Maribel piled the kids into the car. Two were her own, one belonged to a friend. She’d offered to drive them all on their outing, to let the other mum have a day off. They squeezed into the backseat and secured their seatbelts. She double-checked them all. They were effervescent, brimming with excitement for the ski slope. They lived in a country where snow was a sporadic visitor. It might have snowed ten times in Maribel’s life, twenty at a push. The slope was a manmade construction, but snowflakes or artificial snow bristles, the kids were happy to go. Maribel was in her mid-thirties, married, living with the cruise control on. She was driving along the same road she travelled every week to her parents’ house. She knew every turn of the road without looking. But she still looked; she was a cautious driver. She didn’t take chances with many things; she feared unpredictable outcomes. The thirty-zone changed to a fifty-zone. She moved to the inside lane, just to be on the safe side. The kids were chattering in the backseat, but Maribel had gotten used to concentrating on the road through boisterous background noise. At least they weren’t bickering, and they’d be there soon. The slope was only a twenty-minute drive from her house, but she had never seen it before. She was curious as to how it worked and hoped nobody would hurt themselves. The road swung in bends, left and right, until she reached a set of traffic lights; her turn. Moving into the right lane, she slowed down for the turn; all clear on the other side. A car ploughed through the light, coming in the opposite direction, out of nowhere.

“What are you doing?” she said, in a whisper.

Time slowed down, and she thought they’d made it. The beaten-up car barged its way into the tail end of her own, sending it into a spin. She slammed on the brakes. There was no screeching, no tear of tyres, no sound of crushed metal like she would have expected; just a hollow bump and the cries of the children. She took a minute to compose herself. She couldn’t react. She wanted to calm the children down, but couldn’t find the words to do so in her frozen mind. The other driver was already outside her car. It had gone from beaten-up to written off. The bonnet had been plied open, the engine exposed. She hovered outside Maribel’s car, like a ghost of the crash that wouldn’t go away. The whole junction was backed up with traffic. There must have been fifty witnesses, but not one of them stopped to offer their help. With an intake of breath, she unbuckled her seatbelt and swung the car door open.

“What the hell were you doing?” asked the lady. She stood over her, tall and belligerent.

“Did you drive through a red light?” Maribel asked.

“I most certainly did not. You turned when you were meant to stop.”

“Your car wasn’t there when I turned.”

“You need your eyes checked.”

The lady pulled a phone from her pocket. It was the nineties, and Maribel didn’t own a mobile phone. She wasn’t going to ask to borrow that lady’s. She could tell that if they’d met in the supermarket or at the school gates, she’d have circumnavigated her. She seemed an opportunist from the outset, the type who didn’t pay her bills but never went without a reward. Maribel would have to climb the hill and knock on a stranger’s door, hoping they would have the goodwill to let her use their landline.

The lady was talking to someone she evidently knew well. She wasn’t giving much away and said “mmm hmm” at regular intervals. Maribel guessed it was her partner on the other end. The lady looked too severe to have successfully seduced anyone. She’d probably ensnared them instead.

“That was my boyfriend,” she said to Maribel. Her eyebrows lifted, along with her mood, like he’d provided a set solution that saved her ass from the whole situation.

“He says whatever we do, don’t phone the police.”

“Why not?”

“He says if we do, they’ll arrest both of us for dangerous driving.”

Something seemed off in Maribel’s gut, but fear stopped her from expressing it. She wasn’t going to destroy her driving record as much as she’d just damaged her husband’s car. The couple shared a car, but it was really his. He used it to get to and from work, unless their neighbour offered him a lift. If only their next-door neighbour hadn’t been so kindly that morning, thought Maribel, things might have been different. They had held up the traffic long enough. With two barely driveable cars, they moved their problem out of everyone else’s path. Every driver that passed them craned their neck to try to assess the situation, to work out who was at fault and sate their own curiosity. In the past, Maribel had been guilty of doing the same. But when you were one of those involved, it felt like barefaced insensitivity. She moved the car up onto the footpath and got the kids out. They had calmed down much more quickly than she had, returning to the game of I Spy they’d been playing right before the crash. The thrill of the accident had a certain childish charm, like playing on dodgems. They had no awareness of the adult consequences of the crash.

