Some Albatross…

A (very brief) excerpt from the unpublished novel Albatross




The sound of windscreen wipers in a heavy rain had always soothed her, as had the click-click-click of the indicator. She was tired and eager to get home – it had all turned a little political at this latest meeting. She was the peacemaker, of course, the moderate voice of reason as usual, trying to keep the more vocal and opinionated from taking over completely. She always found it strange that these people – who were otherwise friendly and undoubtedly well-meaning – tended to treat these planning meetings like political games of chess, not willing to be seen as anything other than one of those ‘in charge’. She didn’t herself care about that – about whether she gave the orders or carried them out – as long as the end goal was achieved. Generally, however, she found herself in the upper echelons of the complicated social structure of these different clubs and groups and societies; which she supposed was nice, but which she also supposed that – being a Good Christian Woman – she shouldn’t enjoy too much, lest this pride precipitate a fall.

She was thinking about all this as she waited for the lights to change, enjoying the rhythmic metronome of the wipers and the indicator. There was a man at a bus stop across the street, soaked, looking like a drowned rat.

Poor man, she whispered, hoping that he got home, or wherever it was he was going, soon, so he could dry off before he caught his death.

This was the last thought she would have, and it was only fitting that it should be one of a charitable nature.

The following day, in a hospital canteen over lunch, two interns would argue over the definition of decapitation. The chin and neck remained attached to the torso, while the upper portion of the head – from just above the jaw area upwards – was discovered in the back seat of the car after several hours of careful cutting and sawing of mangled metals by the fire department. It had taken some time to detangle the body of the car from the under-carriage of the articulated truck, and the presence of an otherwise flawless human head – or two-thirds of one – lying there peacefully on the back seat, tilted slightly to one side, took the fireman who found it by surprise, unsurprisingly, and he promptly threw up at the sight of it, and years later this image – her eyes still open, her mouth also appearing to be open due to the fact that the upper lip and teeth remained perfectly in place while the lower lip and teeth and chin, etc., were still attached (though rather more messily) to the rest of her body in the driver’s seat – this image would appear in his mind’s eye unbidden from time to time and he would shudder and think: Why did I have to be the one to see that?

The man standing in the rain at the bus stop saw it all, and had in fact been looking directly at her (and was sure their eyes had met) at the exact moment of impact: ‘Jesus Christ, it just swallowed the damn thing whole,’ was all he could say to the policeman a short while later, and this image – of the truck swallowing up the small car and the woman inside it – would stay with him for a long time, too. ‘Just eaten right up – can you believe it?’

She neither saw nor heard nor felt a thing, didn’t even have a tiny millisecond moment of realisation that the huge truck was about to hit. It was unclear to those investigating the scene what part of the truck had severed the head from its body, but it was widely agreed that this was what had killed her, and it was also thought, quite correctly, that it had been as instant a death as one could have, the head and part of the brain and the spinal cord all being sliced in one quick, singular motion, before she had a chance to feel any pain or even realise that there was something amiss.

She was thinking about the poor wet man in the rain, and about the politics of that evening’s meeting, of her husband and her daughter, and of a nice warm bath when she got home, the repetitive swoosh of the wipers relaxing her mind, everything seeming just as it should… and then suddenly there was nothing; that was it, as quick as a thought itself, no angels or demons or trumpets sounding, no rapture or whispers from a god. Just a woman, and a car, and a truck; and then an empty space where a soul had once been.