He had always been told by his mother to think before he acted. “Think once, so you don’t have to think twice” she had said.
“Think, think, think, boys and girls” had been the cry of Mrs Simpson, his year 9 teacher. A person whose bra made visible ruts across her back as it grimly hung on to her large breasts. She should have shouted at herself “think, think think” as she sucked down another cinnamon bun, another lamington. Where was her “think, think, think” as she sucked on another cigarette. Pulling on it like a dying man sucking in oxygen.
“Think!” he shouted at himself as he hit the wheel of the car. “Why didn’t you think?” he said to the dark walls of the garage lined with tools rarely used, a tricycle his son had outgrown, a pile of shoes peeking through a plastic container, and a case of beers left over from the weekend with the in-laws.
How many beers had he drunk tonight? One? No more than that. Much more. Ten? Ten! Impossible, how could he have been driving at …
What time was it? 1.45am illuminated the dashboard clock in all its mockery.
How many beers?
She had smiled at him after the second. What was her name? Mary, Cherie? What was it?
Think! Red hair. Red lips, grey suit, sensible shoes. She had smiled at him. He had been married 15 years. Two kids, a mortgage, personal loans on cars, “entertainment units”, a second mortgage on a just completed renovation.
He had “the full catastrophe” as Zorba the Greek had referred to it. The full catastrophe.
But she had smiled at him. She smiled in her grey business attire and sensible shoes. Just escaped from work. they had talked in the noisy bar. What was her name? She had said it over the loud din. She had leaned over and said it. What was it?
He had felt her breath, warm and soft. He had smelt her perfume, fruity and subtle. He had told her his name”James, my name is James.”
“Hello, James.” Her breath on his ear. “My name is Rachel.”
Someone carrying three large pints, he remembers them lifted high, squeezed through an opening in the crowd behind her. She had moved to let the beers pass. She had moved closer to him. Moved close enough so that her breasts had brushed against his arm.
“Sorry” she had said at invading his space.
“No worries” he responded totally engulfed by the electricity of her touch, her scent, the situation.
How many beers had he drunk?
They had talked about … about what? Shit, he supposed. It had been about work. People she hadn’t liked. Projects she had been working on. Groups she managed.
He had also talked about … about what?
He was fascinated by her red hair, her fair skin, her long neck, her smile that lit up the room and … and… made him feel like … something he thought had disappeared long ago, behind dirty nappies, and plates in the sink, and tired bodies.
She leaned over in his direction and asked “So, James, you have a ring” she had said pointing at his finger with her eyes. “Are you married?”
Think, think, think! How many beers had he drunk?
“Are you married?”
What happened then? He had escaped. He had run to the car. Made a thousand apologies. Look at her laughing, accusing red lips.
Relieved. He was so relieved. Was he sober enough to drive? “Yes”, he had told himself. “Yes”, he only remembered two beers. Easy. He felt sober. He felt good. He had been a good husband. He had done the right thing.
He had driven home taking back streets, dark streets, so he wouldn’t get caught. So he wouldn’t lose his license.
Lose his job?
He would be home soon.
Her name was Rachel.
“What happened? Think, think, think!” he asked himself. He demanded. “Where did it happen? Where was he? Where had he come from?” He had closed his eyes for a second while driving. Trees hanging over him. Their red autumn leaves burning bright in his headlights.
He had closed his eyes for a second. Just a second.
That’s when he heard it. He had hit something in front. A muffled scream. A bike?
The left wheel went over something, tilting the car slightly to the right. It was like going over a speed bump, but only one wheel?
“Think, think, think.”
He had stopped. No noise. Nothing. Had he hit something? Someone?
In front of him had seemed a dark, alien landscape. Deadly quiet. Still. All the houses had been dark. There was only the colour of the leaves. Red and watching.
He looked up slowly into his rear mirror. A misshapen bicycle, its rear light blinking red. A body lay still beside it? Was that a body?
He would lose his job, his wife, his family, his license.
What was her name tonight? He had done the right thing.
There had been no lights in any windows. Hadn’t that been the case? No lights.
Had he got out of the car? Had he gone up to the boy? How did he know it was a boy? He couldn’t have been older than a teenager. He had blood spilling out of his nose. He wasn’t moving?
How did he know? And what had happened to the red blinking light? It was no longer there in the rear view mirror as he drove off quietly. His lights out.
“James? … James? Are you okay?” His wife was in the doorway of the garage looking in at him.