Steve stood in the kitchen, washing the plates and putting the pans and casserole dish away after a curry he had eaten alone. His wife Jen came in. He heard the key go around in the front door. He heard Jen open the door and close it behind her. He heard the television. Jen hadn't even spoken to him. That's how their marriage usually was. Tonight, Steve decided he should do something about it. What was going on? What had happened to Jen? Was she having an affair?
Steve finished the washing up and went into the front room.
"Turn the television off," he said. "We need to talk."
"I want to watch Emmerdale," she said, the remote control in her hand, flicking through a long list of programmes that had appeared on the screen.
"Emmerdale can wait. They're all recorded. We need to talk."
"About us. You come in at night so late and say you've been at the office, and then you work in a shop at the weekend. I hardly ever see you. Then, when I do see you, you're aloof. You come in here, you turn the television on, you don't even speak to me. What's wrong, Jen? Is there somebody else?"
"No, there isn't anybody else, it's you. You've never understood me. You've never taken any interest in me. You just ignore me and treat me as if I wasn't there. Well, two can play at that game. Maybe it's easier that we don't talk to eachother, because when we do talk, we argue. We always end up shouting at eachother. It's better not to talk, better not to get hurt."
"We love eachother."
"Love eachother?" Jen laughed sarcastically. "We can't even stand eachother. That's why I work so much overtime, that's why I took a second job in the shop at weekends, to get away from you."
"Come on Jen, it can't be that bad."
"Oh, it is that bad, it is."
"What have I done?"
"You've always been a mean, cynical, bad tempered little creep and I guess I just never noticed. You live in this house as if it was a hotel, because I paid for it, and you've never had a steady job, no, not in a million years."
"It's not my fault I was made redundant," said Steve.
"I am a manager, I do understand the laws of economics. I have made people redundant myself. My concern is that you have no other reason for wanting to live with me. I am not your wife, I am more like your mother. But even your mother is someone that you get on with better than you ever got on with me. At least you and your mother can have a civil conversation, which is more than we've had for a long time." Jen was laughing and crying at the same time, the stress lines showing on her face. "Steve, go to your mother." She took off her wedding ring and threw it on the floor by his feet. "Go to your mother. Go to someone you actually care about."
Steve walked out of the house and slammed the front door behind him. He climbed into his rusty, unwashed hatchback that was parked in the street outside. His wife's new Mercedes had pride of place on the drive. He zoomed down the main road. He passed a speed camera at 45 miles an hour. It flashed. Steve wasn't worried. He had other things on his mind. He drove on to the motorway. He put his foot down just to see how fast the car could go. But how fast was it going? It was only doing 85. Perhaps 85 was fast enough. Just get away from Jen, the house that he didn't live in anymore, the mother that he didn't want to see because he would be so embarrassed. What would he say? My wife just threw her wedding ring on the carpet, Mum. All right, she'd ask, why? How would he explain?
Harry and John were attaching a trailer to the back of their church minibus.
"We haven't got any tarpaulin," said Harry.
"Tarpaulin?" asked John.
"You can't just put the bags in like that. At sixty miles an hour, they'll fall out. And in the great British weather, no doubt they'll get wet. I should have got some. I should have thought." Harry went into the house with his mobile phone. He called someone. "Have you got any tarpaulin for my trailer? Well, you're a fat lot of good, aren't you?" John watched as Harry called number after number, asking the same question. Eventually Harry said, "Stan can give us some tarpaulin, but we'll have to go to Torquay to get it. That means driving a hundred miles with an empty trailer."
"I've got an idea," said John. "Halfords doesn't close until 8 o' clock. We've still got time to go there."
"Great," said Harry, "we could buy some tarpaulin."
"We're going to be late," said Sally. "I've been calling the traffic line on my mobile. There's an accident on the motorway. We'll have to get to Plymouth on the winding, country roads."
"I've got six people to pick up," said Harry. "It'll be one o' clock in the morning by the time we get there."
They got into the minibus. They called at everybody's houses and picked them up. At half past seven they arrived at Halfords. Harry and John went into the shop and returned with some tarpaulin.
