This story is now part of SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.
I didn’t see the early 60s Volkswagen Beetle crash into the lamppost, but I certainly did hear it.
I was lost in my own little world while walking along Erin Street on one of those beautiful Spring days.
You know the sort of day I’m talking about; the air is the same temperature as your skin, the light is golden, and all is still.
I was walking and dreaming, and the bang was a rude awakening.
I walked over to the Beetle, which had hit the light pole head on.
The impact had compressed the front of the little car, and although it was not exactly wrapped around the tree, the front had a huge lamppost shaped dent.
The car was compressed up to the windscreen; it had apparently struck the pole at quite a speed.
I wondered why I had not noticed it zoom past me.
I opened the passenger side door and looked in, fully expecting to see a grisly scene.
Instead, I saw a young man lying on the floor without any visible signs of injury. My eyes scanned the interior and noticed that his seatbelt was undone.
I stared at the young man, and his eyes opened.
“Didn’t see any use for the seatbelt then?” I said.
The young man didn’t answer, but he did move to sit up.
It suddenly occurred to me that this model Volkswagen had the fuel tank in the front and it most assuredly had been crushed.
“The fuel tank is in the front of this thing, and I think it’s time we got out of here,” I said with some urgency.
Sure enough, I could see smoke and a small amount of flame coming from what was left of the front of the car.
As we walked away, the car quickly caught fire.
I remember feeling calm and relaxed but also realising that the accident had happened near to the front of the house that I grew up in.
When my mother died, more than a decade ago, we sold the house to a young couple.
I was walking down this street because it had been so long since I had done so but did not want the young couple to think that I was spying on them.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and it was the young man who now owns the house.
“Hi, how are you? Why didn’t you come in and say hello?”
He seemed to be more interested in me that the flaming wreck.
“Oh, it’s that ‘impossible hour of the day’, and I did not want to intrude.”
He seemed satisfied with my excuse and turned to walk back to his house or possibly to watch the fire.
Meanwhile, the young driver had gone back to the car to retrieve a book.
He returned to my side, and we walked off down the street.
We didn’t speak because it seemed unnecessary.
“So, while this was all going on, how did you feel?”
“Strangely calm and confident. I was a little bit embarrassed at being discovered by the house’s owner, but I felt like I’d talked my way out of it.”
“How long has it been now?”
“A little over three years.”
“You know that it wasn’t your fault. don’t you?”
“So everyone keeps telling me.”
“You sound angry.”
“I am a bit. I feel like I should be doing better.”
“I know I am, but it’s all too slow.”
“You told me that the nightmares have stopped.”
“Only to be replaced by these strange little adventures. Admittedly, this one was not without its upside. It left me feeling dreamy and calm, and instead of drifting away, it stayed with me for the rest of the day. Do you have any idea what it all meant?”
“None at all, but even if I did, your impressions are way more important than mine.”
“So why are they paying you all that money?”
“You’re just trying to wind me up, aren’t you?”
“Just a little bit. I must have some fun. It’s incredibly annoying listening to people talking all day long. I need to shake things up a bit. Otherwise, I drift off.”
“Bloody hell! I’m suffering, and you’re bored? If I were paying the bills, I’d sack you.”
“Ah yes, but you aren’t paying the bills, are you? And besides, you have made some progress, and they are unlikely to take me off your case because I’m the lowest bidder for these contracts, and the lowest bidder always wins.”
“You are honest; I’ll give you that. Honest and annoying.”
“You forgot handsome.”
“Now I feel sick.”
“I’m sorry, you’ll have to feel sick on your own time because our time is up.”
“Not even a single comment on my ‘flaming Volkswagen’ dream?”
“I’m sorry, our time is up.”
“I have to take a bus and a tram to get here. I have to wake up at an ungodly hour because your brain-dead secretary seems incapable of getting me an appointment any later than 8 am. I negotiate the morning peak-hour traffic to cross Collins Street, arm wrestle the one-hundred-year-old elevator and sit in your delightful wood-paneled outer office while your recently deceased secretary files her nails. Every time, I ask her why my appointment does not start on time, and she tells me, every time, that I will have to wait because you have a very important client in session. What am I, chopped liver? Pickled herring? Why am I forced to wait every week?”
“Because you are one of my contract clients and he is a private, fee-paying client. It would take four of you to equal one of him. So you wait.”
“Again with the honesty. Couldn’t you lie to me just once? A small lie designed to make me feel better?”
