Title: 21 Thoughts

Author: Deborah Wilton

In: Sport 21: Spring 1998

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 1998, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Prose Literature

Conditions of use



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Sport 21: Spring 1998

Deborah Wilton — 21 Thoughts

page 54

Deborah Wilton

21 Thoughts

  • 1. The truck didn't even see us, just decided to merge into our lane. Practically on top of us. That's what I told the cops. You have to have a story. I'd tried to accelerate out of its way. Didn't see that the traffic in front had slowed (there was another accident up ahead, another person cloaked with blunt surprise in their driver's seat). It was my 21st birthday. I told the cops that too. They wished me many happy returns.
  • 2. Braked, spun, crashed, burned.
  • 3. Over time, I convinced myself that there was an antagonist, and a motive. A hatchet-faced truck driver, with a vendetta against Japanese cars. A little bit of grease under his thumbnail. His marriage falling apart, his kids snot-nosed fans of the WWF.
  • 4. I had no idea what actually happened in the accident. The proverbial blur. That whole year was a blur, in retrospect. Perhaps it even was at the time.
  • 5. I turned 21 in 1990. Between flats, staying in the suburbs of Toronto at my parents' house. Toronto was unbearable in the summer. Dripping with humidity, heat that lasted through the night. But charmed. Greek chefs carving spit-roasted lamb in their restaurant windows. The old streetcars shrieking on their tracks.
  • 6. The car was a mess. Front caved in, ding in the door. Undriveable. My mother had bought the car with money from my grandfather's will. I had symbolically crushed my granddad. Rammed him on a concrete barrier.page 55
  • 7. 21's not such a big deal in Canada. Unless you're at the police station. Then you might find a kind of notoriety.
  • 8.He used to ride his pushbike round New Zealand, did road trips right up until his stroke. My granddad was a solid solitary figure. Always in walk shorts.
  • 9. There were four concert tickets in my purse. A birthday present. Somewhere out in the night, my friends were standing at a bus stop, waiting. Somewhere out there, my 21st was happening without me.
  • 10. I'd already fictionalised the evening. Moments after the impact. Spent my 21st in the cop shop, yeah, it was intense. Cops questioned me for hours. Wrote off the olds' car, they came down really hard on me. Got gashed on the arm, stitches, the whole bit. You can almost see the scar, it's really faint …
  • 11. I said goodbye to my granddad in 1989. Flew to Auckland for a three-week visit, with my sister in tow. He was in a convalescent home. I was in my Bronte phase, with an unfortunate perm and a wardrobe of long flowing skirts. I like to think this reassured him. Possibly it frightened him.
  • 12. Insecure, loud. Pretentious. We were all the same, my friends and I. Had discovered cynicism, practised being arch. We combed magazines for obscure pieces of counter-culture, then dropped them easily into conversation. My one advantage was my birthplace. I had a litany of stories about New Zealand, the green nuclear-free paradise that I was born to, would return to. My turangawaewae. My friends were impressed with this word (we were easily impressed). The whisper of exotica. I would murmur the Maori placenames on State Highway 1. My friends thought it was an indigenous prayer … so romantic, so … other. Ferns and dark earth, the smell of damp wool.page 56
  • 13. When my sister and I arrived at the Home for the first time, the nurse told us he was in an occupational therapy class. We could watch if we were quiet.
  • 14. My 21st dress was green, and home-made, sewn on Mum's Bernina. Post-Bronte and burgeoning retro-Joan-Crawford-on-acid. Grotesque eyebrows, big red mouth. A permanent sneer. I wore Cinnabar perfume. The cop behind the front desk at the station had looked me over carefully, in case the secrets of my accident were concealed upon my person.
  • 15. There was a room full of them, wheelchairs pushed into a circle. A shrivelled camp of useless arms and paper skin. They were supposed to be throwing a beach ball to each other, to help them improve their coordination. My granddad saw us come in, waved with his good hand. When the beach ball hit him in the chest, rolled into his lap, he grinned. Missed that one, girls. Lopsided, good-natured. He fumbled for it. One side of his body still worked. But he couldn't pick it up.
  • 16. There is an awful moment in a car crash, when you can see it all happening: your reflexes a split second behind your premonition. Foot to the brake, the squeal of the tyres, and the unreality of your world sliding sideways. You can relive that instant for months afterwards. What if I'd swerved to the right? What if? Perhaps dying is something like this. Seeing the outcome at the exact moment it happens. Recognition with the release.
  • 17. The beach ball fell to the floor, wobbled away, all those summer barbecues and sand and children rolling just out of his reach.
  • 18. The towie's nickname was Flaphead. I didn't want to know why. Told him that it was my birthday, that I'd crashed the car on my way downtown. That I had bought tickets to a concert but it would be over by now. Happy Birthday, said Flaphead, ciggie page 57 breath whistling through the gap in his teeth, the car mangled behind us.
  • 19. My granddad's fingers were like clubs, swollen and stiff. He was prickling with the knowledge we were watching. My throat was tight, my granddad frowning at the simplicity of holding a ball, the nurse twittering bright in the background. The electrical mysteries of the mind. His face that mask of shame and puzzlement, and my sister and I standing helpless.
  • 20. I cried when I got home, for the car, for my failed birthday. All pretence dropped. Dad made me a cup of tea, said insurance would cover it. You can replace a car, Mum said, but not a person. There were plastic flowers in a vase on the mantelpiece. My parents had discovered technology that year—word processors, faxes, an electric knife (perfect for hot bread)—and the house smelled like potpourri air freshener.
  • 21. 21 is a multiple of seven. Seven is a mystical number. My granddad's crumpled front. That's what I couldn't get out of my head. Even after the car was fixed. My granddad's crumpled front.