Cathy, Sheila and I are on a night out together. Cathy is like a younger version of me, introverted, pensive, and easy to please. We have known each other for most of our lives. Sheila, who introduced herself to us recently, is ten years older than me and shorter than the two of us, is opinionated; yet has a laissez faire attitude.
Arm in arm and liberally laced with Sambuca we step off the pavement with our backs to the traffic. It’s a busy road and a bright yellow car flashes past missing Cathy. Just as I am about to open my mouth to warn her to be careful I hear a bang and a car smashes into her back, snapping her into a rag-doll vee-shape against its bumper.
Somewhere, out of immediate of sight, rubber skidding on tarmac tracks back to the senses.
‘Sheila,’ I scream ‘phone an ambulance.’ and run the sixty yards to where Cathy lies in a culvert. The black car that hit her; I think it was a black car, is nowhere to be seen but as I kneel beside Cathy’s broken body, willing her to live, this is the least of my concerns. Her eyes are glazed and there is a strange pinpoint of light in them, growing stronger by the second.
Sheila, like a white-haired harbinger of what should have been her future, appears beside my left shoulder.
‘They’re on their way’ she says ‘but I don’t know the road name is for sure so am gonna run back, find out and phone it in.’
That’s the problem with being in a strange city, the destinations are all the same, look the same but place and road names are different.
I look around for help but there’s no-one in sight and then I see the pulse of blue light moving fast on a parallel road.
‘Hang on Cathy hon, they’re coming.’
She doesn’t answer but her arm is still linked around mine.
I look for Sheila and figure she must be at the end of the road waiting to guide the medics in.
Time passes and panic rises.
‘Where the bloody hell are they? What if Sheila got it wrong?’ I think and realising Cathy’s grip on me is non-existent I check her airway, listen for breath and, like some kind of deviant lover, feel around her neck for her carotid artery.
‘Please, someone help!’ I scream and tilt her head back.
Five minutes elapse as I attempt to breathe life back into the one constant being of my existence and then I get up and run. I run to find Sheila. I’ll fucking kill Sheila. Who needs a woman like her for a friend? And it’s dark here, so dark in that moment of denial.
Up at the junction I see her shape haloed in sickly sodium street light. She turns towards me and says ‘I phoned it in just as they went past. I got it wrong I’m sorry.’
I don’t know why but Sheila seems taller now, almost as tall as Cathy, and her face is now an older version of mine.
‘You’re too late. She’s gone.’ I cry, clinging to Sheila.
She looks at me pragmatically. ‘You’d better get back to her. I’ll wait here to flag the medics down.’
Again I run, berating myself for leaving Cathy. What sort of friend am I, to a woman who has loved me most of my life, that I leave her lying in a ditch.
It’s daylight when I get back to her. It feels as if I’ve been gone a long time. But Cathy’s body isn’t there and children are playing in the culvert with balls, hoopla rings and buckets and spades. The little boy with auburn curly hair reminds me of my primary school love.
‘Do you know what happened to the lady that was lying on the ground near to where you are now? I ask. ‘Did an ambulance come and take her away?
He doesn’t answer and turns his back on me, unaware of my distress.
A glint of blue refracting sunlight attracts me to the spot where Cathy lay. It’s a stone from her earring. It lies trampled into the earth next to a small gingerbread coloured effigy.
‘Forgive me for leaving you so long.’ I sob, cradling the smiling figurine in my palm. Its left leg is shattered, the same leg I broke when Cathy and I became friends, and although its body has the texture of clay, it snaps at the waist and bleeds blue pearlescent fluid. I recoil, this quasi-blood is the colour and feel of Cathy’s shampoo, and I run and run until darkness removes all strands of consciousness from me.
When I awake halogen street light cuts a stripe across my counterpane and thoughts of Cathy haunt me.
In the en-suite I flush the toilet. My head throbs, my whole body feels as if I have been a car-wreck, and searching for aspirin in the bathroom cabinet my creased fingertips make contact with a single blue-stoned earring. I don’t have pierced ears anymore, my earlobes closed over a decade ago when I developed an allergy to nickel based metals. My eyes fix on the expensive brand name shampoo I no longer use; it irritates my scalp.
I wish the Cathy I once knew was still alive; she didn’t have any of these problems, but she’s been gone so long I’m beginning to forget what she looked like. I know for sure that if she were here she’d tell me to snap out of my melancholia, brush my hair and apply some lipstick. I can’t wear lipstick anymore; it cracks my lips, so I reach for my brush. Its bristles are tangled with white hair and suddenly I am afraid to look in the mirror because I know exactly whose face will be reflected back at me.
Image © Steinar Lund
©Talia Hardy 2014.