When the funeral was over (he refused a wake), he hopped into the Renault and drove down to Sussex, a jerrycan on the passenger seat. The car still smelled plastic to him and was full of disturbing buttons and lights which left him feeling he didn?t know how it was being driven, or if it was being driven by him at all. It began to smell of petrol, too.
He parked the Renault alongside the row of old garages at the edge of the field, just outside Bury at the foot of the South Downs, and walked to his own unit. The ground was muddy but drying in the sun. He unlocked the old-fashioned wooden garage door, switched on the light on the inside, and there she was. The old Jag.
An XJ40, she was, built at the end of the eighties but looking like something out of the seventies, which was when they?d started developing her. Those were the days of British Leyland, when it took more than a decade to get a new car into production. She was the last Jaguar worked on by?the company?s founder William Lyons.
A Jaguar 3.6 litre engine (a version of the AJ6 inline six). It was said the engineers deliberately designed the car to prevent British Leyland sticking a Rover engine inside her, as they had planned to do, since that would have meant the end of Jaguar engine production. A car from the bad, mad old days. From his own bad, mad old days.
?You?ll need a hobby,? his friends had told him when he?d retired. ?She?ll drive you mad, if you stay at home. There?ll be jobs to do, errands to run, weeds to be dug. You won?t know whether you?re coming or going before long. Get out of the house. Get a hobby.?
So he?d bought the car, for next to nothing. And had then spent thousands of pounds and thousands of hours nursing her back to health, avoiding his wife?s domain, returning at the end of the day for meals and socialising, for television and board games, for holiday organisation and worries about the children. It had been like working, really. A new 9-to-5 to replace the old one.
He got out from under her feet, and avoided getting trampled. And now those feet were still.
He started the car up, and drove her out of the garage, down into Bury, and then up Bury Hill, through Coombe Wood, on to the old London Road and then up on the Downs. He took the old Jag off the road and into an empty car park, along a track. Mud spat onto her sides and slowed her down. He stopped, and stepped out.
So many hours spent with her, while his wife lived the life she lived while he had worked. His refuge from his wife?s world. No longer required.
He was holding the jerrycan, transferred from Renault to Jag to hand without noticing. He splashed petrol on the luxury leather seats, front and back. Then he flipped open his old lighter, unused for more than a decade. It fired up first time (British-made, 1970s, naturally). He threw it into the interior, and stepped away.
The old Jag lit up like a barge on the Ganges, and burned itself away. He thought of his wife?s little Renault, waiting patiently down by the garage. He thought of the walk down the hill. He thought of driving back home. And then he walked back to the Jag, like an old banker heading to work in 1973.