‘No, not the Jeep,’ she repeated. ‘The GTC4.’
When her husband stared daggers, she added ‘Lusso,’ and asked, ‘How’s my accent, Dave? Luuussssoh. Lovely word, no? Lovely idea!’
‘But it’s so off the beaten track,’ he protested. ‘The roads will be full of holes. Not to mention the dog, for God’s sake. The upholstery!’
‘It’s a puppy, Dave. If it wees, we’ll wipe it off.’
‘I need the car for work,’ he said abruptly. ‘Take the Jeep.’
‘Two hundred and fifty grand’s worth of Italian design to rev up under the sales girls’ window? Rummm, rummm!’
But now she had begun to mimic him. ‘I would never have bought a Ferrari, Mum’ – she deepened her voice – ‘if they hadn’t come out with this four-seater. I want the whole family to enjoy it. I’ll have it insured for all of us to drive.’
Dave didn’t know what to say. They were the very words he had pronounced two months ago over dinner with his parents.
‘I’m taking it,’ she said.
‘I’m coming with you, then,’ he announced.
Susan’s eyes opened wide. ‘Incredible, a holiday with my workaholic hubby, because he’s worried about his Ferrari! There’s lusso for you!’
Dave kept his treasure in the garage under the house. Just the knowledge that it was down there, gleaming softly in the darkness, seemed to change the whole nature of their domestic life. Everything appeared a little shabby in comparison, not quite up to scratch.
All at once, Dave had the impression they needed to dress better, have the parquet sanded, upgrade the furniture. Instead, at 50, Susan had suddenly got it into her head she needed a dog. ‘If you can have a Ferrari, I can have a dog,’ she declared. The children were thrilled. But while Dave had supposed there must be any number of dogs to buy in West London, now, after a month trawling the net, his wife had identified the creature of her dreams in a village called Bargrennan, five miles north of Newton Stewart, in Galloway, Scotland. It seemed a hell of a drive for a mutt, he thought.
At a wintry 7am he made the others wait on the road outside, worried the chassis might grate at the top of the ramp with four on board. Their younger son had preferred his football training, but Rachel, their daughter, had brought along her friend Tracy who apparently knew an enormous amount about dogs. So there were two giggling 18-year-olds in the back. Every time Dave glanced in the mirror he found Tracy’s bright eyes and red mouth. She looked more grown up than Rachel. It was distracting.
‘Rather retro,’ Susan remarked on Western Avenue of the dashboard design. ‘These air vents in particular. Like something from Millennium Falcon, don’t you think?’
‘Shut up, Mum. You’re such a Grinch!’
‘I think it’s fabulous,’ Tracy sighed. ‘Really unbelievably beautiful.’ Again, Dave met her eyes in the mirror. Her lips had that fresh-as-wet-paint look. On the M40 he put his foot down.
‘Noisy,’ Susan needled.
‘Love that roar!’ Rachel cried. ‘Love it! Power! Dad, you’re my hero.’
Was she joking, Dave wondered? Was Tracy staring on purpose?
Towards Oxford the rain began. Towards Birmingham the sleet. Beyond Stoke the snow. At Cranage there were road works. Skirting Manchester an accident.
‘I wonder if the proud Ferrari owner is ever going to let me drive,’ Susan pondered over lunch at Lancaster Services.
‘Maybe when the road is not so slippery,’ he said.
‘I have a licence too,’ Rachel observed.
‘And me!’ Tracy said. She smiled frankly over her burger.
The girls listened to music. Susan pretended to sleep. As the snow fell thicker, Dave concentrated on his driving. The car seemed to draw him in into its quiet purposefulness. Everything was so responsive. Yet so solid. All the instruments so perfectly placed. And he was part of its hum, partook of its marvellous precision. All of a sudden it seemed to Dave Stafford that he was the perfect, no, the only possible driver for this perfect vehicle. As if the two of us were one, he thought.
‘Weird being overtaken by a Skoda,’ Susan remarked.
Dave wouldn’t rise to the bait. It wasn’t about speed.
Towards 3pm they were negotiating tight bends and narrow lanes in the Scottish countryside. ‘In 100 yards, turn left,’ the navigator announced. ‘Turn left!’ it insisted, which was odd because there was no road; just a gate in a stone wall and beyond it a snow-covered track.
‘Is this wise?’ Susan asked. Three windswept miles later, gloating all the way over the car’s excellent four-wheel drive, Dave turned into a farmyard where at once the bright red GTC4Lusso was surrounded by yelping dogs.
For two hours then they drank tea and ate buttered scones in a warm kitchen trying to decide between half a dozen black-and-white Border Collie pups tumbling over each other on the hearthrug. The girls got down on the floor and rolled around with them. The farmer’s wife, who bred the animals, pulled out sheaves of certificates to demonstrate their pedigree. Dave was just relieved the snow had stopped.
Except that, towards evening, it was the farmer himself who drove them in his Land Rover to the House O’Hill Hotel. He would pull out the Ferrari in the morning with his neighbour’s tractor, he said. He smiled wryly as he spoke. But how could Dave have possibly known that while they sat safe and sound in the kitchen his precious Ferrari was sinking into eight inches of manure hidden beneath a deceptive crust of icy snow? ‘We levelled the pit, Monday,’ the farmer explained. ‘I never imagined anyone would park on it.’
Then in the night Dave fell down the stairs. Unable to sleep, he had set off to find something to drink and missed his footing. Ankle heavily twisted, he spent the trip home discovering the back seat of his beloved Ferrari. And it would have been wonderfully comfortable, he thought, had not Ricky, the newly christened puppy, been absolutely determined to make friends and lick his nose. ‘You look so cute,’ Tracy cried when she met his eyes in the mirror as she drove. Watch the bloody road, he wanted to scream.
The girl had lost all attraction. Leaning against his shoulder, Susan whispered, ‘We should make up Dave. This beauty really deserves two happy owners, don’t you think?’
They were the first cheering words he had heard.
‘You’re right, it really is a fantastic car. Love you, Susan.’