The two drivers exchanged details and parted company. There was something witchy about the woman that made Maribel feel like this wouldn’t be the last time she saw her, even if she only made a reappearance in her dreams.

She rounded the kids up and they traipsed up the hill behind her. It was early afternoon. She looked for signs of life in a house: tilted blinds, the sound of a vacuum cleaner, or a radio playing. There was a house with some gardening tools on the windowsill next to a half-drunk cup of tea. Maribel opened the metal gate and grimaced at its screech. She pushed the doorbell a couple of times. If it was working, she couldn’t hear it. Eventually, an older man opened the door. He looked at her like he suspected her of trying to sell him something, but he relaxed a little when he noticed the lack of pamphlets and the troop of kids behind her.

“We had a car accident. Would it be okay if we used your phone?”

“Of course, come in.”


The group walked into the house. The house was a little soulless, like the house of a widower. The hallway was so cold that icicles wouldn’t have looked misplaced there. One heater seemed to be responsible for heating the entire downstairs. Maribel walked to the phone, picked it up, and phoned her husband. She needed to know what to do. Had she forgotten anything essential? Was the car safe to drive? Her mind was too inundated with worries to offer her clear answers to those questions.

Maribel returned the receiver to its hook and turned to thank the man. The room was jammed with cardboard boxes that lay unfilled.

“Are you moving house?”

“Yeah, my son’s putting me into a home.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“So am I. I’ve lived in this house for fifty years. Since my wife died, nobody thinks I’m capable of looking after myself.”

“Sorry to hear that. Can you refuse to leave?”

“I’ve refused to pack. He can do it if he wants me to move. I won’t go anywhere quietly,” he smirked.

“Good for you. Thanks for your help, I was really stuck. What’s your name?”

“Terry Watson. Yours?”

“Maribel Moore.”

“What happened to your car?”

“I don’t know. I was turning up your hill and a car flew through the light and hit me. It just came out of nowhere.”

“The other driver was at fault?”

“I think so. She was well over the speed limit. No one would believe that, though, because I was the one turning across her.”

“Make sure they know that. Don’t take the blame if you weren’t at fault. What time did it happen at?”

“Must have been about 1PM.”

He seemed to want a lot of specific answers, but elderly people were like that. When they didn’t have anything to occupy their minds with, they looked for specifics on the news, or, failing that, in other people’s lives.

“Well, thanks again. Take care.”

She looked down at the man’s shoes and gave him a smile. They were purple and incompatible with the rest of his outfit.

“I like your shoes. They’ve got personality.”

“Thanks,” he smiled. “Take care. Don’t let that driver away with saying you were the one at fault.”

“Thanks, hope the move goes okay, if you can’t get out of it.”

“Believe me, I’ll try.”

Maribel smiled at him, wishing she could borrow some of his courage.

She descended the hill to her car, climbing in and tentatively turning the key in the ignition. The thought of driving home was more than she could bear, but she had to deliver her friend’s child home. She’d already involved her in a car accident and caused her to miss her trip to the ski slope. She couldn’t have her back later than her mother was expecting her, too. Maribel’s fear of consequences was confronting her head on.


Several months later, Maribel was due to go to court. Who was at fault still hadn’t been decided, but she already knew what the outcome would be. She looked across at the other driver as they waited in the hallway outside the courtroom. She could hear the lady’s partner speaking to her in hushed tones, something about third-party insurance. Maribel couldn’t remember what that meant. There was something devious about the way they were murmuring to one another. Maybe, she hoped, they could agree on a settlement. The other lady would get a new car out of it, and she’d get less than full fault on her record. That seemed like the fairest exchange she could hope for.

Maribel’s lawyer approached her.

“A witness has come forward,” he said.


“A gentleman who says he witnessed the crash and the other driver was at fault.”

Maribel followed the suited figures into the courtroom. She looked towards the floor, gathering her thoughts. A line of black heels clicked in along the polished floor, a purple pair of shoes amidst them.

She raised her eyes to Terry’s face. He smiled at her.

“I like the loud colour of your shoes.”

“I won’t go anywhere quietly,” he smirked.