"It's the biggest bit they had," said Harry, looking slightly anxious. "I hope it's big enough." Harry and John worked for half an hour, putting everybody's bags into the trailer, stretching the tarpaulin over the top and tying it up. At last they were ready. At five past eight the bus finally drove on to the motorway. It was a long drive. They could not stay on the motorway for long, and at nine o' clock they had to turn off and follow the diversion along a series of A roads.
"This is going to be a long trip," said John. "It only takes four hours on the motorway. It's going to take all night if we have to go to Plymouth down these little A roads."
"How long does it take to get to Piddledon Farm from Plymouth?" asked Sally.
"Not long," said Harry, "we can get back on the motorway after Plymouth." By the time they got back on the motorway it was 11 o' clock.
"Just put your foot down, Harry, and get there as quick as you can," said Sally. "It's only eighty miles. It'll only take an hour."
"This minibus is limited to 65 miles an hour," said Harry. "It's going to take an hour and a quarter."
"I want to go to the toilet," said Simon, who was eight years old.
"Can you hold on until we get to the motorway services?" asked Harry.
"I've been holding on all night," said Simon.
"I could stop on the hard shoulder," said Harry.
"The services are not far," said Simon's mother. "Don't take too much notice of him, he does make a fuss." Harry pulled into the services and Simon's mother took him to the toilet. By the time they got back on the motorway it was half past eleven. At a quarter to twelve, Kelly said,
"I feel sick." Harry had to look for the next services and pull in there. Kelly left to go the toilets.
"I think we'd better accept that this is going to be a terrible drive," said Harry. "Never mind, we can all enjoy a long lie in at Piddledon Farm tomorrow morning." By the time they got back on the motorway it was midnight. At quarter past midnight a baby began to cry.
"I need to feed the baby," said Diana. Once again, the bus had to pull into the motorway services. By the time they got away again, it was half past twelve.
Steve was still driving his rusty, unwashed hatchback. Five hours at eighty five miles an hour on a motorway had taken him an enormous distance. He had come all the way from Glasgow to the south west of England and realised he was running out of road. What lay beyond the road? The sea. Yes, Steve would drive into the sea. Get away from it all. Jen, mother, the house, his temporary job, all of it. He picked up his mobile phone. He dialled Jen's number. By this time she'd turned off the phone and gone to bed. Steve left a message.
"Jen, by the time you hear this, I'll be dead. I'm driving my car over the cliffs into the sea tonight, and it's all thanks to you, it's all your fault, you are to blame. You will feel guilty for the rest of your life. Goodbye forever." Steve could see the road sign for the motorway that led to Penzance. It was just off this roundabout. Steve saw the sign that said 'Reduce Speed Now.' He ignored it. He had other things on his mind. He saw the roundabout, took his foot off the accelerator, and turned the steering wheel. This slowed him down slightly, but the tyres screeched. He was still doing fifty miles an hour. He saw the minibus in front of him. It wasn't doing fifty miles an hour. He applied the brake. There wasn't time to stop. With another screech of tyres Steve's car plunged into the trailer. The tarpaulin that Harry and John had tried so hard to get tore in two. Suitcases and bags went flying everywhere. Steve got out of the car, stood in the middle of the road, and shouted,
"God, or whoever you are, I don't need you. I can decide what I want to do with my life and I have decided to end it, right here, right now. I can die if I want to die. I will kill myself." Steve was at least twenty miles away from Land's End. He couldn't plunge into the sea. He walked in front of a lorry that was coming around the roundabout. The driver was looking for the right exit and was patiently reading the signs. He wasn't going very fast. There was another screech of tyres and the lorry stopped. Sarah came out of the minibus.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"I crashed the car. I opened the door and walked in front of the lorry. I didn't think. I am not crazy. I was not trying to kill myself."
"None of us are crazy," said Sarah. "I tried to kill myself last week. I took an overdose. The doctor wanted me to go to hospital. I didn't. He got nasty. He said I was dangerously suicidal and that he would have me admitted under the mental health act. I told him that I wasn't dangerously suicidal. God had healed me. Fortunately he believed me. Here I am."
