Lost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O'Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other's work in series, with changes tracked between. Last week saw Cate Kennedy's 'In Front of Kmart' deconstructed in its fifth and final remix. This week, we reset the remix machine with Fiona Capp's original memoir 'The Accident'. Also, if you want to join in on the remixing, check out our companion project; Open Changes, now happening.
[tabs style="boxed"][tab title="The Accident 1.0"]
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] wish I could say that it didn’t happen. I wish I could say that I wasn’t there. Above all, I wish I could change the way events unfolded so that the cyclist took another route or that the truck came down the hill long before the cyclist, or that the road had been wider. Or, or, or. Three wishes that I will never be granted. But I like to think that someone else will.
It was approaching peak hour on an overcast afternoon. I was on my way to a tutorial, thinking about the preparation I should have done. At the end of my street was a main road with no traffic lights. Getting out into the busy thoroughfare, with cars and trucks hurtling down the hill and over the bridge across the freeway, was always difficult. Watching it all flash by, I noticed a cyclist cruising down the far, outside lane. He was wearing a back pack. A semi-trailer passed him, blocking my view. Then I saw a grey bundle caught up in the big wheels of the semi. It looked like a kind of sack.
On the footpath on my side of the road were two teenage boys. They were laughing because they could not believe their eyes. They were laughing out of horror. At first the driver of the semi didn’t appear to realise what had happened. A hundred metres up the road he finally stopped. Scattered behind his vehicle was a trail of what looked like intestines. Then I saw part of a body without a head. Inside the bubble of my car I was whispering, ‘No! No!’ What I was most aware of was the fraudulence of suburbia, its illusion of safety and security. I could not go to my tutorial. I turned the car around and drove back home. On the way I saw the man from the flat above me driving towards the intersection. I wanted to tell him to go back but didn’t know how.
When I got back to the flat, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I sat in the big armchair. I walked around the lounge room. I stared out the window. I needed to tell someone what I had witnessed but my partner wasn’t home. The urge was so strong I rang my parents. As I spoke, I still hoped that I might have got it wrong. People get ‘run over’ or ‘hit by a car’. No one told me that they get disembowelled or ripped apart. Perhaps I had led too sheltered a life. I was still in my twenties and I wanted my parents to tell me these things can’t happen. Don’t happen. All they could do was say was how awful it was. My mother, who is a psychologist, suggested that I get professional help to deal with the shock of what I had seen. I was indignant. Why did I need help? I was the lucky bystander. I was still alive. It was the cyclist’s parents or wife or children who would need help. Not me.
As I hung the phone up I saw Barry, the drug dealer from upstairs coming up the front path. His face was puffy and he was swearing to himself, which was nothing unusual, except that I knew what he had seen. I had no desire to talk to him. He went upstairs and I heard muffled, urgent conversation. A few minutes later, he was heading out again with his girlfriend.
Car doors slammed and an engine started up. I raced outside to see them disappearing up the street toward the intersection where it happened. Shock gave way to anger. I shouted after them but they couldn’t hear me. I was still on the footpath out the front of the flats when, some minutes later, their car reappeared having done the block and was about to turn back into the street. I waited, ready to give Barry a piece of my mind. But instead of turning right, he turned left and headed back to the intersection for a second look.
When I heard the knock on the door I knew who it was. It wasn’t enough that he had had three viewings himself and had shown his girlfriend the remains. Now he wanted to ‘share’ it with us, too. I could imagine him standing in the hallway, shuffling on the spot, his shoulders hunched. I opened the door.
Barry looked at me warily. He really wanted to speak to my partner. I told him my partner wasn’t home but that didn’t stop him. He had something to report and like the Ancient Mariner, he was compelled to speak.
‘You should’ve seen what happened up there.’ He waved his arm in the direction of the intersection. ‘This horrible accident –’
Normally I listened to his rambles, half annoyed, half intrigued by the unexpected things he came out with. But this time, I didn’t let him finish.
‘You fucking vulture.’
I told him I was there when it happened and that I saw him take Annie for a look. I told him that no one in their right mind would show someone else.
‘Hey, hey,’ he began in his cool-it voice. ‘She rides a bike, right? I wanted her to see what can happen.’ He said that Annie was often reckless. It wasn’t enough to tell her about it. He wanted to show her something she wouldn’t forget. Annie was crazier than he was, so I could believe she would be reckless on her bike. But she wasn’t thick. The reported details were terrible enough to scare anyone.
Later on that evening, there was a tentative knock at the door. It was Barry again. He apologised for upsetting me and handed me two valium tablets in a foil wrapper. He said they would help me sleep.
Dumbfounded, I took them from him. I told myself he meant well. A drug-dealer with drugs for every occasion. I muttered ‘thanks’ and quickly closed the door. I looked down at the tablets in my palm.
Maybe I did need help.