Mar 09, 2024


Melting the Ice

The little VW Polo sat on the driveway, his smart blue paintwork glowing in the Sunday afternoon winter sun. Helen looked back at him with an indulgent smile, as always, before unlocking the front door.

“You look lovely,” she whispered. “Nice and clean. Those Soap and Glory boys always do such a good job on you.” She lifted her bags of groceries and headed into the house.

Her phone pinged as she finished putting her shopping away. She glanced at the screen – a text from her boss. It could wait.

A few minutes later she was curled up on the sofa with her shoes off and her feet under her. She put down her mug of tea and picked up the phone.

Can you come in for 7:30 tomorrow, please? There’s an early meeting with the Brisbane office.

With a sigh, she replied OK, will do.

She glanced out of the window at the little VW. “Looks like we’ve got an early one in the morning, Polonius,” she whispered. “You’d better not be an old crosspatch and refuse to start if it’s frosty.”

“No problem,” he seemed to say.

Thankfully the next morning, despite having to have his windscreen scraped, he was as good as his word. He came alive at the first turn of the key.

“I knew you would, old boy,” Helen said, patting him on the dashboard.

They set off together for the twenty minute drive across the suburbs to the business park where Helen worked. She turned on the radio and started singing along to an 80s favourite. The song came to an end. “They don’t write them like that anymore,” she observed to Polonius, as he pulled up at some lights. “All this modern stuff sounds the same to me.” She tapped his wheel in time to the music, then glanced down at his mileage. “Service soon,” she remarked, as the lights changed and they pulled away. “Some nice clean oil. You’ll like that.”

A few minutes later a new song came on and she picked up the melody, giving it her all even though she wasn’t totally sure of the lyric.

Suddenly she realised she was singing alone, her voice sounding particularly flat in the cabin. She stopped singing and glanced down at the now silent radio. None of the lights were on.

“Polonius?” she asked. “What’s the matter?” She pushed the on/off button and twiddled all the knobs, but he steadfastly refused to put the sound back on.

“Come on, old boy,” she muttered. “Don’t do this to me.” But Polonius seemed to have decided that he was not going to oblige. She glanced down again, pushing the main button on and off rapidly.

There was a loud beeping from the road and she had to swerve back onto her lane as a van swept past, only inches from Polonius’s side.

With her heart in her mouth, she drove carefully – and silently – on towards the office.

By the time they turned into the business park she had her breath back, and once she’d found a parking space and stopped, she fiddled with the knobs a bit more. But Polonius still refused to make the radio work.

“I’m disappointed,” she scolded him, then with a sigh she locked him up and went inside the office.

That evening she tried once more. “Maybe you just needed to be switched off and on again,” she said as she started Polonius up. But he still refused to make a sound, and Helen had an unnaturally quiet journey back home.

He did the same for the rest of the week, so on Saturday she drove him to a car parts store on the edge of town.

“My radio’s stopped working,” she said to the portly man in the grimy sweatshirt at the desk. “Can you take a look for me?”

The man came out and ambled across the car park to where Polonius sat.

“It’s an old car, luv,” he said, looking at the number plate. “Pushing thirty years. You should get something newer.”

“Oh no, I’d never change him… er… it,” she said, trying not to wince as the man dropped his bulk into the driver’s seat, causing Polonius to lean over with a protesting creak of his springs. The man turned the key and pushed the knobs on the radio just as she had done earlier.

Helen hovered uncertainly beside him. She was in two minds. Would Polonius now make it work, like a toothache that miraculously cures itself when you go to the dentist, or would he continue to stay silent, so she’d have to do something to fix it?

He stayed silent.

The man opened the bonnet and had a root around. After a moment he emerged holding a small piece of bright green plastic. “Fuse is OK, luv,” he said. “And the wiring too.”

After he’d slammed the bonnet shut, with such force that it must have shaken Polonius to his core, the man said, “It’s an old radio. It’s come to the end of its life, so you need a new one. Come inside and I’ll show you what we’ve got.”

Helen found the array of flashing lights and the descriptions of all the radios most confusing on the In Car Entertainment display. Did she want Bluetooth, USB and dynamic sound? No – she just wanted a radio that worked.

“What about this one?” she asked, pointing at the model that had the fewest knobs and lights.

“Yeah, that one’s got SRC.” She raised an eyebrow. “Speech recognition control,” he said. “You talk to it to turn it on and tune it, so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road.”

After the incident with the van on Monday, that sounded ideal. “I’ll take it,” she said.

Once it had been fitted, the man showed her how to make it work. “Say, ‘radio on’,” he instructed, holding a button down. She did so, and the radio came on. “Now ‘radio off’. A few more instructions, and Helen felt she understood. “It knows your voice now,” the man said, before easing himself out of the passenger seat and looking back in. “Drive carefully, and enjoy your new radio, luv,” he said, then slammed the door shut with such force that Helen had to apologise to Polonius. She started the engine and drove slowly out onto the road home.

“Radio on,” she said, once they were safely established in the slow lane of the dual carriageway. The radio came on. “Well done, Polonius,” she cooed, and patted his dashboard. “You clever boy.”

The radio faded down to a low volume. “It’s not exactly difficult,” said a loud voice over the background music. “You say, ‘radio on’ and I turn it on. Durr.”

For a moment Helen was too stunned to speak. Was that the radio? Had it re-tuned to a play or something? “I beg your pardon?” she asked cautiously.

“You’ve always treated me like a soft idiot,” said the voice. “I mean, Polonius – what kind of a name is that? Not mine, for sure.”

“Err… err…” Helen stuttered. “What?”

“No, I see myself more as a Seigfried. German born and bred. So I need a name that’s not some old fart from Shakespeare, but something with a bit more grandeur. Wagnerian, even.” He paused. “Siegfried.”

“But you’re Polonius. The Polo. It’s cute.”

“Yeah, and that’s another thing. All this stroking my dashboard and silly talking. It’s not cute; it’s condescending.” He paused. “Like when you said I was getting a service and some ‘nice clean oil.” I mean, seriously?”

“I… I thought you’d like it,” said Helen in a small voice.

“Well, I don’t. I’m a respectable German car of a certain age. Not some new little Fiat in baby blue.” There was a silence, broken only by the distant sound of the background music. “And your singing. Do you know how many years I’ve had to listen to your tuneless squawking without being able to say anything? How long I’ve had to suffer in silence as you murder your way through the entire 80s catalogue?”

“Radio off,” gasped Helen, “Radio off, radio off, radio off.”

The music stopped, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh no you don’t,” snapped Polonius suddenly. “You don’t get rid of me that easily. I’ve had to suffer you in silence for all these years. Now you’ve given me a voice, I’m going to use it. I’ve a lot of catching up.”

Which is what he proceeded to do all the way home, listing every slight, real or imagined, from the time Helen first got him, up to the man slamming the door earlier. Helen tried once or twice to answer back, but in the end she gave up and just tried to ignore him.

“And another thing…” he was saying, as they pulled up at the house. Helen put her hand to the key to switch off. “Oh no you don’t,” Polonius snapped, “I haven’t finished…”

“Well I have,” she said, and turned the key.

She got out, slammed the door shut, and strode to the house without looking back.

The next day she put a ‘for sale’ ad in the Old Banger section of Autotrader.