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Sport 35: Winter 2007

Amy Howden-Chapman — The Road to Hell

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Amy Howden-Chapman

The Road to Hell

Dear Selena,

The last time I saw you, you said, 'I'll hear from you tomorrow.'

'Even if it's bad news?' I asked.

'I'll hear from you tomorrow,' you repeated, 'good news, or bad.'

But I'm sorry to say, Selena, that you never did hear from me, I never rang, and you didn't ring me, because that was not the plan, nor your job. I paid you to tell me to do things—indicate, change into first, slow down, slow down. My role was to carry out all your instructions—which I did, to a point, but not to the end.

You, Selena, are surely the final nail in my coffin. I can no longer shy away from the fact that similar things have been occurring, or not occurring, as it were, for quite some time. The toilet was the beginning. From the moment I opened the door, the sound of the torrent came rushing towards me. The toilet was continuously flushing. That had been earlier in the afternoon, when I only had work to get back to, and so had spent quite some time bashing the flusher. Eventually this course of action succeeded, and the torrent finally ceased.

At 6:10 I couldn't wait to get out of there. I shut down, washed my cup, rinsed my teaspoon, ran down the corridor, and opened the door to that sound, there again. I peed into the savage flow, then bashed the button, and bashed again, but nothing stopped, bash, bash, the rapid remained rapid. Should I call someone? Who would I call? Everyone else had already left the office to begin their weekends. There was no one around to even tell me who I might call and ask to come. I closed the lid on the sound, then the door, and then I left. I'm going to go to hell for that, I thought, as I thought of the water wasted in a weekend's worth of flushing. But I now realise, Selena, that there are many things that I could be sent down for.

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She and you, the two of you have been brought together across time and space. To me, you have become connected, united by the way I let you both down. I think of you, small, curved and direct; you have hair, she has no hair. Her head was almost shaved, nothing more than a pale moss—cancer was my first thought, followed by vegan. As we pulled out of our street and began the drive down the hill, I thought I could faintly hear my name; it was disconcerting. And then there she was beside us, wobbling as she tried to keep control of her bike on the slope, while trying even harder to get our attention. She kept yelling my name, and lurching and signalling.

'I don't know who that is,' I declared, terrified, to my father, who was trying to drive without killing her. 'I have no idea who that is.' I began to wind down my window; she was trying to talk to us. 'We'll pull over,' said my father. We lurched over.

'No digital technology,' she declared to me, while I was still getting out of the car. 'It can only be done by word of mouth, promise.' I promised. It must be a surprise party I thought, no wonder she was trying to track me down. I love surprise parties. But it was not a party. The plan was to chain oneself to The Bypass. 'Six a.m., that's pretty early,' I said.

'Well that's when it opens,' she said. 'But just word of mouth, can you tell your friends, tell them, but only by word of mouth.'

'Amy's been planning to make signs,' my father told her.

'That's what I heard,' she said, 'I heard you were planning something.'

'I haven't made them yet,' I said, 'but I'm planning to.'

'Great, great, that would be great,' she said.

'They're just going to be pretty straight to the point,' I said. 'The first one will say, This Bypass Cost 40 Million Dollars. The second one will say, By using it you are contributing to Global Warming.'

'Great great,' she said again. She was still panting from her pursuit of us.

'And the third one will say, Next time, ask for public transport.'

'It's an art project as well as a protest,' said my father.

'Sort of,' I said.

That night someone invited me to a dinner party. I like dinner parties, but it did mean that somehow the signs never quite got made.

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The next morning on the radio they reported a 'small group of five protesters'. Six a.m. just seemed so early.

In the evening after my driving test, I went to an 'eat-the-garden' dinner party. The garden had to be eaten, because the whole house was being moved to the Wairarapa, or Hawkes Bay, or somewhere flat, where they don't have enough old houses of their own so they have to take ours. The garden would then be bulldozed and, by the look of the rest of the street, a large grey concrete double-garage beast house would be built in its place.

Does a larger wrong (bulldozers) make a lesser wrong less wrong? It's hard to say, but the fact that I was in such a celebratory mood that evening certainly seemed to suppress the sense of sin—the sinful act of eating the half-grown. I ate the adolescent rocket, and the barely-born lettuce and as much sage as I could stomach.

After we had demolished the garden we moved inside and Biddy started giving away the things that were not worth moving to her new house. She gave Raphe a pelican made out of a selection of mostly red paisley curtain material. She gave Esther a woven metal bowl which Esther refused to give to me. She gave Mike a primitive pre-plastic mechanical shaver shaped like a kidney, and as heavy and glossy as ivory. We conga-lined through the house chanting 'Goodbye to the how-ouse, goodbye to the how-ouse' and stamping our feet. The line disintegrated somewhat when I led us out into the garden, and Biddy looked slightly sad. I was not sure how a conga line could make anyone sad, but she said that she had been hoping to conga through every room in the house, as a way of saying a proper goodbye. We had missed the kitchen, bathroom, and storeroom. Selena, there is no way we would have made it out of the storeroom without doing a three-point turn, and as you know they are far from my specialty.

Dear Selena, I fear that one day I may pull up to an intersection next to you. You will look through your window, through the gap between our vehicles, and through my window, and see that I am driving myself, driving alone. You will see that I am no longer a learner, that I have become a restricted driver, and that I never bothered to tell you. The shame would be too much to bear. I will never drive again.