For Jude

He winked at me. Did he wink? I’m sure he winked.

‘Dad, I got this letter about my NCT before Christmas and I forgot to tell you.’

‘When’s it due?’

‘Next week. Sorry.’

‘Oh Jesus, OK. And you’re working, yeah?’

‘Yes. I can get the bus to Derry.’

‘And I get to do the NCT, great. Alright, but next time…’

‘Yeah, I know, I’m sorry.’

OK, Google, NCT bookings, next week. No, I don’t know the registration number.

‘What’s your registration? Never mind, I found it.’

04CN… Letterkenny? No. Carndonagh? No. Derrybeg? Not Derrybeg. Well, if I have to.

Next Wednesday, 8.15am… Wednesday… that’s my birthday. For fuck sakes.

I hate my alarm music.

‘Happy Birthday, love,’ says my wife.

‘Thanks. Better get going.’

‘Highland say there’s a yellow warning for snow. Drive carefully.’

‘That’s fantastic. Yeah, I’ll take it handy.’

The clouds are orange from the town’s sodium streetlight glare, but that fades as I drive.

It’s 45km, says the sat-nav.

‘It’ll be grand,’ I mutter to myself.

And then the snow starts, soft, chunky flakes, swirling in the headlights.

‘It’ll be grand.’

I take the left at Termon, for the back road behind Errigal. The snow follows me.

They don’t bother with bad-bend arrows out here, everybody knows the road wanders like a drunk, past Glenveagh and then up, over the bog, between the mountains.

They close the back road when it snows, or when someone disappears off the edge of the crumbled grit they call tarmac.

‘It’ll be grand.’

I crawl down the hill, into Dunlewey and thank the gods. The garage is open and they have a coffee machine.

‘How’re you? Not many out this morning. Snow’ll be bad, they say.’

‘Aye, but I’ve an NCT,’

‘Derrybeg? You’ll be grand. Sound lads over there.’

Fifteen minutes later, I pull in to the Test Centre. A freezing shed on the industrial estate.

‘Take a seat, we’ll be with you as soon as.’

There are three other folk on plastic seats, dreading the inspection.

I sit.

The lights go out.

Powercut.

We all wander outside. No streetlights. No lights in the houses.

The tester fellah rings the ESB.

‘Might be five this afternoon, they say,’ he shouts through the glass. ‘Do youse want to hang on?’

The other waiters shake their heads and head off into the flurries, clutching rebooking forms.

‘You’re staying?’

‘Aye,’ I nod. ‘I’ve come from Letterkenny, and I’m not driving back in that.’

‘Grand.’

We wait.

We share cigarettes, bad jokes, and curse the government.

We wait some more.

An hour later.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The lights flicker on.

‘I’ll have you through as soon as the computers are up and running.’

I sit again.

Half an hour, usually.

Brakes, steering, tyres, emissions, CV joints.

They’ll fail them all. The car’s fifteen years old.

And then it’ll be a decision. Scrap it or fork out six hundred bucks to get it fix…

‘That’s you. All done.’

He hands me the new NCT certificate.

The car was in for all of five minutes.

‘It passed?’

‘Aye.’

And he winked.

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