After closing time, I sat and smoked while Dan cleaned up behind the bar. We took a beer each to drink in the car. Our breath made clouds in the refrigerated interior until the ancient heater in his rattling Beetle brought the temperature up. We huddled in scarfs, hats and gloves as the lights followed the lines flickering down the middle of the road.
In the services, we flirted with Maureen, the Welsh lady behind the counter. She always gave us bigger portions of chips. Dan was relieved, he thought she might not like him anymore. The week before he’d asked how her husband was and she’d replied that he’d died the week before.
We sat by a window and watched the lonely lights make their way across the Severn Bridge. We didn’t talk much, just sipped our coffee, smoked and stared at the lights.
On the way back down the lanes, we hit patches of fog, the headlights lancing through the opaque swirls. As we came through Elberton it started to snow, white swirls against the black tarmac; beyond, the trees and hedgerows reeled past grey in the sweep of the headlights. The snow came down like a scratched negative on a reel to reel. The road became silver as the snowflakes settled.
Dan hit the brakes and we slithered to a halt.
They stood there, side by side and motionless, a mother and child, black eyes wide, sides flecked and smudged with white. Around them fat snowflakes whirled and flickered. The mother blinked in our headlights and turned, unhurrying, leading her child, leaping the hedgerow, gone.
The car chugged and shook. Dan looked across at me and we smiled, eyes alive.