Toll Gate Trauma

Giggling from the car behind, Emmy created a story out of what she observed one sunny August day…


She hated these bloody things. Could never get her car close enough to the payment machine. And straining the whole right side of her body out of the window wasn’t getting any easier, at her age.

However, manoeuvring slowly, Joyce did a mighty good job on this occasion. The silver Polo crept alongside the curb of the M6 toll plaza and came to a halt just before the barrier.

Margaret’s ill-hidden grip on the passenger seat relaxed.

“Well done, love, you’ve got a good reach from there” she said, turning her head to see the money-catching basket immediately outside Joyce’s window. The basket was eye-level to the tiny Margaret, who could only just see over the top of the dashboard.

Joyce gave a satisfied sniff through a smile. She retrieved the pool of coins from the cup holder, carefully counted out by Margaret 10 miles ago. The women didn’t often venture down this stretch of road, preferring jaunts contained within easy reach of their neighbouring homes, but a special event was pushing the limits of their motoring comfort zone. Fortunately, the detailed instructions compiled by Joyce’s son, complete with updated prices, had enabled them to prepare the exact money well in advance.

Giddy with the smooth success, Joyce flung the money at the basket with a triumphant flick of her wrist.

In slow motion, the women watched half of the coins disappear into the slot; and half bounce all over the floor.

‘Bugger.’

‘Oops.’

Joyce opened her door.

CLANG

The door hit the curb almost instantly, opening only a sliver. She frowned. Repeated the action.

CLANG

They looked at each other. After a long second of silent deliberation, Margaret retrieved her handbag from the footwell and rummaged. ‘I’ll see if I have any more in my emergency purse’.

‘Your what…?’

Margaret’s legendary handbag, packed for every eventuality, was a constant source of amazement to all who knew her, and it was believed the answers to the universe probably lay in the depths of it.

No joy.

Joyce sighed. ‘I know I haven’t got any – I used it all up at the Post Office this morning. You’ll have to get out’.

Margaret’s eyes widened as she looked at the vehicles speeding from adjacent gates. But then her natural tendency to help sparked up and she cajoled herself into action, opening her door and climbing stiffly into the cramped space.

Holding her lower spine with her left hand and resting her right on the bonnet, she edged round to the driver’s side. A momentous effort in bending down to the floor allowed her to collect the coins. With relief, she dropped them into the basket.

“Noooo!” Joyce’s muffled voice seeped through the closed window. The barrier shot up, with Margaret still all the way around the wrong side of the car.

Margaret jumped, winced, and hobbled with considerable haste back around the bonnet, finally plopping unsteadily into her seat. Joyce jerked the car forwards and both women instinctively closed their eyes as they passed under the barrier, which had been aloft for an unnaturally long time and could well slam down at any moment.

As they joined the left-hand lane and began cruising at steady speed, Margaret’s panting began to ease and Joyce gave a snort of laughter. “Well that could’ve gone better”.

Half an hour later, ensconced in the National Trust restaurant sipping soothing tea and spreading jam across stodgy scones, Joyce and Margaret were still chuckling at their escapade. And they agreed that, no matter how appealing the next specialist plant sale may be, they wouldn’t be venturing on the Motorway again in a hurry.