When I sit on the wall opposite the shop window I can observe him sitting behind his desk but because the wall is a few meters away and at an angle I doubt he notices me. I often come and sit here, never for long to ensure I remain undetected.
I’ve got questions to ask him, hoping his recount of what happened that night would give me an understanding of the incident, an insight and ultimately some peace.
Bleak. I don’t think there is any better word to describe that night. Probably the bleakest night of my life. We drove along in silence, the rain pounding on the roof of the car, hard and fast like my heart.
“I don’t want to leave you.” My voice came out squeaky despite my best efforts to control it.
“You can’t stay with me, the place is barely habitable. Your brother and I are going to struggle as it is and you’re a young girl, you need your mother.”
There was no point arguing, even at ten I was sensible and could see the logic. “An old head on young shoulders” people would always say to me, a title I endeavoured to live up to often to the detriment of my childhood, far too busy at being sensible to have any fun.
They started arguing as soon as we arrived. They argued like only a couple who had been happily married for as many years as they had could. Every slight infraction from the past fifteen years, ignored at the time, suddenly reappearing in greater dimension. Every sin stated with the venom that came from years of lip biting and overlooking the little things. Invading each other’s space, spittle traded like bullets with each insult fired. And before my eyes they turn grey, becoming puppets I can manipulate, tugging on their strings until they stop screaming, until they stop waving their arms and instead slowly place them round each other, heads nestled in their necks, hearts beating, souls forgiving…
…maybe that might have happened if they had had more time. Maybe.
I don’t remember saying goodbye. I wish I did. Instead I just remember waking up.
When I woke the next day my mother was standing at the end of the bed. Quietly looking at me, waiting for me to wake. She moved to the edge of the bed as I sat up, bleary eyed, wondering why she was there.
“Last night, there was an accident.” But the words come out so quietly that I have to strain to hear. In my heart I blamed her for the breakdown of the marriage. I know now that I shouldn’t have, but at the time there was no one else.
“What did you say” The words are spat out, in disgust.
“I said, last night there was an accident. Your father is in intensive care.”
I laughed. I laughed out loud. I don’t know why, I couldn’t stop it. Surely this stupid play in which my life had become the main tragedy had to stop soon. I didn’t want to contemplate another chapter.
“You evil Bitch! How could you! Haven’t you done enough damage without making up evil nasty stories, to scare me.” My voice trembled as I screamed the insult.
She just stood there and took it and for years to come this would be her stance. She would stand there and take the abuse as all around her accused, probably because she felt guiltier than anyone else could make her. Maybe because she felt it was justified.
She shouldn’t have. She needn’t have taken the blame. It wasn’t her fault.
As I looked into her eyes I knew it was true and as the tears fought their way to the surface I had to ask, “how?”
“After he left here he drove off on the wrong side of the road. I don’t know why. It’s possible he was distracted and thought he was driving in England or he may have been confused, it was late, dark…he drove straight into another car. Your father was taken straight to hospital. The driver of the other vehicle is fine…”
And there he sits, in his office, behind his big desk, absolutely fine. I walk to the shop front, finally finding the courage to ask him what happened that night and why he gets to go home to his children and my father doesn’t. My hand rests on the door handle and suddenly my eyes meet his. I can tell he knows who I am and he almost looks afraid. I unexpectedly lose my nerve, faltering in my movements, my mind racing at a hundred miles per hour. I realise at that moment, after weeks of sitting on that little wall, that none of this is his fault. So instead I find the courage to walk away for good.
He didn’t know that when he set off that night that he would go over the brow of a hill and hit a car driving on his side of the road. He wouldn’t know whether the man in that car had accidentally found himself on that side of the road, confused in the aftermath of such an emotional moment. Or whether that man would be devastated enough to take his own life and heartless enough to involve someone else.
Yes, he gets to go home to his children and why shouldn’t he? He is an innocent in all of this.
But then, weren’t we all?