Wheels On Fire
Baker’s hours means I’m home and it’s two in the afternoon. It has been three days since I last did any proper sleeping. I am raging wide-eyed and insomniac. Nothing is even really real. Something that is not coffee, work or not-sleep needs to happen and it needs to happen quick-smart. At three in the afternoon I book myself a ticket on the evening ferry to Wellington. I have three and a half hours to get to Picton. It takes four and a half hours on a good day. I put my boots on and pull a shirt over my leggings. Get on the road. Get out of town. Speed along the Kaikoura coast. It becomes winter-dark and rainy in the same moment. Somebody is guiding my hands. I round corners at maximum speed. I run out of gas on some dark stretch of road.
I stand on the side of the road just weeping. In great sleepless gushes. A truck pulls over and sells me a petrol can. He says drive safe love it’s miserable tonight. I don’t even need to drive safely somebody is holding my hands. I overtake on blind corners. I might make it in time.
Down the hill into Picton. Mountain bank one side skiddy brown mountain bank dropping steep the other side. I swerve. The car noses wildly, tries to decide which way it will crash. Chooses the bank. Crushes in at the front then flips over. Arse up head down. I open the door, take off my seatbelt and roll out.
I stand on the side of the road just weeping. In great sleepless gushes. They are all coming for me. Cops. Fire trucks. Ambulance. Paramedics diagnose mild whiplash and a bleeding knee. They say is anybody else in the car over and over. I say no, no, no. They put my things in a paper bag. They put me in a hostel to sleep. Somebody brings me a burrito stuffed with grey mince. I push it away.
The next day I am on the ferry to Wellington. No charge for re-booking. I am clutching my paper sack and just weeping. In great sleepless gushes. It has the words patient property on it in big black lettering. People look away: my first day out of the asylum. The thought cracks me right up. I am just laughing and my weep-snot sounds guttural. They all leave me alone.
The petrol light is always on. It is the responsibility of the person driving the car to make a mental note of how empty it really is. If the person driving puts twenty dollars in on the way home, but the petrol light remains on, the car may be considered to have a full tank. If the person driving home pays more attention to Kim Hill than gas station opportunities, then goes up the coast to consider and purchase apples, the car may be considered to be running on empty. We are in the latter circumstance. However: Do we need gas? No, we are absolutely full-empty. Well we do need gas because we just ran out. Shit.
We slide to a halt as the motorway turns to not-motorway on a corner. The cars whip by and brake quick. We call the AA and wait. A cop car comes along because it’s a very stupid place to stop. Also because the tail-light is smashed and we only have one wing mirror. You explain ourselves. Unfortunately with a fag hanging out of your mouth. I have one hand on the car, one hand rubbing my lower back, I stick out my belly and don’t say anything at all. I try to look doe-eyed and confused. Blink into the oncoming stream of traffic.
The policeman is understanding. He says keep safe then you two and turns to go back to his car. But somebody has run into the back of his car. Perhaps they were drawn in by his flashing candy-blue-red-lights. The policeman says fuck but in an extended way, more like fuuuucccck. He writes up a ticket for the accident-man, who had been travelling in convoy with four other persons so we are in a six-car pile up on a dodgy corner. A Fulton Hogan truck happens upon us, or else has been summoned to the scene. Either way it arrives and efficiently doles out road cones. Casually, Calamity Jane swings herself off the truck’s frame with her enviable biceps and gung-ho smile. She is my hero for approximately ten seconds. Then she casually says Fucking Asian Drivers Eh? and it’s all over. I go back into the car to await the real hero. The AA man with the petrol can. He should be able to find us easily because of the road cones.
I didn’t see you at all that day. I rocked the baby’s cradle and draped my breast into her mouth and stared at her big eyes (your big, lash-laden eyes) and tried to will them closed. You were in the shed drinking and playing your banjo and trying to dull your brain into quiet submission. We came together at the end of the day to argue about the bottles in the recycling bin. You were offended and stubborn and I was sleep deprived and so so angry at you for being a useless fucking drunk. We retreated from one another again but then I came after you to bum a smoke and say I’m sorry for being an arsehole I love you come to bed don’t fucking drive your fucking motorbike. You kissed me and it tasted like ethanol; a sharp cut through the layers of tobacco and toothpaste and human breath. Vodka is more difficult to detect than whisky, say, or beer but my well-worn mouth knew. You said I’ll be in soon just gotta play this tune. I went and spooned the dog beside the cradle and closed my eyes and then heard the key in the ignition and the dirt bike changing up gears as you took off. You useless fucking drunk said my heart as my milk making brain ushered the sleep in quick.
At two in the morning the dog whined at the door for a pee. The baby screamed for milk. You were not beside me and you were not on the couch and as I opened the door for the dog I called for you and you were not in the full moon garden. The dog didn’t need to pee she just needed to sniff the air for traces of you. I went in to rock the cradle and call the police. The woman on the phone took the useless fucking drunk stance too and said if we find him we will tell him to go home to his wife. I was not and never will be your wife but I felt a duty to support her attempt at solidarity. I rocked the cradle and called your friends in the city. I rocked the cradle and called my mum. I rocked the cradle and called the police again. Your friends said they were on their way to see if you’d passed out in a bush up the coast somewhere. I put the baby in the front pack and jiggled her and waited for the light and for something to happen.
Then our little house filled up with people and a young policeman with a broken expression that looked so out of place on his kindly face came in the door. I jiggled her and I jiggled her and the policeman said we’ve found him on the beach. I said oh shit is he going to be ok? The policeman said I’m so so so sorry but he’s dead. And I jiggled her and heard white fucking thunder in my mind and I wept. In great sleepless gushes as the policeman told me how you hit a log on a bright full moon stretch of beach how you went flying and broke your neck on the wet hard sand how you went swimming with the tide how you were washed back in with it. The policeman said over and over that nobody could have seen that log; that you would have died quickly. I jiggled her and I jiggled her and I waited. For something else to happen. Something that wasn’t enormous.