Monday, 13 May 2019

Motor Accident August 2018 (Non-hitching)

Account of a car accident (not hitching)

I went to visit my mother this summer. It was the first time I’d seen her properly in a year and a half. I arrived on the 30th of July and she picked me up from Pescara bus station.
I got off the bus and found her after a couple of minutes. She seems to skip town during Time’s census, looking younger and younger as the years go on. She’d probably attribute it to a diet of low-income, constant views of eagles and eating her neighbour’s tomatoes. She swears by astral planing with cats at shoulder and dogs at foot. I digress.
I got in the car with her, the little Fiat of whatever description. The one she’d been excited about since April when she placed her slowly-accumulated funds on it.
Some bastard car from about 20 years ago, apparently done up to speed but you’ll see.
Anyway, we drove home. I met her dogs for the first time. Comments were exchanged about life, the garden, the size of the cats.
The next day we drove three hours across hill, dale and motorway to visit her friend Antonio. Have to sidestep for a minute and just say this man’s grace simply beggars belief. The man is burdened with grace. He is a slender, red-bearded, bespectacled lamb with a pack mule’s load of knowledge about renaissance art and architecture at the humble age of 26.
He showed us around his town for a few hours. We parted. He gave us a watermelon. We drove the two and a half hours back to her house, stopping on the plateau so that I could take some long exposure photos of the night sky. They weren’t the best but I enjoyed stepping out into a cold wind and the sound of sheep-bells in the distance. That was a placid 6 minutes or so. I got back in the car, we drove through the rest of the plateau without incident and soon we were descending along the bended roads towards her house. About 20 minutes from home a thought came to me.
“Yeah?” Still driving.
“You must be spending a lot of your time driving around mountain bends in quite a small and old car. What’s the contingency in case you fly off a road one day? Do you have an Italian will written out?”
“Err no, but I have an English one.”
“But is that good enough?”
Conversation continues as we make the distance closer to home.
We were about five minutes from her house when we came down a steep road and the brakes cut.
“Shit. We’ve lost the brakes Mike.”
“Oh wait, no we have them.”
Brief relief. Some seconds later:
“Oh no, they’ve gone again.”
We begin accelerating down the hill.
“Does this mean we’re going to die?” I didn’t know what else to say.
At this point everything that happened was pretty sudden but my father’s old model of ‘consciousness concertinas when you’re about to die’ seemed to hold true. This he learnt during his own close call, whilst nearly drowning on a beach. The seconds seemed to stretch as we sped downhill and shot straight off a curve.
The instant at which we left the road the realisation hit that this was actually happening and odd inconvenience turned into a coin-flip of whether we’d leave that car alive. As the trees came up to meet us I tried to remember the surrounding terrain- in my head it was all steep drops and cliff edges so I was expecting us to flip. Instead we bounced down a wooded slope and came to a stop.
I asked Maria if she was ok. She said yes. I was definitely ok. I told her I was going to open the door very slowly to make sure we weren’t on a precipice, and it was then we realised the headlights were gone. We were on fairly solid ground so I got out, went round to her door and opened it. Thinking of it now I must have gone around the front of the car, which had been stopped by a tree, but I didn’t notice it in the darkness.
All I could focus on it that moment was getting her away from the car and back onto the road, so I just remember the feeling of grabbing trees for support and brambles cutting my shins. At one point we were treading on what felt to me like household junk. I expected we were walking through a local fly-tipping spot but it turned out to be parts of the car.

We got back to the road and began to walk down.
Maria: “An angel must have stopped the car.”
Me: “Which angel cut the fucking brake cables?...Sorry, it’s too soon for me.”
We were lucky to have had that accident on a moonlit night, because neither of us had torches or working phones on us. We padded down the road, stunned. I remember how glad I was to be walking on solid ground. On top of this there was a weird feeling that ‘being alive’ was seeping back into the picture. In that moment I felt something like a cat who, having been violently chased out with a broom, was now returning to cautiously lap at the milk of the senses. Colours, sounds and smells seemed more vivid.
It was around this point that my mother spoke again.
“Mike, are you sure that you’re alright?”
I shake my limbs and rub my back. “Yeah…I mean we’ll see by morning really, but so far so good. You?”
“Yes, I’m completely fine. But isn’t that strange?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well do you reckon we’re really alive or just dead in the car?”
I laughed and patted my mum on the shoulder, and we continued to pad down the road, entertaining that night’s ghosthood.

In my memory the rest of the event felt much shorter than the crash. We arrived home and called the police, who told us to go to bed and that they’d be over in the morning. They never came. We then called Maria’s friends Goldie and Richard, who came over to help us retrieve our things from the car. Going back to the site an hour later was surreal. There were more brambles than I remember. Richard and I walked through them and down the slope to the car. When we got there, he surveyed the car in silence with his torch, turned to me and said: “I’m surprised that you and your mum survived this.”
We took out the bags and the car keys, and climbed back up through the brambles and splintered saplings. Goldie and Richard dropped us at home and we sat up on the porch with the dogs, drinking brandy. I couldn’t sleep properly for two days.

I’d say that since that crash I feel less like a broomed cat and more like a tree that has had all of its leaves shaken off temporarily. As though you can’t pass through that tiny window of being alive and unharmed without dropping what was in your hands somehow. Some days it feels like being alive and being dead must be pretty similar, given how easy the switch can be flicked. It feeds back into my hitch-hiking too. I used to occasionally feel guilty on the behalf of my family for putting myself in cars with strangers all the time, but after almost dying in such a domestic setting I feel a lot less bad about it.

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