She approaches the kerb, this young woman, walking diagonally across the footpath towards the verge. As she walks her regard is upon the screen of the phone in her palm. Nimble fingers dance across the small keyboard as she composes her message.
The face is intent, neither unhappy nor animated, as she drifts in her fugue onto the roadway. Dancing fingers pause, poised above the screen while she searches for the word that eludes her. Her feet walk slowly. She has no regard to the now quickening flow of feet before her.
The message, the letter, these occupy her.
The red light tells her nothing.
My car moves forward with the greening of the lights, as others do on either side of me and from the opposite direction.
What does she write? To whom does she compose these thoughtful words?
Is there a beloved for whom she writes? Inching closer I imagine her words: ”Dear one,
Last night was so…”
The last dashers against the red light have made shore. But the drifting lover faces her palm. Her fingers busy again, she writes her closing words…
When one tonne of plastic-clad metal encounters sixty kilograms of human flesh at 50 kilometres an hour the tender flesh gives way. The body leaves the surface, rising briefly above the roadway before landing in an attitude determined not by volition but by physics. A gust of sound as air is forced from the chest. The head makes forcible contact, soft brain and delicate vessels slam against the hard vault of bone. Slender cervical vertebrae are wrenched violently, internal viscera suffer shearing forces.
I have seen these changes, seen them all, attended them at post-mortems and at roadside.
And then there was Barry, my younger brother. Barry was five when the phone call came. I was home sick, genuinely sick – we couldn’t put anything over my doctor father – and I watched Mum take the call. Barry had gone off to school that morning, unescorted by a bigger brother.
Mum stood with the phone in her hand, her face urgently attentive. “Yes, I am Barry’s mother.”
Frowning, silent, burning with inquiry, Mum finally cut in: ”Sir, I can’t understand you. Please compose yourself.”
Then, “Oh hello Mr Zizzis, yes, yes I do know you… from the milk bar. Please tell me…”
Mum listened for a moment or two.
“I’ll come now. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
As she headed for the back door Mum said, “Barry’s been hit by a car…crossing Warrigal Road. Mr Zizzis says he’s alright. No, you stay here. You’re sick, remember.”
When Mum returned Barry was alright. He had an egg on his forehead and a guilty, relieved look on his beautiful face. Perhaps he was just pale, but his tight dark curls never looked so black.
Mum explained: “Barry ran in front of a car. The driver couldn’t stop in time. He was an old man, he said he’d never had an accident in all his life of driving… I couldn’t understand him on the phone, he was crying so much. Mr Zizzis saw it all through his window. He said the fender caught Barry and threw him up into the air. Barry just floated up from the roadway, floated and Mr Zizzis saw him going up, then landing on the bonnet. The driver wasn’t going fast. He just brought his car to a stop.
And Mr Zizzis knew Barry. He brought them in and gave the old man his phone. Poor man. Poor, poor old man.”
The daydreaming letter writer is safely beyond the eastbound lanes. Will she claim sanctuary on the double lines? The nearest westbound fender catches her. Her body rises, floats – I will her to follow Barry’s gentle parabola – she is young, too young to die. I am old, too old and too young – to bear witness again to the sudden extinction of breath, of life.
You have so captured the telling moment between life and … We are mostly unaware of how fragile our existence is.
I’m not sorry I don’t have to investigate motor collisions any more! in the 60’s I was a Mobile Traffic Section policeman! during the past 30 yrs. of my medical retirement after breakdowns on the Omeo highway a neatly attired motor cyclist overtook me on a blind hill! I shuddered hoping nothing was approaching him. A short distance later I approached an S bend something had happened?? I left my car with the hazard lights flashing and found the SAME motor cyclist dead on the road his head had gone under the truck he was passing on the wrong side of the road. I switched off the engine of his motor cycle, he would not need it ever again. I handled my emotions quite well whilst being active at the scene BUT that didn’t last!
Dear Doc. Howard, You’re amazing, I don’t know how you’ve survived your experiences. please keep on keeping on!
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Your exposure was greater, I think.
My own experiences few but the shock endures.
You write with great heart, my friend.