The Drive 29.4.19
‘It’s not over till it’s over’ he’d said. If it hadn’t been such a heated conversation and had she not been walking out on him, D would have burst into song, repeating his lines and adding ’till I’m over you’. It was 5 years since that day, also his birthday. The reminder had been in her phone up until last year, but by then the date was lodged in her mental calendar. She’d felt horrible doing it on his birthday, but there was hardly an opportune moment to talk with him, and he’d given her his full attention in anticipation of being showered with gifts and adoration.
She slammed on the breaks, bringing her ricocheting into the present. The highway was dotted with cars that had slowed to a crawl while she’d been trying to remember what he’d worn that day, and just who it was that sang that song. Was it a cover? It seemed too timeless to have been an original considering whatshername’s career hadn’t had the longevity to get through the 90s. Fortunately, she avoided the rear of the ute in front and after some zig-zagging, saw the obstacle- a large male Kangaroo on its back, legs pointing up to the heavens. Rigor mortis had done its thing and the cars wove around him and the displaced bumper bar of the assailant. There would be no floral tribute on the closest barrier or telegraph pole, no observant catholic doing the little dabbing on the forehead and the sign of the cross that she’d seen them do at mass, never quick enough to catch exactly what the movement was and too awkward to ask and highlight to the others at All Saints Ladies College that she was not one of them, instead quickly brushing her index finger across her face then doing the sign of the cross which any non-Catholic could imitate. Anyway, there’d be none of that. She took a gasp of air greedily as she felt the familiar suction in her chest that was painted in the colours of sadness and panic, shades of green with swirls of grey intruding from the edges. She was sad not just for that kangaroo but all those sprawled on highways and winding country roads, the only ritual marking their departure being a spray of neon paint on their corpse as they lay in wait for what would follow. As a child, she’d believed playground tales of kangaroo meat ground and cooked in gravy, encased in benign pastry, luring unsuspecting victims from the glow of the tuckshop’s pie warmer. D’s lunch was usually a cheese and tomato sandwich made by her mother in the mornings, too soggy to contemplate by lunch time no matter how starved she was. On the rare occasion that she had money, she settled for the safer bet of the curly uncooked noodles with their absence of nutritional value or dead roo. As she pulled into the station, there was a jolt with her return to the time displayed by luminated digits on the platform, and her inevitable puzzled wonder at having arrived without conscious steering.
He’d been lulled into a false sense of security with small talk of the weather and the fluff piece that had gone to air moments earlier in the news room. They did a live cross and he’d taken the bait as soon as the camera started to roll.
Sitting on the cold concrete step, he played the 17 second grab in a loop. The reporter’s eyes had squinted to an almost close and his lips twitched in a smug frown-smile giving him the air of a man who thought himself a hero- bringing vengeance for lives lost along with ratings to boost his profile. Not bothering with formalities for the sake of viewers who hadn’t been privy to the earlier banter, he’d pounced, sticking to his agenda
‘275 people died on your watch. Can you explain why you still have a job?’
Watching it, Stephen’s brows mirrored the beads of sweat that pooled on his face looking back at him from his phone. He’d stammered
‘I, I, I don’t know’, inspiring the headline “Air traffic controller doesn’t know why he’s employed after killing 275 people.”
Stephen had been packing to leave at the end of his shift when flight MAC567 came crashing down in a blazing trail of lives and dreams smouldering within the steel trap, the event unravelling too quickly for the cabin crew to warn passengers, much less brace themselves for what was to come moments later. They’d caught him leaving the facility, hours after his shift was over, as he’d been kept back for the debrief and incident management. It didn’t take a genius to find him, his name announced from the lanyard that hung around his neck. It was his second day on the job, and he would shadow others for another 3 months. The inquest wrapped up 13 months later. He’d been cleared but more senior colleagues held culpable. Not missing a beat or doing a fact check, Channel 5 turned up at his door for an exclusive after the inquest, making him the face of the public’s condemnation. Weeks went by and he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognised and had to clamber over cameras, folding chairs and flasks of news crews camped on the pedestrian strip outside his home, noting he was still employed as they saw him come and go in uniformed silence.
On this, a slow- news night, flashing lights of emergency services circle the tower. He’d climbed the winding steps intended for the technicians servicing the receivers. With his legs dangling over the edge and a steely focus on the device cradled in his palm, the words of the reporter threatened to bring the tally to 276.
This is the second in a weekly series featuring stories written on my commute earlier in the week. Click on the tag ‘VlineVignette’ for more. Influences this week were my commuting experience, a recent collision with a kangaroo on my way to work, and media training I attended during the week. Life inevitably seeps into fiction.