I must be in shock. This is what this is. I know, for instance, that I am sitting in the front passenger seat. The seatbelt is still around me. The dashboard is pressed against my stomach. I’m trapped. I have broken glass in my hair. There is blood in my eyes. The seat is wet, I don’t know what with. I can smell blood and burning. And yet I am not in the car at all. I am standing on the road, looking into the car, at what’s left of me and my husband, and my daughter nearby. I’m standing here with you, holding your hand, because I want you to see what I see.
Start with the here and now. The scene, the “aftermath” as it will probably become known. We bought the car with money from Mike’s parents. Mike’s my husband, he was driving as you can see. It’s not a new car by any means, but it’s the newest we’ve had. The driver has an airbag and there are seatbelts in the backseat. You should know this. It’s a Ford Focus, a 1.4 petrol engine I think, although I don’t know much about these things. There’s nothing left of the front of it. The engine’s where the dashboard was, and the dashboard is right over our legs. It’s pinned me to my seat. The bonnet is crumpled. The front wheels are buckled and the tyres shredded. There’s smoke coming from what’s left of the engine, and I think that man over there is unplugging the battery so there isn’t a fire. Like I say, I don’t know much about these things.
Take a look here. Mike’s alive, as I know I am. But we’re both in shock. Like the real-world me, he can’t move. Strange that he still has his hands on the steering wheel. I thought perhaps he might put a hand on me. To reassure me, you know? But to be fair, I haven’t put a hand on him. We’re like mannequins of ourselves, frozen, eyes wide and starey. We look like ghosts. Mike’s got blood running down his head and the steering wheel’s right up against his chest. It must be hurting. I can hear him breathe, but it sounds difficult. He’s gulping. I should touch him, I should say something. But I can’t. I can’t do a thing. I suppose it doesn’t help that we haven’t touched each other for a long time. At least, not in an intimate way.
The other car is as smashed-up as ours. It’s a Golf, a sports model by the looks of it. The windscreen’s smashed but not broken. The bonnet’s buckled and there’s lots of steam coming from the engine. It stinks of petrol. The driver, a young lad, is trapped behind the steering wheel. His head’s covered in blood and it keeps lolling forwards. Every time it does a thick stream of blood pours from his mouth. There’s a man trying to wipe his face and hold his head still. The driver keeps saying, “Am I ok? Am I ok?” It comes out in blood-bubbles. The man holding his head keeps saying, “You’re fine, son.”
His mate is out of the Golf and is swearing into a mobile phone. He looks unhurt, which is incredible. He’s shaven-headed like his driver friend. Covered in tattoos. I don’t know who he’s talking to. He keeps shrieking, “He’s gonna fucking die!” Someone has told him to stop talking but he lashed out. He’s very angry. So now he’s been left to get on with it. He looks terrified. But at least he can stand up. The foot well of the front passenger seat where he has been sitting is filled with beer bottles.
Follow me now and see my daughter. Charlotte. She’s lying in the road. Hard to comprehend how she came to be on the road so far from our car. If you didn’t know, you might think she had crawled there. You might think she had been a pedestrian and had been run over. But she’s my daughter. She was in the back of our car. It’s easy to guess she had been to a fancy dress party. Or was going to one. She’s still holding her wand. The tinsel angel wings are in the hedge. We made those on the kitchen table yesterday afternoon, before we made angel cakes. She helped sift the flour and beat the mixture. She made a mess, of course, but we laughed. Charlotte is lying in the road now. Her head’s twisted round. It looks like it’s been put on back-to-front. I so want to touch her but of course I can’t. The real-world me is still trapped in the car, still mute, still staring.
I can’t really remember the moment it happened. I don’t even remember seeing the other car. I suppose that’s normal for people in shock. You block things out. What’s really strange are the things I know about before the crash. Things the real me couldn’t know. See, I know what the two lads in the Golf were doing before they got in the car for their little spin. The driver, he was having a row with his dad. His dad was drunk. The lad told him he was a crap father and his dad hit him with a bottle. Cut him right above the eye. And the dad would have carried on hitting him, but the boy got out and jumped into his Golf. He feels safe in his car. Don’t ask me how I know this. Even though his head’s hurting he puts music on with the bass turned up and races off. He picks up his mate. They go to the off-licence and buy loads of booze. They park up in a lay-by hidden by trees and drink it. This is how the lad feels safe. This is the only way he knows how to feel alive. So they set off for their spin. And the lad with the cut above his eye? He starts driving fast. Then he starts crying. He drives faster. His mate tells him to slow down. But he just drives faster still, and cries harder.
And what were we doing before the crash? Having a fight. Another one. Mike’s mobile pinged to say a text message had arrived and I snatched it from the tray to see who it was. He tried to grab it off me but it was too late. Of course, it was from her. I was going to call her. I was going to scream at her. Mike had one hand on the wheel and the other on my arm, trying to grab the mobile. Then he hit me. Not for the first time, but I was stunned anyway. I dropped the phone. Then Charlotte screamed. She took her seatbelt off and lunged forward, standing on the back seat. She grabbed Daddy by his hair and was pulling, screaming, crying. She was wild, terrified. I tried to calm her down, but I couldn’t. My daughter Charlotte was a broken girl before she hit the windscreen.
Now this is all I know about the crash itself. I saw from the corner of my eye the front of the Golf. Just a few feet from us. Inches, maybe. I think I even saw the other driver’s face, his eyes red from crying. Or perhaps these are memories I have created based on what we see now, and what I know of the events before.
That’s pretty much everything. But there’s one last thing I want to tell you. I think it’s important.
I know this is just another car crash. There are lots like it every day. But when you read about it in the paper, you will read about drink-driving. You’ll read about Charlotte. And you’ll be given a list of “non-life-threatening injuries”, as they say; my legs smashed, Mike’s ribs crushed, his wrist broken, and the driver of the Golf biting through his tongue. But it’s the other things I’ve told you about, the things only I could tell you, that are what you need to know. They’re why I hold your onto hand, because, well, I need to hold onto something. There’s a scar on Mike’s face where I hit him and caught him with our wedding ring. And there’s a gash above the young lad’s eye where his dad struck him with a bottle. The crash will change our lives but these cuts were already there, and they are the deepest.
- Copyright Phil Thomas, all rights reserved