Last night I came home from work, sat my wife and two young children (7 and 10 years old) down, and said
'I have a story to tell you and I swear that it is true. When I've finished I want you to give the story a score out of ten.'
They just laughed, pretty much used to me stringing them along, but I had a captive audience. Mrs B was just out of the shower and, it being late, the kids were keen to do anything other than go to bed. So they listened. It went like this.
A few days ago I was on a business trip to Cork city with a work colleague. We left early and travelled together in her car. She insisted on doing all the driving. That meant a four hour round trip and we sandwiched that around a meeting with hospital consultants, bump-starting and then jump-starting her car, and a national conference on Diabetes. It was a long day. I could tell she was getting worn out towards the end of the driving (no comments on her driving prowess and yes, I had offered). I was chattering away and getting fed up of listening to my own voice. She was probably tired of listening but too polite to say so.
It was early evening when we pulled into the car park back at base. Most folk had gone home. I thanked her for the day and headed into my darkened room for half an hour, supposedly to catch up on work email. Peril had sold a few copies, the blog traffic was good, Ruby_Barnes tweeted some nonsense. Then I went out to my cold car and drove home.
About an hour later my friend left the building. Dark and windy, autumn leaves wafting around the odours of early fall. She walked over to her car, parked in a now dimly lit area beneath some big old chestnut trees, and climbed back in behind the wheel for the drive home to her family.
She turned the key and started the engine. Roaring and screaming came from somewhere outside the car. There was nothing to see through the windows but the noise was too terrible to ignore. She switched off the engine, opened the door and stepped out. There was no-one and nothing around. Just fallen leaves and the prickly husks of horse chestnuts. No attack victims, no tortured animals. But the noise continued and a banging started to come from underneath her car. She bent down to have a look and found a man on the ground under her car, clothes torn and covered in blood. He was trapped under the engine.
Two other colleagues were still at work. They raised the alarm and soon the Guards (police) and an ambulance arrived. The car was lifted and paramedics eased the blood-soaked man from under my friend's car. She was distraught, wondering whether she had run him over somewhere between Cork and Kilkenny and he had clung for his life to the undercarriage, the flesh torn from his back by the rough country roads. Or he'd been the last customer at the golf pitch and putt course next to our offices and we'd run him down when he'd squatted to retie his shoelace or something.
(At this point my kids were spellbound and my wife was looking at me through narrowed eyes.)
The Guards and ambulance crew managed to piece together what had occurred. During the extra hour that my friend had been working in the office, a tramp had been sitting on a stone bench near the car park, drinking from a bottle. He dropped his bottle and it rolled under the car. The guy crawled under the car for his booze and managed to get his head wedged between the ground and the engine. In his drunken thrashing he broke the glass bottle and cut himself on it. There was a lot of blood but his condition wasn't life threatening.
My friend was traumatised by the experience and vowed never to work late again in case someone crawled under her car and injured themselves. The drunk was taken off to the local hospital for stitches and is probably now back on the loose with his new set of battle scars.
The listeners' verdict:
Mrs B scored me zero out of ten and said I had committed a basic story-telling error and failed to suspend disebelief. It couldn't possibly be true, the tale was probably only partially accurate and I had embellished it. She wasn't impressed.
My daughter gave me ten out of ten. She was gripped by the story, horrified at times and slightly relieved by the ending.
Seven out of ten was the score from my seven year-old son. He said he would have given full marks if the tramp had died.
Just because true life is stranger than fiction doesn't mean that it's believable. Or maybe it's the way I tell 'em. Perhaps I should switch from thrillers to YA.
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