Sunday, September 4

Drive

Bank holiday afternoon. It was finally time for me to go. My departure nullified the novelty of the bank holiday, for me at least, the day off pinned to the tail of the weekend as a chance for me to take my leave, thus ending my visit to my parents’. We would have to leave soon, my dad and I, lest we get caught in the traffic. I had not been looking forward to leaving. As I said good-bye my voice began to get caught in my throat. I started to thank my mother for such a lovely week, such fun times, but I was stammering and cracking up. Saying good-bye was difficult but it was no bother to say—‘Right, have I got all my bits,’ so I said that over and over—‘Right, have I got all my bits? Have I got everything?’ Pulling away from the house, I turned awkwardly to wave good-bye to my mother whose solitary figure stood in the centre of the driveway. She had her apron on. I straightened and sighed.
Leaving the town I was sure it was the last I would see of it in the summer. Once the sun left it would take the crowds with it and the town, its side crushed against the sea, would slip into a restless sleep for nine months.
On our way out of town, the second roundabout, at the junction we observed the car before us swerve as if to avoid something. In the middle of the road, walking across the roundabout from the grass island was a rabbit. It moved slowly, shaking, cowered, oblivious to the cars that dodged its shuffling body. It became clear what was going on—‘Myxomatosis,’ said my dad as we drove the opposite direction. ‘The kindest thing you can do for that rabbit is run it over, mate,’ he said to no-one in particular. I thought about the skill necessary to put a car tyre accurately over a rabbit’s skull; I heard the skull pop; I felt the car bob. ‘Put it out of its misery. Poor thing doesn’t even know where it is. Awful disease.’ I shook at the sight. I asked—‘And the disease is just out there now, being spread about?’ No, he told me—‘Farmers use it. You don’t know how much of a pest rabbits are on farms.’ The image stayed with me. With its swollen eyes upon me, the shuffling, blind rabbit followed me home.
Or at least it followed me for another ten miles before my father slammed on his brakes as a tight row of traffic quickly formed in front of us on the carriageway. Cars condensing, bumper to bumper, and then everyone came to a complete stop. Nothing moved. The odd motorcycle went between the automobiles, but otherwise we were not moving. The engine ceased and cooled. A lady in the car next to us got out and started talking to some relatives in the car in front. She laughed and kissed the hands of the children in the backseats, then returned to her vehicle. Three fire engines passed us. Four police cars. Three ambulances. ‘O, this ain’t good,’ said my father. Not too far away we could see the emergency lights red blue white flashing like some anxious flag in the distance. Half an hour later the traffic started to move. We approached the scene as all the cars converged into one lane. There was debris scattered over the three lanes. The fire engines had doubled as a modesty screen over the accident.
It would have been easier for me not to look. I cannot tell you why I looked, crass and classless as I am; morbid curiosity; worn sayings. Needlessly, I gazed. One of the cars was halfway up the grass verge; the other was on its back. All the windows were smashed. The glass lay on the asphalt. Fluorescent overalls crowded the two vehicles. A man lay on his back with his belly exposed. As they gathered around him and I did not see him move, I thought of how uncomfortable it would be to lay on the asphalt like that. Why did I look? I tried to see if the man’s chest rose and fell. I thought it immodest that his belly be exposed, as he was not slim, surrounded in sparkling glass. The medics posed like a Rembrandt painting. The man was on his back and his car was nothing more. My father picked up speed as the motorway expanded in front of us quietly. I gripped the seatbelt and looked at all the scenery, wondering if I had remembered to pack everything.

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