The New Car
Mrs. Miniver woke up one morning with a sense of doom, a knowledge that the day contained something to be dreaded. It was not a crushing weight, such as an operation, or seeing one's best friend off to live in Tasmania; nor was it anything so light as a committee meeting, or a deaf uncle to tea: it was a kind of welter-weight doom.
At first it puzzled her. So far as she knew, she had no appointments that day, either pleasant or unpleasant, and that in itself was good. To be entirely at leisure for one day is to be for one day an immortal: according to the Chinese proverb she ought to have been feeling god-like. But the small, dull weight continued to drag and nag.
Clem put his head in, dishevelled from a bath. Not for the first time, she felt thankful that she had married a man whose face in the ensuing sixteen years had tended to become sardonic rather than sleek. It was difficult to tell, when people were young and their cheek-lines were still pencilled and delible. Those beautiful long lean young men so often filled out into stage churchwardens at forty-five. But she had been lucky, or had a flair; Clem's good looks were wearing well. The great thing, perhaps, was not to be too successful too young.
At the moment his expression was anything but sardonic.
"She ought to be here by nine, " he said eagerly, and vanished.
Mrs. Miniver remembered with a bump, felt dismayed, knew that her dismay was unreasonable, and tried to argue it out of existence. A new car was a thing to be pleased over; it was high time they had one. The old Leadbetter had got to the stage when nothing less than an expensive overhaul would do any good; it had developed sinister fumes, elusive noises, incurable draughts; it was tiring for Clem on his long drives. And a week ago, when Clem, straight from the Motor Show, had spent the whole evening musing happily over catalogues, she had realized that the game was up. Her usual attitude -- that they didn't really need a new car -- was plainly untenable, and this time she could not even fall back upon a plea for economy. They could perfectly well afford it now. Clem's plans for the new building estate had gone through; and there was the Vanderhoops country house as well -- a plum. Besides, this scene had been replayed, with variations, many times, and they both knew that the basis of her invariable reluctance about new cars was not thrift but sentiment. She simply could not endure the moment when the old one was driven away.
Mrs. Miniver was a fool about inanimate objects. She had once bid furiously at an auction for a lot described as "Twelve kitchen chairs; also a small wicker knife-basket. " Clem, knowing the size of their kitchen, made urgent signals to her across the room. She stopped bidding, and the lot was knocked down to someone else for more than its value by a grateful but mystified auctioneer. "You got mixed up in the lot numbers, didn't you? " Clem said afterwards.
"No, " she said, guiltily. "I'm awfully sorry. It was that knife-basket. I suddenly thought so wretched not to be grand enough to be in a lot by itself just tagged on to kitchen chairs like that. Clem -- a small wicker knife-basket. . . . "
As for cars, they were in a class apart, somewhere between furniture and dogs. It wasn't, with her, a question of the pathetic fallacy. She did not pretend to herself that cars had souls or even minds (though anybody, seeing the difference that can exist between one mass-produced car and another, might be excused for believing that they have at least some embryonic form of temperament). No, it was simply a matter of mise en scène. A car, nowadays, was such an integral part of one's life, provided the aural and visual accompaniment to so many of one's thoughts, feelings, conversations, decisions, that it had acquired at least the status of a room in one's house. To part from it, whatever its faults, was to lose a familiar piece of background.
She got up and turned on her bath. Even through the rushing of the water she could hear the old Leadbetter coming down the square: a garage-hand brought it round every morning just before nine. She listened for the gearchange as it picked up speed after the corner, then for the squeal of the brake, the stopping of the engine, the slamming of the door, the man's footsteps receding up the square. It was really ridiculous, she thought, to mind so much; and gave herself an extra handful of bath-salts as a futile antidote to woe. Almost at once there was the sound of another car drawing up, a smooth virile purring, the discreet opening and closing of a solid well-fitting door. Then Clem's voice in the square and Judys feet jigging on the pavement. It was intolerable. Old horses one pensioned off in a paddock, where one could go and see them occasionally. Or one even allowed them to pull the mowing-machine in round leather boots. But this part-exchange business --
Judy came racing upstairs and hammered on the door, shrill with excitement.
"Mummy! The new cars come! "
"Lovely, " called Mrs. Miniver.
"And I've been helping Daddy clear the maps and things out of the old one before they drive it away. "
Heavens, how relentlessly children dotted the i's.
"Run along, " called Mrs. Miniver. "I'll be down quite soon. "
She turned both the taps full on again, put a thick lather of soap over her ears, and began to sing, noisily.