This story is by Wendy Bush and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I am Office Manager of a Tasmanian law firm with practices in Burnie, Smithton and Hobart. I generally work from the head office in Burnie, but once a month, I visit the other branches for meetings with the staff and to discuss the budget. Today, I am heading off to Smithton. It is to be a special day, because I have promised the staff lunch at an up-market restaurant. In keeping with the occasion, I am wearing my best white and navy suit and high heels.
To house the budget papers, I recently purchased a splendid receptacle in the form of a metal box with a sturdy handle. Like a miniature filing cabinet, its interior boasts a number of labelled hangers to keep my documents meticulously I place. Just as I am loading my box into the back seat, Colin, one of the Burnie partners, makes the unsettling observation that the box looks like an Esky, which in our neck of the woods, is the commercial name for a portable ice box used for carrying beer. He is concerned that the good citizens of Smithton may take me for a drunkard. His actual words are “old drunkard”, which could be doubly hurtful, except that Colin and I have that kind of rapport which readily trades insults without giving offence.
Having said my farewells to Burnie, I am now proceeding along the Bass Highway towards my destination. It is an idyllic spring day, with daffodils blooming on the wayside, a checkerboard of lush, green paddocks interspersed with chocolate-brown ploughed tracts, trees in new leaf and dairy cows contentedly grazing around the waterholes. Nonetheless, I am mindful that I must keep a watchful eye on the road, which through this section, has only two lanes with narrow verges and winds rather precariously. In fact, at one point, there is a bend which has often defeated me in previous trips. Its angle is so acute that it is impossible to determine whether traffic is coming from the opposite direction. To make matters worse, every time I negotiate it, I find myself forced off my side of the road into the middle, where I could potentially be facing oncoming vehicles. Knowing this, I decide that this time, I will drive much closer to the verge. Theoretically, this should allow me to keep to the correct side.
Unfortunately, I have miscalculated. The verge on this bend is almost non-existent, as the road here has been cut away, forming steep embankments on both sides. As I try to execute my plan, the front wheel on the passenger side mounts the embankment and the car starts to roll. I watch, fascinated, as the windscreen slowly disintegrates, crackling into a network of filigree lace.
Time seems to have slowed down, enabling me to think, “In a moment, I will be either dead or alive. If alive, I must remember to make sure the handbrake is on.” Strangely, I am not afraid of the idea of death; no visions of Grim Reapers, no pledges made to Omnipotent Beings, no flashbacks to past life events, just a calm acceptance of my fate.
My vehicle has meanwhile landed with a crunching thud onto its roof, putting paid to my decision to apply the handbrake. I can no longer see a thing through the windscreen; only a small black patch of asphalt is visible through my side window, which miraculously remains intact.
From my upside-down vantage point, I attempt to open the driver’s side door, but discover that the car has rolled into a position which has wedged the top of the door immovably against the surface of the road. The passenger side window has cracked and is spitting out pointy shards of glass. My side window is a lost cause; despite my frantic efforts, it refuses to respond to its electronic control and stubbornly remains shut.
I am here alone, stranded in the middle of nowhere, my phone missing, and no other means of communication with the outside world. I am hanging upside-down, strapped tightly and uncomfortably into my seat belt. Glass beads from the shattered windscreen are starting to descend and sparkle at me from below. I wonder how long I can last with the blood rushing to my head like this. Then I console myself with the thought that bats sleep like this for hours with no serious consequences.
My thoughts shift to the Smithton staff. They will soon wonder why I haven’t turned up and are sure to contact Burnie. However, if no one else appears to rescue me soon, it could be at least another hour before a colleague arrives here. A gust of wind through the smashed side window is followed by an ominous rustling from the back seat. That will be the budget papers escaping from their hangers. All that time I’d spent organising them was a complete waste. But forget the budget papers! Now is the time for action!
I tentatively try the door again. Still no luck. It is stubbornly jammed. I wonder if the car has rolled too close to the corner, so that oncoming vehicles will not see me in time to stop. Maybe I should toot the horn every now and then to give them prior warning. The radio is still functioning and the pleasant, cultured voice of the host is interviewing a lady whose theory is that the fear of death has now been superseded by the fear of public speaking. I find that I am now not altogether in agreement with her proposition and switch her off, muttering a few terse words.
I look down at the pile of glass, which is steadily accumulating immediately beneath me. I am contemplating the risky exercise of releasing my seat belt, allowing myself to plummet head first into the glistening shards, when wonder of wonders! I hear the promising sound of a vehicle approaching. First, a purring engine noise, then a gear change as the bend in the road is negotiated. Any second now, it will stop.
But no! The vehicle has swished past me. Is the driver blind, or just totally insensitive to the needs of others? I continue my muttering, alarm now increasing my vocabulary to heightened levels of obscenity. Then, even more unbelievably, swish! swish! Two more cars pass by in quick succession. Whatever has the world come to? Why are people so callous? Where are the Good Samaritans of today? I am affronted, I am enraged. I have totally given up on the idea of man’s humanity to man.
But, do I detect a sudden movement from my side window? Yes, indeed: it is a pair of legs in blue jeans, then an upside- down man’s face, a white, stricken face, peering at me. It is dreading the possibility that it may have come upon a fatality or a serious injury, so I must immediately allay its fears.“I’m not hurt”, I call, doing my best to appear unshaken. “It’s just that this door is stuck. Maybe you could try to open the hatchback?”
In no time at all, I am free. My valiant rescuer has crawled towards me, sweeping the broken glass to one side with broad strokes of his arm. He has unclipped the seat belt and I am no longer a bat in isolation from the world.
As I am scrambling from the vehicle, I hear voices cheering. It is the occupants of the other two cars I have cursed at for passing me by. Being unable to stop on a dangerous bend, they have parked three hundred metres further along the road and have returned on foot to see if they can assist.
One of the cars has been rented by two nurses on holiday. They offer me hot tea from their thermos flask and wrap a warm blanket around my shoulders. The other belongs to an insurance salesman who has already called the police and an ambulance. Within a short time, there is quite a crowd assembled at the roadside. Someone is just in the process of notifying the Smithton office, when a policeman strides towards me, holding my “Esky”. Recalling the view Colin colourfully expressed this morning, I have momentary qualms, but I am not even breathalysed.
My faith in humanity well and truly restored, I thank everyone for their kindness and am promptly bundled into an ambulance to be taken back to the Burnie Hospital, where I am examined and discharged.
My brief period in isolation has shown me that I can be resilient in the face of adversity, and to a greater extent than I would have expected. But more importantly, it has taught me that by and large, people are caring and will not turn their backs on strangers in need.
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