the parking space I slammed it into second gear and accelerated for the corner.

Now I should say something about my car, she was beautiful. A 1969 MGBGT, with curves.   She was a saviour, she was my peace.   I named her after a poem by Yeats, the lake isle of innesfree.   Her name was Innes.   The poem discusses an island in the middle of a lake where Yeats went to find peace, where no one could bother him.   Innes was my peace.   She was the one that took me away, away from the noise and bother of University.   Away from the people, away from the confusion, away from the depression.   She took me to old forests, to five hundred year old farms, to the White Cliffs of Dover, to a place to be content.

Arriving at the second corner I shifted back down to second and slid my food on the accelerator and turned.   Some people say that when something terrible happens, it happens in slow motion, but that is a lie.   Just as I felt the back end slid out, I was instantly sitting backwards on the sidewalk, with steam rising from the crumpled hood.

Damn, Damn, Damn.

Jumping out of the car, my heart sank, the passenger door was pushed in at least four inches, then the frame was bent, and the car was junk.   Useless.   Totaled.

Damn, Damn, Damn.

Ok, I can pull the car around the corner and park her for the night and deal with this tomorrow.   There were never any police in Canterbury.   The town just five miles away, with 22000 people had a note on the police door.   ‘This station is closed after ten PM, if there is an emergency, please call Canterbury Police station’.   Below was a phone number and an arrow pointing to the pay phone next to the door.

Just as I was climbing in the car, ready for my get-a-way, and a lone police car rounded the corner.

The police multiplied in moments.   One officer asked if I had been drinking, I said no.   And he left it at that.

I might get away with it!

They called the auto club for me.   And things were winding down.   When an officer came over and asked me to breath into the little black box.

It had been some time, I still might get away with it.

As I exhaled the little green light on top flashed.

Green light, blink, blink, blink, everything was going to be Ok.

When I stopped breathing, the red light stung, and I heard the deadly buzzer from a game show, and the audience laughs at my failure.

The politely asked me to climb in the back of the van.

I politely entered.

The police station was calm and quiet, None of the screaming you get in American TV shows.   There was paperwork and address to fill out and then they put me in the cell.

I don’t know what I was expecting but there were three cells lining a hallway.   Each was open, and each was empty.   They put me in the middle one and left the door open.

The Pleasant jail.

Opening my cigarette packet, and there was only one left.   I needed to smoke it, so I stood up and lent out the open door.

There was an officer doing paper work at the end of the hall.

“Um, Excuse me?”

He looked up.

“Um, can I smoke in here?”

You remember when you were kids, and were about to do something wrong, glancing back and forth to make sure the coast is clear.

That is what he did.

And then looked back at me and waving his hand forward said “yea.”

I sat back in my jail cell and smoked.

Not too long later, two officers came to get me, they were to take me home and check my passport.    I sat in the back of the patrol car looking at the officers on the other side of the metal grate.

The house I lived in was an old church rectory in the middle of nowhere.   I needed another cigarette, and knew I would never get one from where I lived at this time of night.

“Um, we couldn’t stop and buy cigarettes, could we?”

the two officers looked at each other, sighed and we pulled out of the station.

Through town, past the place of the accident and up the hill, and onto the motorway.

My mind wondered how to tell my parents.   “Hi mom, I smashed my car and got arrested for drunk driving, How’s life in California?”

How to get to school, it was a mile walk to the bus stop.

And what was court in England like.

They car pulled off the road, and stopped, outside a 24-hour gas station.   What?

And then my mind clicked, they were stopping to let me buy cigarettes.

Beautiful, wonderful, stupendous.

I pulled the door handle and nothing happened.   You can’t get out of the back of a police car.

The two officers looked at each other, the one on my side sighed, and climbed out to open the door for me.

I thanked them profusely as I climbed back into the police car.

And I realized on the final drive home, the thirty or so empty bottles of wine lining my windowsill from the party last week.

What would they think?

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