"God?" asked Steve. "If there is a God, why does he allow things like this to happen?"
"God might ask, why do we allow things like this to happen to ourselves?" asked Sarah. Steve was shocked.
"You're right," he said, "why do we allow it to happen? Just because it's easier than trying to sort out all the problems you have with your wife, just because it's easier than trying to explain the problems you have with your wife to your family, we kill ourselves. We kill ourselves, and then we blame God. I've learnt something tonight." Steve looked at the car. The lights were smashed, the bonnet was bent and the front wheels were badly out of line. "What am I going to tell the insurance company?"
"Would you like us to pray with you?" asked Sarah.
"I would," said Steve, "I would, very much." Steve sat down in the minibus.
John gathered up the bags from the road. Harry detached the trailer.
"Should we call the police?" asked John.
"We don't really need to," said Harry. "No one was injured. Fortunately, the trailer took the impact. The car and the trailer aren't actually on the motorway, they're on the roundabout. People travel slowly on a roundabout, and where they are, it's easy enough for the traffic to go around them. Let's just leave the car and the trailer here and get going to Piddledon Farm." They got back into the minibus carrying the bags and suitcases.
"Can everybody take their own bags with them?" asked John, as they handed everyone their luggage.
"I feel so clean, so forgiven," said Steve. "Can I come with you to the farm?"
"Yes, certainly," said Harry. When they arrived it was one o' clock in the morning. Paul opened the door of the farmhouse.
"Hello," he said. "Is everyone all right? I heard you had an accident."
"We met a new friend on the motorway," said Sarah.
"Hello," said Steve. "I'm the driver of the car that crashed into the minibus and I became a Christian tonight. I wanted to end my life but God has given me a new life, he's given me a second chance."
"Praise the Lord," said Paul. "Let me show you upstairs to your rooms."
The next morning Steve woke up at ten o' clock. He felt wonderful. He had been saved. He was full of the joy of the Lord. Hymns he had learnt at school seemed to make sense to him. "We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land," Steve sang to himself, looking out of the window at the farm and the fields of wheat. Then he thought, oh no, he'd left that message on the mobile for Jen. She would think that he'd killed himself. He'd better hurry up and phone her and tell her that he hadn't. He picked up the mobile. He rang her number.
"Jen," he said.
"Steve!" shrieked Jen, before he had the chance to say anything else. "You sent me that message just to frighten me. You made it all up. You were never going to drive your car over the cliff. That is just typical, that is just typical of the way that you treat me all the time. You know how to frighten me, you know how to bully me and intimidate me, you know how to control me."
"Jen, I was going to drive my car off the cliff, but I crashed into a minibus twenty miles from Land's End."
"Twenty miles from Land's End? Steve, you live in Glasgow."
"I drove all night."
"In that rusty old hatchback? You wouldn't even have got as far as Land's End."
"The minibus belonged to a local church who live on a farm. I've been wonderfully saved. Now I'm a Christian. I'm staying in a religious community."
"Where is this community?"
"On a farm in a place called Piddledon."
"Piddledon? Is that supposed to be funny?"
"Jen, it's true. Don't you believe me?"
"That is the most stupid excuse I have ever heard. Steve, you're not even religious. You don't even watch the God channel."
"I want you to forgive me."
"Forgive you? Forgive you for wasting the last seven years of my life?"
"The last seven years haven't been so bad. You're the one with the Mercedes. You're the one with the house."
"Oh, maybe I should join a religious community. Maybe I can see that man doth not live by bread alone. Thanks to my relationship with you Steve, I haven't had any children and the biological clock is running out. You want to be religious? You want me to forgive you? Well, this is what you should do. Pray for me to find another husband, who can give me two nice children by the time I'm forty, don't call me on the phone again, and don't come back." After that the line went dead.
"Hello Jen," said Steve, "hello Jen, can you hear me? Oh well, I wish I hadn't bothered."