Hit and Run.

He was driving too fast to see them early enough. One minute he was shouting at the kids in the back to calm down, the next, two shadowy figures were just there; in front of the car; riding the windscreen; falling limply to the floor with a sickening slow roll as the car pulled too slowly to a halt.
The sweat poured from his forehead; he looked in disbelief at the young bodies tangled together on the road. His face was aglow, his eyes large. His children for once sat quietly in their seats. His mind was unusually empty of thought, his body still. For one second he thought; ah, this is what its like to have no thoughts, no mind. It was relieving, a pleasure in that moment. He relaxed, his shoulders visibly sinking, relieved of the weight they had been carrying for the last few hours.
Frank climbed out of the car, aware of every movement; aware of how his leg caught momentarily on the handbrake, aware of his arms as they eased his body out onto the tarmac. A piercing wind slapped his cheeks. The youngest child began to cry - muttering from the back seat, and again silence. He stood, in apparent collectedness, wondering whether his tea would be ready when he arrived home. He glanced again at the bodies. A car’s headlights flashed into his eyes, at the same time as another sharp gasp of wind slashed his cheeks. The slap of the cold and the flash of lights shook his mind awake. In front of him two young girls were lying either dead or unconscious because of him. Of course he was concerned for their welfare, but the reality was that they shouldn’t have been crossing a dual carriageway at any time, let alone in the dark with no reflective clothing. He really did need to get the kids home for their tea, they would be cold and hungry and their mother would be worried.
At that moment another car pulled up and its driver threw open the door and rushed to the silent bodies. He bent over them, close to their faces, squatted low, and pulled out a mobile phone. That was the trigger for Frank to turn to his car, walk purposefully to it, climb in and drive off.
The rest of the journey was in silence; an occasional spluttering mew from his youngest daughter, sitting with her hand over her mouth in the back seat. The children had been witness to the accident and also to their father’s reaction. Rain drummed against the windscreen, and the hum of the car was a comforting familiar in the new world that Frank found himself in. The click-click of the indicators, the dipping and rising of the lights as they met other cars, the swing of the air freshener as he negotiated corners. This was as it should be.
They pulled into the driveway and Frank turned off the lights and the engine. The darkness was silent, apart from the sound of the rain on the car roof. Frank undid his seatbelt, packed up his own and his childrens’ belongings, and followed them in to the house.
He walked in to an alarmed quartet of tears and consolation. Sandra looked up as she held the children who were crowded around her, clinging and gasping in noisy sobs.
‘What happened?’ she mouthed.
In that moment the reality of what had happened crashed into Frank’s consciousness. He too began to sob.
‘Some girls walked in front of the car. It was impossible to stop. I don’t know if they’re alive or dead.’
‘What?’ breathed Sandra ‘and you came home? Didn’t you see them to the hospital? Which hospital did you ring? What did you say to the police?’
‘Well, I saw to it that someone phoned the hospital. I needed to get the kids home.’
‘Why didn’t you phone me? I would have come to pick them up. You must be wanted for questioning.’
Frank said nothing. Just as suddenly as he had lost his composure, his tears dried, and he managed once more to take control. He sank into the nearest chair and lit a cigarette.
‘There was nothing I could have done. They shouldn’t have been there. They’ll be in hospital now, that’s the most important thing. I can’t make any difference to them now.’
‘Frank! This is what you always do! Shrug off responsibility! You have to step in and tell the police what happened!’
Frank remembered with wistfulness the calm that had descended just after the accident. Right now he was feeling unsettled. He didn’t like to cry in front of his children, and even though his wife might be right about the statement, well, they would wonder why he had left; he had made it worse for himself. It made him look guilty. He took a deep inhalation of nicotine and sat back into the chair in a state not dissimilar, but not anywhere near as good as, that initial euphoria. He savoured the heady escapism afforded by the tobacco. His dark hair, a little greasy now with sweat, flopped ungraciously over his forehead, and his eyes wore darkened rings of exhaustion. Spittle crept languidly from his mouth as he exhaled into the now empty room, his wife having left in disgust to feed and calm the children. He spent the next few hours staring out of the window, cold air mingling with his own warm breath. His eyes closed slowly in the early hours of the morning, the house now quiet, and the rain just a slow trickle in the drains.
The day began as it always did; birds heralding the sunrise, sunshine painting daggers of light into Frank’s consciousness. He eased his eyes open, resenting the sunshine, and aware of his heavy head and aching muscles. As the reality of last night dawned, his heart beat a leadened lurch, jumping with dread into his mouth.
He lit another cigarette, this time to help him to face the day and to wake up into it in half-human form. He realised that he would have to make that trip to the police station, and that he would have to explain his sudden disappearance last night. That was what was expected of him and was the only way he could hold his head up with his wife and children. They would track him down sooner or later anyway, and the later it got, the worse it would be for him.
Frank dragged himself out of the tired chair, and his feet carried him reluctantly over into the kitchen. He made himself a strong black coffee and alternately took swigs of it, followed by a long puff of the cigarette. His dull mind slowly began to clear.
He recalled the long journey from Reading to the South coast, the children excited at seeing their grandmother again, squealing in the back. He had not wanted to quell their eagerness, remembering that feeling of delicious excitement that comes with innocence, and had allowed them to go slightly ‘over the top’ as they neared their destination. They had both arrived and been met with exhuberance; a fitting beginning to a jubilant weekend.
The same journey in reverse had begun on a more sombre note. Everyone was tired after an exhausting, fun filled couple of days. Just as they had been about to leave, Franks’ father had called him to one side.
‘Frank, I just wanted you to know that this may be the last time you can bring all the kids to stay for the weekend. Your mother is ill. She’s only just made it through this weekend. We found out some time ago but didn’t want to tell you. She has cancer and its taking over her body. They found it too late to do anything to help her, and she wants to enjoy as much of the time she has left as she can. She doesn’t know I’m telling you this; but you need to know...... the children wear her out, so perhaps just day trips from now on?’
His father turned on his heels and went back to the exhausted but happy children.
Frank’s eyes followed his father as he went back to the car. He felt the blow in his solar plexus, his insides crumpling into a ball of silent pain. And yet his body stayed controlled and erect. The children, tired yet happy, were giggling and protesting as their grandfather whispered endearments. He pulled his shoulders back and walked calmly over to the car. As he shook hands with his father there was a flash of recognition and then a glance away as he climbed into the car and started the engine. Frank glanced into the mirror as he drove off and watched his father turn and walk into the house, head bowed, back to his dying mother.

Mo Ostler

 

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