I am nothing.
I cannot meet the eyes studying me. Condemning me. Hating me.
Who can blame them? I hate myself.
Widow and fatherless children. Grieving parents. I imagine the empty chair at the table, empty place in the bed where he used to sleep.
One small mistake, lifetime of consequences.
For everyone who knows us.
Disjointed words float in my ears. “Irresponsible”. Sledgehammer words.
“Society disapproves”. I’m not listening.
“Culpable”. Can’t hear.
“Have to pay”. Won’t hear.
Get me out of this place. Take me away. I am nothing.
“I’m all right”!
I snatched back the drink. As if I don’t know my limits. Anyway, it’s a short drive, back roads, cool bananas. Not like I haven’t done it a hundred times before.
I down it and grab the keys. “See ya…”
Just on dark. Be home in a few minutes. Put the foot down, white posts fly by. Mesmerising. I’m watching them whoosh past. Not the stop sign. Not the red flash ahead.
Car! Slam on the brakes.
Sickening, gut wrenching thud. Crunching metal. Distant voice of someone talking. Light in my eyes.
“I’m all right…”
The Clock Ticks
“Why isn’t Daddy home yet”?
Susan looks anxiously at the clock as it ticks quietly towards six.
“He probably got held up or stopped to buy something”.
Expressions change from impatience to excitement. Thoughts of a new toy or a treat ….
The clock ticks. Louder now. Six thirty. Seven.
Thoughts turn towards anxiety. In her. He was never this late.
Why would Daddy ring the doorbell?
“No, wait, I’ll go”. She pushes past them. Thoughts turn to fear.
Two figures at the door. Uniforms. Thoughts turning to panic. Cold hand clutching her throat.
The clock has stopped.
I hear voices. Disembodied sounds.
Cautiously I open one eye. An unfamiliar room materialises.
“I think he’s waking up”.
A hand tightly grips mine. I recognise my mother’s voice.
“Are you alright Paul?”. Deeper voice, my dad.
I struggle to reply. Dry throat, sore like it had been sand-papered.
“You’ve had a car accident. And an operation. But you’ll be OK.”
Footsteps. An unfamiliar voice drifts towards me, like I am listening underwater. “He’s coming around. I’ll tell the doctor”. Footsteps recede.
I see a woman and two children walk slowly past. Someone is holding her up.
The mourners spill out onto the footpath. Nothing like a tragic and untimely death to draw a crowd.
Heads bow as the family solemnly passes, weeping. A deathly hush descends. Even a whisper, quickly shooshed, seems raucous.
The priest begins proceedings, trying his best to sound sincere. A small voice interrupts: “Mummy, is Daddy in the heaven box?” Those innocent words reverberate in my brain. Guilt hits me like a sledgehammer.
A whole room united by sorrow. Family, friends, acquaintances sob as one. I shouldn’t be here.
I wonder if anyone will notice the stranger leaving quietly at the back?
Days of fitful sleep, drifting in and out of consciousness. Family, friends talking at me. The warm ecstasy of pain relief. Doctors and nurses asking questions, taking notes, poking and prodding. I think I remember…
Awake again. Two police officers stand at the foot of the bed.
I nod. Their words float above me as I grapple with their meaning.
“You were involved in a fatal accident five days ago.”
Flash of red car, white air-bag, more red, then black.
Fatal??? Have I died…no, I am here listening. Still not understanding.
‘You have the right to remain silent….”
The Trial Part One
Judge Norris glanced through the summary of evidence. His associate was highly skilled at sifting through the myriad of documents to give him the essence of the case.
On the face of it, it seemed clear cut.
Drunk, speeding, failing give way.
Result- death. Of an innocent husband and father. He considered how hard it was to stay objective in these matters- luckily there was a jury decide guilt.
His job was only to apply the law.
He still wondered why this has gone to trial. Some hot shot lawyer trying to make a name? or just giving bad advice?
The Trial Part Two
To be honest, he loved the power. The way everyone stood when he entered from his chamber.
Barristers bowed reverentially and the assembled crowd shuffled back into their seats. The judge gazed around. Easy to spot the grieving family. The accused’s too. More tears. No winners here. He glanced across to the jury- how will they vote?
Let’s get this business underway. Read out the charges. “Will the accused please rise?”
“Excuse me your honour”. It was the defence barrister. Some complaint or delaying tactic? He knows every trick in the book.
“My client wishes to plead guilty”.
Written by Peter Larsen
Peter is a secondary teacher at Traralgon College in Victoria, Australia.