It was well past midnight. I’d stayed up late putting together a newsletter for work. I’d read a few chapters in my latest book. I checked my bank account – I’d been paid and it was looking flush. I turned off the lights, and sleep came easily to me.
I sleep fitfully when I’m alone. Hours later (one? two? three or more?) the door slid open, the security light switched on, a footstep. He said something to me. I grunted in response, a drowsy hello.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” he says.
“Tell me in the morning,” I say, or least I think I do, in my semi-conscious state.
“No, I need to tell you now.
“Okay, fine. I’m listening.” I roll over.
“No, you need to sit up.” Agitation.
He needs a hug before starting to explain. I’m still not awake. Nonetheless, a bolt of terror strikes through my stomach. I anticipate the worst. I feel just how fragile my carefully constructed world is. No matter how much I save, I never feel far from the edge. Job losses. Car accidents. Housing dramas. Too many of those. Too much bad news that still makes me a little nervous everytime a call or text message comes through.
He was in a car accident. It’s really no surprise, considering this particular group of friends. Barely friends. Mostly acquaintances. Especially this person, a person who wasn’t meant to be giving him a ride in the first place. Friends don’t drive at 160k/h through the suburbs, spinning out, smashing into kerbs and power poles and fences and nearly killing each other. Friends don’t total other friends’ cars for no reason at all. It was the scariest thing that had ever happened to him. He sat for hours, shaking, before making himself get into our car and drive home. It’s a miracle they walked away from the twisted wreckage.
I hear what he’s saying. I understand it, in some distant corner of my dulled mind. I tell him: “I’m going to give you a hug. Then I need to go back to sleep.”
“Was anyone hurt?” I think to ask, before trying to settle back into slumber.
No one was injured.
I can’t get back to sleep. My nose won’t stop running. I barely sleep the rest of the night. It’s hot. It’s cold. I must have dozed off, because I dreamt. I should just have stayed up and talked.
He asks me to take the day off. Fridays are the worst. But I do it anyway. He needs to go out south to fill out some paperwork for a job. He doesn’t want to drive alone. I’ve never driven a manual on the motorway, and this is not the time to start, groggy and shellshocked. But I can be there with him.
He tells me how he asked him to slow down. How time slowed as things sped up and they bounced around inside. How, when he got out, the spoiler was wedged in between the front seats. He was covered in glass. There were tiny shards inside his ears. Through it all, he held tightly onto the bottle of Lift Plus he’d been clutching, and, somehow, walked away with it. There was no car. There was no more car left.
“I don’t think you understand,” he keeps saying. “I nearly didn’t come home last night.”
I don’t know what to say. I can’t acknowledge how much danger he must have been in as I slept. Because I just can’t understand? Because I partly blame him? Because I can’t just say: “I love you, and I’m glad you’re safe?”
I put my hand on his leg as he changes lanes, and hope that is enough for now.