It’s all my fault. As I walk along State Highway 27, just north of Tatuanui, that much is clear to me. You can say this is a notorious spot, that there was probably black ice on the road at the time, but none of that matters. She is still dead. I still killed her. Excuses won’t bring her back; but gravity will.
It will be a sunny day later, a fine, fresh winter’s day... Just like the day of the accident.
The remains of a hard Waikato frost linger in the paddocks on either side of me, but the sun—a muted, hazy red orb low over the Kaimai ranges—will expel all that in due course. The road, a great slumbering snake, coiling and twisting over the valley floor, with the stains of blood and spilt fuel to colour its scales. If they could speak—those stains—they would tell the secrets of misery and carnage collected, of lives ruined, including that of the loveliest girl I ever knew.
It’s late, my love, but I won’t let you down.
Patches of fog cling to the paddocks like phantoms fleeing the emerging day.
The cold clings to my skin, drawing warmth from my extremities, gnawing deep within my bones. I expect to see the plumes of my breath, but don’t. Perhaps I, like Elona, belong to some other world.
I suck in air through my nostrils: the stench of something damp, full bodied, and expiring; perhaps the grass itself is starting to rot.
I think of you rotting in your coffin, my pretty, sweet Elona. Is it lonely sleeping without me?
My well-worn boots strike the asphalt. One step at a time. Left, then right. This the rhythm of the damned. I will walk forever. I have no choice. Gravity. The pull of two bodies towards each other. That’s how it is with you and I.
Do you remember how we met three years ago? How you rolled your eyes when the M.C. at Jase and Linda’s wedding was explaining the rules of yet another inane party game? I saw your reaction. Was I the only guy who noticed you? You had the smallest, most perfect head wrapped in a neat bob of shiny, dark hair; lips ever so slightly twisted, but no less perfect; and, under your nose, the faintest trace of a cleft lip scar. A beauty that steals one’s breath. Later, we met at the bar... Or did you intercept me? You suggested a walk outside, where it wasn’t so stuffy, away from the crowds. I could barely walk, my legs unsteady with alcohol, my head buzzing. “Fresh air?” I said, “Sure.”
It was dark outside and a little chilly. You clung onto my arm—“For warmth,” you said. Nevertheless, I felt my heart skip, my mind expanding with the possibilities.
As we walked, the gravel crunched under our feet. Your heels sank, so you removed them, walking barefoot, pretending it didn’t hurt as those tiny stones imbedded in the soles of your feet. You were always so carefree. When we reached the grass, beyond the glare of the house lights, you said I ought to remove my shoes, too. “The dew is delicious,” you said.
Soon we were both barefooted and running like drunken fools across the lawn. Laughing. Breathing great lungfuls of the night air. Moonlight sprinkling the bushes with silver icing.
“This reception sucks,” you said, moving closer to me.
“Not entirely,” I said.
“Really?” you said, smiling, your face leaning towards mine. “How’s that?”
I wanted to kiss you then, but fear seized me. This was the moment, the right moment, and yet here it was, slipping by unfulfilled, lost—
Then you kissed me.
I’m so sorry, Elona. It would’ve been better if you never had.
Some hoons race past in a modified Holden. I nearly jump out of my skin. I didn’t even hear them approaching because I was… Where was I? When was I? In the back seat of the speeding car, two boys are yahooing and hanging out the windows. Giving me the finger. Or some modern equivalent. Jeering. Grow up, you jerks! They’re going too fast… Way too fast! They’re young enough to think luck lasts forever, but it doesn’t. You and I used to speed, too… Before the accident. Now it terrifies me more than I can say. Such recklessness!
I watch the Holden veering around the corner, barely slowing at all. Gone, as quickly as it came. The tail lights are white, blink red… and then vanish altogether.
This world is crazy. I cannot endure it.
Soon we will be together. Is it this corner or the next? The route is so different when you travel by foot. Everything takes longer. Don’t worry, I’ll be there. I won’t let you down ever again.
Without you, my life is pain and emptiness.
