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You are the first person on the scene. You don’t know how long ago it happened but it can’t have been too long. Nothing has settled. Nothing is fixed. The air feels disturbed and the earth has been freshly ripped. The cars are still hissing and sighing and clicking. Tick tick tick tick. But nothing is actually moving. Everything is deathly still.

You wander through the scene, trying to gauge its boundaries, where it begins, how far it spreads, and how to frame it. There are isolated pockets of concentrated meaning – a skid mark, a spray of glass across the road, a flattened signpost – which point to what may have happened, which owe their presence to the sudden explosion of events, but the events themselves are gone, irretrievably lost. All that’s left now is reconstruction work, piecing together the debris, making the accounts tally. There is no time to lose. You must make an immediate start.

There are two cars, separate now, as if engrossed in their own private thoughts, but bearing the signs of having made contact. You try to match them up again, make them whole. This damaged area fits with this bit. This where they came together. This is where they hit each other. And again, and again... You are seeing something unique here, two objects created like none other, forming something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In the first car, there are two people wearing masks of blood. You cannot tell what their faces look like nor where the blood comes from; you see only the blood making its own patterns and shapes with no regard for the contours of a face, the differentiation of surfaces. Blood from the nose or mouth extends upwards, obliterating the eye and seeping into the hair. Thick globules have smeared in unexpected, ludicrous places – the soft flesh of the inner arm, on the gentle roll of a belly, the hairs on the back of a hand, and extended on to seat covers, dashboard, gauges – like a micro-formation, a sub-plot that has been acted out minutely within the overall drama.

In the other car, there is a woman, eyes closed, groaning slightly as if singing along to something out-of-tune, something only she can hear. The windscreen is gone. Not broken but fallen somewhere out of sight so the woman looks as if she crawled into the wreck to try it on for size. Get her out. That’s your first impulse, pulling at the driver’s door which is stuck and then leaning in where the windscreen used to be to pull her out, right out over the bonnet. Except she pulls a face and starts whimpering, eyes still closed like she’s having a bad dream. Internal injuries, you think, not connected to any external sign, impossible to read from the surface. So you remember your training and start talking to her gently: Are you OK? Can you hear me? Where does it hurt? What’s your name? Don’t worry, you’ll be alright.... And really you’re just talking while you wait for something to happen. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can do.

And you want to laugh. You do, don’t you? Even though everything is working against it – your thoughts, your fear, your trembling body, your panting breath and the adrenalin that is pumping through your arteries and making you feel weak, not strong, weak as a fucking baby – a kid – and even though you are shit scared and panicking and oh god oh god, there is one feeling which dominates deep down but not so deep that you don’t recognise it despite everything.

You feel happy. You want to savour the moment – leaning on the bonnet of the car with the sharp edges and crumpled shapes all around you as the twilight air casts giant blue shadows across the road – and enjoy the illicit pleasure of being there, being a part of it. You connect with the accident and are extended, dispersed beyond yourself, like nothing else. Just you, but more than you, travelling free...


stop sign

Later on, other people arrive to take over. There is pain and real tears and the terrible sound of metal being bent and stretched and cut, drowning out the crackle of radio messages and the calm, matter-of-fact voices. And although you are still there, you are separating again, coming down to earth, moving away so that when the scene is finally dismantled – faster than you thought possible – and carted away, you are left with nothing to do except drive and drive and drive...

You drive through the night, headlights shining back off roadside barriers, illuminating tall stands of trees that hide so much, flashing over moonlit estuaries where empty boats sit silently at anchor, driving ever onwards until, towards dawn, you arrive on the outskirts of the city. You are almost home. You are close enough now to feel that you will make it, and there is a sense of excitement, a slightly breathless anticipation that mingles with something else, something deeper, a residue of pain which makes you want to cry out, groan, sing...

And it echoed through the canyon like the disappearing dreams of yesterday...

You see a light up ahead and even though you are close to finishing, you feel the need for a final stop, one last pause before completing what you started so long ago.

You drive onto the empty service station forecourt.

Perhaps the night attendant will invite you in for a cup of tea.