Before leaving the house, Frank broke off another length of the curtain pole to use as a crutch. He lurched down the driveway. But the curtain pole was thin and the end of it dug into his armpit. Progress was slow. But he had to use it. He had no choice. He just couldn’t put his broken ankle on the ground.
The cul-de-sac remained quiet and dark. He whipped his head from side to side, glancing at curtains to spot any sign of twitching. There was none.
His splint was shabby and next to useless. The piece of curtain pole he’d snapped off wasn’t long enough. And the masking tape he found in a drawer not sticky enough. His ankle was still able to move. And every time it deviated an inch it sent bolts of explosive pain up his body. He’d thought he’d had the pain in check but it was fighting back.
Nonetheless, he was insistent on driving all the way back to London. He opened the car door, sat on the seat and used both hands to swing the leg into the foot-well, letting it rest next to the clutch pedal.
One problem, his right leg would have to do the lot - accelerate, brake and hit the clutch for changing gear. All that without crashing and drawing attention to himself. And he’d have to do this all the way to London - about a hundred miles away. It was insane. The challenge appealed to him.
Frank turned the ignition on, starting the car. He moved his right foot across two pedals to the clutch. He depressed it and moved the gearstick into first. Slowly, he eased off the clutch pedal to find the bite. The problem was that the road was slightly uphill. He needed revs. But his only good foot was on the clutch pedal. He couldn’t possibly depress the accelerator at the same time. He raised the clutch pedal some more.
The car lurched forward, then stuttered to a halt. Sure enough, he’d stalled it. He tried again, and failed.
He was going to have to use his useless leg. Using both hands, he gently, and ever so slowly, lifted it on top of the clutch. As softly as he could, he started to press down with it. But even touching the pedal felt like a rusty nail piercing the ball of his foot. When he met with resistance and had to push harder, the pain fired its way through every bone in his leg. It travelled from his ankle up to his buttocks in a millisecond.
And he’d hardly depressed the clutch at all.
In a nearby house, a curtain twitched. Frank saw it and ducked down beneath the steering wheel. This increased the pressure on his leg and his stomach convulsed with the aftershocks. He gave it a minute, then sat up. The neighbour had gone. Was he the kind to grumble but go back to bed? Or had he heard the fight, called the police, and was waiting for the sirens and lights?
Frank flitted through his options. But there weren’t any. The nearest train station was five miles away. And he couldn’t call a cab.
He had to get the car moving.
There was only one thing for it. He had to rip the splint from his leg and use it to push the clutch down, while engaging first gear with his elbow. He could crash-change into the other gears once he was moving.
But the splint hadn’t only been providing support, it had also been relieving the pain just enough to prevent him passing out. It might even have been providing enough pressure to stop his bone from puncturing the skin and sticking out of his leg. It was a risk. But it had to be done.
He unwrapped the binding and took away the splint from the side of his lower leg.
The moment he did so, the pain was unbelievable. Short, sharp breaths forced out a wheezing sound from the depths of his lungs. He panted to try and control the pain, screwing up his eyes.
Frank regained his composure. He pushed the splint down on the clutch pedal and manoeuvred the gear stick into first with his elbow. It was like a masochistic game of twister.
The car rolled up the road with uncertainty. It jumped, lunged forward, nearly stopped, the clutch disc whined, but the car kept moving. He crashed the gears into second and left the cul-de-sac behind.
But he couldn’t drive like this to London. Somewhere along the route he would crash. He needed to change tack. He had to coax the car, and himself, to the train station, wipe off the prints and dump the stolen car in the car park.
The pain was ebbing again. It was still ferocious but he was on top of it. He could breathe normally. He was back to enjoying it. How did people live without this?