Peak hour traffic in a strange city, and I had managed to get lost with a flashing fuel gauge letting me know my predicament could only get a lot worse. A missed turn and I was heading towards a bridge that would take me so far out of my way, I would run out of petrol before I found an exit on the elevated motorway.
I had no choice but to take the only turn left that didn’t have disaster guaranteed, and motored down into a tranquil streetscape of luxury apartments and boutique bars. There was not going to be a petrol station in that area.
My car was belching fuel laden smoke from a dirty engine all over the joggers and cyclists I passed, slowly, in a desperate effort to conserve fuel. I hadn’t passed anyone in a state fit for me to ask for directions, that wasn’t indifferent to the world courtesy of their earphones. I rolled past them all in a cloud of foul air. To get their attention I would have had to stop crying and choke back the fear spiked nausea, before nudging them gently with my car. Then I spotted what was surely my last chance, walking towards me. A young couple, talking, strolling, hands linked loosely in matching strides. I pulled up and got out just as they were set to pass me by in my despair.
He was sure there were no petrol stations nearby.
I’m lost, I don’t know this city... my car is on empty.
And then there was that second that my life has always depended on. Would he help me? Or was it just not worth his while? Or maybe it was none of his business? When his companion smiled, my hope soared. My whole being had been reduced into one tiny moment and I felt reprieved.
He shot off some directions to a petrol station. 'Left, right, dog leg, get to the end, follow the main road', and in about a kilometer I’d find a BP petrol station. I asked him to repeat it again, because to my ears it had sounded like 'follow the dog' and then my over wrought mind had inextricably fastened on thoughts of a three day old hot dog rolling slowly in a cradle.
I knew it was my last chance to memorise the directions, as he was fast approaching the no mans land where I couldn’t follow, where we don’t expect a stranger to twist their head past a certain point to explain anything, let alone a vital piece of information.
I wanted to write it down, speak it into my phone, carve a mud map into my forearm but all I could do was parrot what he said and hope it stuck.
Back on the road the first tentative turn was easy enough, the second was accomplished with a slight falter into a dead end, and then approaching a maze of streets and roundabouts I stopped fighting the pull, and fell into a river of cars and hoped for the best. It didn’t look like I was on the road to anywhere fruitful, there was no rainbow, no large illuminated signs that said ‘petrol station this way’. And then I saw it, the large BP sign standing clear of the city that spread around me in all directions.
It required me to cross all four lanes of homeward bound peak hour traffic and maybe they’d all had a good day at work, or because it was Friday, or maybe there was an air of desperation about the way my head was flicking around, but in unison they all slowed down and I shot cleanly across the road and into the service station driveway like a pebble out of a sling.
I wanted to drive back and find the man of bountiful directions and say 'thankyou'. I wanted to reward the happy couple with a beaming smile and maybe a bouquet of flowers for her. I wanted to say ‘have a good night’ with a cheery wave as I headed for the city limits. That I was almost killed two hours later on the open highway erased my good cheer, though how were they to blame?
No one was to blame really. It was just one of those stupid things that happen, a sequence of events, hardly out of place on any given day, and then people die. It happens all the time, it's possibility lost in the seconds that make up most of our lives.
I’d had no hint of it when I’d pulled off the highway into a large service centre to stock up on fuel and coffee and stare at iced donuts through the glass fronted racks.
The gloss had disappeared from the donuts when I’d noticed some other travelers close by because out of all my people watching, they are my least favourite kind to study.
She was hunched and gripping both biceps through a thin, loose jersey top. He was tall, thin, with no shoes and short hair. Hair covered his head with no interest, atop a body that did not fit into the air around it. He was arguing under his breath and snapping his arms and head around while he found something wrong with everything. She wasn’t saying anything. But they never do. Not in public. It was all him and he was getting more and more agitated. I moved on from the iced donuts and wandered down the row of fast food counters till I found food that I could eat in a moving vehicle. By the time I passed back through the food hall, the only trace of their presence was the violated air.
The open highway was pitch black, lit up yet lonely with the passing of the occasional car among lines of trucks, sometimes in convoys of three or four, running in both directions. I was picturing myself home, back in my study, refreshed from a trip away and brimming with the words I wanted to include in my manuscript.
I’d picked up a station, and radio playing, listening to a poet mutilate his own work out loud over a mismatched backbeat, I rolled the window down to let his tortured rhythm out into the night as I approached a section of road works.
I was still going at a rapid pace because I was surrounded by a bottle neck of prime movers all with multiple trailers, reluctantly slowing down as the only means of merging into single file to shoot the needle of usable highway.
Then suddenly, the house sized truck in front of me moved across so fast it swayed, to reveal I was about to slam into the back of a car that looked to be sitting in the middle of the highway.
Bearing down on it I could see the car was moving, though barely. The car was crawling along, without hazard lights to warn anyone blinded by the expanse of temporary blinking, flashing, pulsing road works.
I could see arms flying around through the back window as unbelievably, the car limped along. I think what saved me was the truck drivers on high, could see this, or were speaking to each other on their two ways, or the way some jumped on their air horns was enough to snap them all out of long range driving stupor fast enough to make room for me to slow without being crushed from behind, and squeeze past the offending vehicle and miss the temporary concrete barriers erected down the middle of the other lane.
And as I passed I saw who was in the vehicle. It was the couple. He was yelling, alternating between gripping the steering wheel, pounding the steering wheel, and clawing at the air. The last thing he seemed to notice was the rest of the traffic around him, as he continued to drift and roll along, half on and off the highway, his head twisted in the direction of his companion.
I think if I had hit him from behind at that speed I would have taken his head off. Shorn it clean off. He would have seen my lights too late in his rear vision. Or maybe in his rage caked mind he would never have noticed, or heard poetry mixed with truck horns and air brakes.
Having escaped alive, my first thought was I wanted everything to stop so I could get off and scream at her ‘he will never get better. He has passed the point of ever being a decent human being! He almost killed us all. Unravel your arms and start living!’
I can’t claim to have been distracted by the radio poet being strangled by his hideous accompaniment of music, but to have died hearing that as the last sound would have been a tragedy for a writer.
Maybe I knew I would survive, or I would have seen the whole car crash in slow motion right up until the very end, but all I recall thinking is my life did not flash before my eyes as we’ve been lead to believe to expect.
All I could think about was mulberries.
I have a large over grown tree in my back yard. When I’d left only days before, I’d passed it, heavy with fruit and ripe for eating. I had missed sampling the whole crop the previous year because I had been away for work, and my only thought was in two years of living with that enormous fruit tree, I never got to eat a single mulberry.
I had never shared them with my son, or showed my grandson how to use gentle fingers to pick the fruit.
I would have tasted my childhood and seen my fingers stain. I would have felt the river water wash away crushed fruit that as kids we had rubbed into each other’s hair. I would have smelt the bushland as the last rays of afternoon sun penetrated the leaves and lit my way back to the house. I would have heard my mother’s voice again.
|Essential for completing a blog-to-book....|
coloured tags, noise canceling headphones and cheese.
Melbourne Writers Festival 2014 Blurb Books Blog-to-Book Challenge...
Coming soon - Publication ... OnDusk: Blog-to-Book, with accompanying narrative and archived 2013 and 2014 blog posts.
Will be available for purchase in print and ebook from Amazon.
I will be reading from my freshly printed book 8 November at the Sydney Emerging Writers Festival Storytelling in the Garden 6pm – 6:30pm
'No one was to blame really. It was just one of those stupid things that happen...' OnDusk: Mulberries http://t.co/OkcZZv0IvE
— Siv Parker (@SivParker) October 20, 2014