Sport 3: Spring 1989
Forbes Williams — The Lost Die
There's been an accident up ahead, you can see the flashing lights in the distance. For a while things went in a crawl but now they've stopped altogether. At first people left their motors running but one by one they've turned them off. You lean against the door and drum your fingers on the wheel. You were due in town half an hour ago.
There's a sense of waiting in a supermarket carpark. Any minute your family will appear with the shopping.
After a while you switch on the radio to find out what the story is but you've just missed the news. They're up to the cancellations. The only one they've got today is a senior citizens' backgammon afternoon; the hall they were going to use burnt down last night. There's a few ads, then the music: 'Billy Don't Be A Hero', by Paper Lace. A timeless hit from the seventies, says the announcer. Two hitchhikers walk past.
When she was here on a speaking tour in 1988 Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had a story about this very situation. There were long lines of traffic on a road somewhere in Europe, all going to a football match. There'd been a serious accident and the road was blocked. Everyone was pissed off. One of the victims died but was brought back to life. Later, when he'd recovered, he could remember his spirit travelling to a car waiting down the road and explaining to the people in it that they should be more patient, it was worse for the people in the accident. Not only that, he also remembered the name and address of the car's driver. He was promptly referred to a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist contacted the address to help cure the man of his delusion but it turned out that the name was correct, and the man who lived there had indeed been travelling to the soccer that day on that road. He and his friends had been annoyed at first but they'd realised after a while that it was worse for the people in the accident. The psychiatrist not only discharged the man who'd momentarily died, he also gave up psychiatry.page 39
You turn the radio off. There's a page from an old newspaper in the back seat and you read every word on both sides, even the ads, then do the crossword. You only cheat on three. Some articles you read again. Finally you're down to one:
It rained sardines in Queensland on Sunday.
During a violent storm in Ipswich, 50km inland from Brisbane, residents were pelted by scores of squirming sardines.
Scientists said updrafts probably took the fish from shallow water into the atmosphere. When it rained, they fell.
In the end you tear it out and put it in your pocket.
It occurs that perhaps your family are trapped in the supermarket. The pressure to escape through the narrow checkouts has become so intense they have blocked and everyone in there is slowly suffocating. Someone must have called the fire brigade, you can see the flashing lights in the distance. Strange, they seem to be taking forever. Hurry up, you think. For God's sake hurry up!
I'm reminded of the old woman who lived down the other end of our street when I was at high school. Our street was only a block from the main road and every afternoon about four she'd walk up the main road and peer anxiously at the traffic coming from town. She was waiting for her husband to come home from work, even though he'd been killed years earlier. It was said he'd rolled at the exact same spot she waited. Rain or shine she was up there, every afternoon, hands held tightly together, the wind pressing her dress against her thin legs.
One day a man came round and told my mother there was going to be a meeting to discuss the woman. People were unhappy with the situation, they thought something should be done. He was sitting on our couch with his legs wide apart, all the time throwing a tennis ball to himself. Sometimes he tossed it up in a loop, other times he'd now it hard, like a baseball throwing a baseball into their own mitt.
Finally he dropped it. My mother had started to tell him off for his attitude to the old woman and this had taken him by surprise. The tennis ball bounced across our living room and out into the kitchen. The back door was open and I got to the kitchen just in page 40time to see it rollout and down into the back yard. It took us half an hour to find it. He kept apologising and telling us not to worry but I was really only looking because I wanted to keep it myself. My mother was only looking because she wanted the man out of her house. The man was only looking because he wouldn't be able to talk to the other neighbours without it.
A boy walks up the road towards you. He's carrying a tray like the boys at football matches, with a strap that goes up round his neck. The tray is loaded with chocolate bars and cans of soft drink. Nobody else seems to want anything but you get a Moro bar and a Coke. You have no cash but he accepts cheques with ID. He tells you the road will be clear soon. You chew your Moro slowly, find yourself humming the tune of 'Billy Don't Be A Hero'. At least you won't be here the rest of your life.