“If you started feeling better, there would be no need for me, and I would have to fill your 8 am appointment time on a Tuesday. That would be not only annoying but also inconvenient. You wouldn’t wish to intentionally inconvenience me, would you Mr Volkswagen?”
“The name’s Wilson, not Volkswagen.”
“Sorry, that just slipped out. A bit of a Freudian slip, no doubt. There you go. A bit of high-class therapy via a Freudian slip. Value for money that. Not that you generate that much money.”
“Why do you accept patients from them if we are so annoying?”
“I need the money, of course. I have overheads. My children go to private school. My wife likes beautiful things. I have a mistress who likes beautiful things.”
“Aren’t you worried that I’ll use your honesty against you. I could blackmail you because of your mistress. Your wife wouldn’t like it. I could tell her what you said.”
“What do I care. You’re nuts. No one is going to believe you.”
“Fair point. 8 am next Tuesday?”
“Yes. And this time, try not to be late.”
My neighbour owned this car for a number of years until she drove it into a creek. It turned on it’s side and she nearly drowned. It was a beautiful old Morris Minor. Early 1950s. Her and her boyfriend had cut the top off it and turned it into a soft top. The wreck sat in her front yard for many years and bits and pieces of it were sold off to restorers. It was removed just recently but fortunately I got this shot a while back. In case you were wondering, yes she did find another one and yes it is a soft top. Late 1940s this time. These ‘Morries’ sound great and the riding experience is visceral. Unfortunately this neighbour is not speaking to me at the moment see here, and here for the reason.
He must have hit the road quite hard.
I heard the car hit him and I heard the crowd gasp but by the time I turned my head he was trying to get to his feet. As befits a surreal moment like this, he was looking on the ground for his sunglasses. It was pouring rain, the sun had set but he still had his sunglasses with him. Despite the darkness it was not a lack of light that had contributed to this scene. It happened outside the Forum Cinema; brightly lit as most cinema entrances tend to be. The rain definitely had something to do with it as did impatience and a possible desire to not get too wet.
To get from the Forum to ACMI* (which you would probably have to do at least once if you are a dedicated MIFF* attendee) you have to walk away from your intended target and navigate two sets of pedestrian lights (both very slow to react) or you could do what many people do and cross the road directly. I’ve done it a couple of times during the festival but in daylight, when it was not raining and not during that vicious time know as ‘peak hour’!
Even in my younger and braver days I would not have attempted this particular crossing under these conditions, but this bloke did and there he was picking himself and his sunglasses off the road.
As he got to his feet I watched his body language to see what condition he was in and I guess the throng of people around me were doing the same.
As he straightened up, sunglasses in hand, he looked a little unsteady. The traffic had stopped but this was ‘peak hour,’ that time of the day when reason and compassion is thrown to the wind.
As the seconds ticked by he seemed to be trying to make up his mind what he should do next. I wanted him to come back onto the footpath and sit down but he decided to continue his original course! His chances of making it across the first time were slim but now they were non existent. As if to prove the point, one of the cars in the waiting line pulled out onto the tram line and narrowly missed him. Fortunately, he got the point and stopped but now he seemed really confused and it occurred to me that I might have to go and get him but it also occurred to me that the situation was getting more dangerous by the second as the waiting cars were likely to take off without warning and I would have to cross three lanes to get to him. For those few moments he was still safe but it was likely to go pear shaped very quickly.
At this point the guy in the little white car (which I’m assuming is the one that hit him) began gesturing to the pedestrian to get into his car. He got the message and slowly came around to the passenger side and very, very slowly got in.
The watching crowd breathed a mental sigh of relief and we all returned to normal time. I say ‘normal time’ as these things tend to play out in what appears to be slow motion but in fact everything moves at normal speed but in what feels like compressed time.
But at least we had a reasonably happy ending and a large number of people, mostly queueing for cinema tickets, got to see it play out.
Every story needs a good ending with a bit of reality thrown in so here we go.
As the stunned, sunglasses toting pedestrian climbed into the car the car behind him started blowing his horn and he kept blowing it. He was obviously in a hurry, there was no need to worry about a slightly crumpled pedestrian, he needed to get home.
Most likely he was afraid he would miss the beginning of Big Brother.
It seems to me that the media likes to focus on incidents that appear to show that the general public does not respond in an emergency. This hasn’t been my experience, and I was reminded when I read this article in ‘The Age’, my city’s newspaper. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/quiet-care-that-the-news-misses-20130208-2e3vi.html
* ACMI is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
* MIFF is the Melbourne International Film Festival, it’s also the second oldest established film festival in the world.