The Biting Point

by Catherine Smith

Thirty years dead and still curmudgeonly,
my grandfather is driving me through
the fog-numbed streets of Crystal Palace
at five a.m. He’s in the plaid dressing gown
he wore to die in, and he’s shaved,
badly, flecks of dark blood stippling his chin.
We’re the only Austin 1100 on the road;
he tuts, crunching through the gears,
he blames the damp, the bad oil,
the years it sat cobwebbed in a garage.
My grandfather slows for the lights,
not best pleased when the engine stalls –
it’s no part of his plan, I know,
to crank the key three time before
the damned thing fires – the times he’s told me
a good driver knows his car’s temperament
like the back of his hand. As a milk float
toots behind us, he mutters, frowns,
eases one foot off the clutch as
the other trembles over the accelerator.
Listen to that! He’s triumphant
as the engine warbles its surprise –
as though it’s found a new voice,
a different register, like a woman
suddenly discovering a talent for opera.
That’s known as the biting point, he says,
I’m just telling you so’s when you get
A husband, you’ll know what’s what.
We coast down Fountain Drive, the car
sighs and dreams, a purring baby now.
My grandfather’s bolt upright, sliding
the wheel under calloused palms
as the BBC transmitter winks in the distance –
the last thing he mentioned, the last fixed light.