And when I see you, will you lift this guilt from me? How much longer must I bear it? It consumes me from within. Guilt is an endless loop, there’s always one more corner, round and round, always the same boots—Mine!—on the highway. Nothing changes, nothing can, until we meet again, until we make our peace.
We should not have parted like we did that day. You told me you’d been unfaithful. How was I supposed to react? “It was ages ago,” you said, but it was news to me, breaking news. We drove in silence from Fitzgerald’s Glade. The sun was yet to rise. Why tell me when I’m driving? Why tell me at all? No, you’re right, it’s better that I know, better that we have no secrets from each other.
“You have murdered me,” I said finally, as we passed Tirau.
“Don’t be so melodramatic.” You reached for the door handle. What? Were you going to throw yourself from a speeding car? Who's melodramatic now?
“Oh, I’m sorry, you sleep with some other guy and I’m not supposed to react?”
“I shouldn’t have told you.”
I smashed my hands against the steering well. I couldn’t hold it back. “Who—? I thought we belonged together—thought it meant something...” The car careened towards the verge.
“Stop the car!” Your cheeks burned red with tears. “You don’t own me!” Your voice was fierce. It quivered, then broke. More tears slid down your face.
Back and forth, we traded insults and accusations, raw emotion spilling over with each cruel twist. The road was long, monotonous. Even so, I wasn’t paying enough attention, and that old snake tricked me. I remember you shouting, “Jaime, for God’s sake, watch the road! Look out—!” But it was too late. There was something in the way, someone on the road. I swerved. I battled the steering wheel. The car was moving, sliding, flipping, too fast, too damn fast, and we’re out of control...
This is the place. I recognise the white picket fence on the left, a lone house, fed by power lines, with its red tin roof and an old, moldy ute parked up behind a tree. The paddocks, dark green, waiting for the sun. This is where my concentration lapsed. I know this road: White rumble lines on both sides, the central line, the gravel driveway on the right, after the first corner, but before the second. The black-and-red letterbox. On the left, as you head north, bushes and wild grasses swell from the hedgerow; wild flowers, in yellows and purples, rugged and windswept. Only the hardiest survive here.
I know this place from the inside and the outside. I get a sense of déjà-vu now, a feeling that this place is imprinted on my soul somehow, more familiar than it ought to be.
This is where you’ll come to me, but it’s more than that.
I walk to the centre of the road. I lie on the asphalt, feeling its frozen, merciless surface against my head, my shoulder blades, my buttocks and my heels. I lie there and I wait.
Soon we will be together.
Soon, my love.
The approaching car is a blue Corolla… Just like the one you and I used to drive. The same year: 2002, which has a driver-side airbag, but no passenger airbag. I strain to lift my head. If the driver sees me, it will be too late; if not, better still. Sunlight reflects off the car roof, dazzling me, pinning me to the ground. And then I see you, through watery eyes. My Elona. You are in the passenger seat. Your mouth open, twisted in fury. Your eyes fixed through the window. You are screaming. Ranting. You turn back to the driver. Fighting. Hands raised. Yelling. Not watching the road. The car crosses the central line… Corrects itself, but too sharply. The vehicle swerves; its tyres screech. Then the car hits a patch of black ice and spins wildly out of control. I see this in slow motion. I see you… and, just for a split second, I think you see me, lying here in the middle of the road. Gravity, always pulling us together. And then I see the driver…
Before my world blacks out, before bones shatter, before pain explodes, before the marriage of metal to flesh, the blending of blood and oil, the memory returns to me, if only fleetingly. I was here before. Not just once. Perhaps a hundred times... or a thousand times. I am catapulted back through time—to live it all again—falling back; such an intense feeling of vertigo... My memories slipping... Going, gone.
It’s all my fault. As I walk along State Highway 27, just north of Tatuanui, that much is clear to me. You can say this is a notorious spot, that there was probably black ice on the road at the time, but none of that matters. She is still dead. I still killed her.
Excuses won’t bring her back; but gravity will.