Do you ever just get in the car and drive? I mean drive without thinking about it, autopilot some might say. You can sometimes get from A to B without remembering the journey at all. Well, that will never happen to me again, never, because I will never get in a car again.
I remember the day well. It is etched in my memory until the day I die. It altered my life, irrevocable.
The sun was shining, but the day was cold. You know, one of those fiercely cold days that make you smile because you feel alive. I’d been duped by the sunshine so left the house in jeans and just a thin jumper. I turned round and went straight back in to grab my coat. Graham followed me back, as usual, but letting out an excited bark which warned me that his promised turn on The Heath was a definite goer! I wrapped my coat around me and opened the rear door for Graham to jump in, and then settled myself into the drivers side, belting up as usual.
I’ve done this journey many many times. It’s a pleasant one, one that most people would love to do, but one that I’ve now realised I take for granted. The roads are narrow and tree-lined, they border The Heath which is pretty visible no matter which angle you approach it from. I love my area, but you know how it goes when you’ve lived there for a while…….
I was working to a deadline, plus my sister’s baby had been quite ill. I was due at a party that evening, and I was thinking about the possibility of taking the next belt in my quest to dominate the Judo world. Should I eat at home before the party, or should I arrange to meet people for dinner before? My thoughts were erratic today, all over the place, and Graham was groaning in the back as he always does when journeying toward his place of freedom.
And then it appeared. From nowhere. A pushchair. I braked. It flew up in the air, or so it seemed. It flew straight ahead….or so it seemed. And also to the right and to the left. It seemed to go everywhere, and in slow motion. Why do things like this go in slow motion, why couldn’t the seconds before be in slow motion, then I’d have seen it. I know that this is an irrational request, but what the hell…..
The noise was immense, like nothing I’d ever heard. Cars were screeching to a halt. Doors were slamming. Horns were blowing. There were screams, screams like I’d never heard before, but screams that I hear all the time now.
I pulled on the handbrake and just sat, staring ahead, I simply couldn’t move. Every face that I looked at seemed to morph into what could only be described as a gargoyle, or worse, like a something from a painting by Francis Bacon that haunted me as a teen.
I came back into reality, unbuckling my seat belt as it happened, undoing the door before my belt was fully off. I was confused, stunned, incapable of saying anything even remotely coherent.
‘What happened?’ I managed. It seemed like such an inane thing to say, but nothing else would come out. I was utterly bewildered. People were staring at me, some were swearing at me. My god, what had I done? Hell was opening up in front of me. I knew that I’d run into a pushchair, and I knew that my head was full of every other kind of thought but driving. I could see a group of people kneeling on the ground, huddled around something. Time stopped. Graham barked somewhere in the background. And then she appeared. My Guardian Angel.
‘Don’t look over there dear. Stay here. Don’t go over there. I saw everything.’ Her voice was calm, as calming as aloe vera on a burn, and I immediately wanted my mother, my soothing taken-before-her-time mother. She was like my mother.
I remember being back in my car surrounded by dog noises. And then I remember being at a police station.
I was prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, but surely the mother should have been prosecuted too. I had to pay a hefty fine and my license was revoked for 6 months, at the judge’s discretion. The child died. But I had been deemed not wholly culpable because I was driving within the speed limit and my Guardian Angel had not only confirmed that, but had drawn attention to the fact that the mother had pushed the child out ahead of her so that she could check the traffic. The absurdity of that. She had come from between two parked cars, chatting to her friend, straight out into the road leaning forward to check for oncoming cars, but it was too late, I was there, killing her child.
My life would never be the same again, my life sentence had begun.
And Graham now had to walk everywhere.