By Jim Murphy
(Winner of first prize in the Eastern Writers Group Biggest Little Short Story Competition 2007)
“Mrs Bates, you must stop driving.”
Edna dreaded her doctor’s order but knew he was right. Her eyesight was failing and her thirty-year-old Mazda was close behind.
“l know,” she thought that night, “l’Il give it away.”
Next morning, she drove to a nearby shopping centre, parking near the entrance. She left the key in the ignition and a sign on the windscreen reading “TAKE ME – I’M YOURS”.
Problem solved, she thought, and went home by cab.
The old car caused great interest until the Mullins brothers cycled up. Terry, the older brother, was nearly eighteen and had driven illegally many times.
‘Let’s take it,’ pleaded Paul, but Terry had spotted a clutch pedal. He desperately wanted a car, but manual transmission terrified him. He knew he wouldn’t be able to drive it out of the carpark.
“No,” he declared. “It’s too old and small.”
Paul persisted, “Terry, it’s a free car!”
“It’s a bomb!” Terry shouted as he cycled away.
Eric, walking nearby, was alarmed to hear the word “bomb”. He told security guard Ted that two Arab-looking youths had raced away from the ominously abandoned car. Ted checked the Mazda from a distance, and then rang his boss to report a terrorist threat. Alarmed, his boss immediately contacted the Federal Police, explaining “No one just leaves a car!”
Instantly the highly trained and underused anti-terrorist unit sprang into action. In fifteen minutes fifty police had surrounded the carpark. Terrified shoppers fought to escape the shopping centre, spurred by shouts of “Don’t panic, Bomb!” from helmeted, armed men in black. From a helicopter above, Sergeant Parker was lowered. A bomb expert, Parker checked the Mazda’s ability to be moved, and supervised as it was painstakingly dragged onto a truck and escorted away.
In a special bombproof bunker, Parker earnestly went to work. He was a man of heroic mould, thorough, obedient, and totally heedless of mortal danger. Carefully and systematically he removed the doors, the wheels, the radiator, the tyres and the seats. He cut the ignition wires, pulled out linings and checked the boot’s contents by removing the rear seats rather than risk simply opening it. After a day of intense effort, he declared to his superior that the Mazda had never been a bomb of the exploding variety.
His superior was bitterly disappointed. Nevertheless, he issued a statement asserting that, through courage and preparedness, another battle against terrorism had been won. The statement made spectacular television news and front-page headlines.
The Mazda, eventually restored by Parker to its approximately original condition, was handed over to the state police. Constable Williams, after four months in the force, was assigned to drive the old car back to Mrs Bates.
“I’ve brought your car back,” he explained, after parking it in her drive. He noted her age, confusion, and total bewilderrnent. Dementia, he thought.
In the gentlest voice he could muster he said, “Mrs Bates, I think you must stop driving.”