The psychologist said ‘Stop and think’ as a catchall piece of advice when driving. Greg sat in the car, parked in the street. The houses were all beige brick with uniform windows that stared. Perhaps there were people behind the glass, wondering why he had been there for an hour. Magpies squawked from the scraggy gumtrees and the hard and fast beat of a radio throbbed nearby.
Inside, his eye was always maroon and inflamed. In the hours that swelled and depleted he had stared at the crack in the ceiling, sure it was growing each day. He listened for the jangle of keys—any movement from the cell was a gift. The images came at night, without warning. The thud of impact, scream of brakes. The small body thrown like a doll with the stuffing removed. Everything slowed. He stood over the boy, and stared at his head, the gash like a chasm. The blood flowed onto the asphalt and pooled near his shoe. Stillness. Time suspended into a moment of paralysis. A certainty his life was over.
Yet here he was, alive and still paralyzed in his rusted car. Unable to turn the key. Sweat slicked down his back, his hands shook.
In court he locked eyes with the mother. Her eyes were crazed with grief, her lawyer clutched her arm to stop her from launching herself at him and clawing his face. His stomach roiled.
Greg turned the key in the ignition. The car sputtered, the engine turned over with a lackluster growl. His wet palms slid on the wheel as he turned into the street.
On the morning of the accident Greg had argued with his wife. She threatened to leave him. Her heels clicked on the floorboards as she spun around and threw her wallet in his direction, spit in the corners of her mouth as she bellowed.
‘Take it all you loser! I work hard so you can throw it away at the TAB. What was it this time? The greyhounds or the horses?’
The wallet landed at his feet with a thud. ‘Horses,’ he said under his breath.
She gave a sharp exhalation and left, the door reverberated in its hinges. He picked up her wallet and went to the garage. I’ll show her, I’ll make some back. He was replaying her words in his mind when a flash of red appeared on the road.
Greg made it to the supermarket. He scanned the roads for obstacles—oncoming cars, balls, animals, small boys. It was all clear.
He looked down at the saturated ‘V’ on his shirt and picked up a basket. He felt marked, as if everyone would know what he’d done. His heart pounded as he threw bottles and cans into the basket. It grew heavy and he limped with its weight. As he staggered towards the freezer section the handle gave way. Everything spilled in a deafening staccato. Cans rolled, plastic containers bounced, glass echoed but remained intact. Greg grimaced and crouched down. He shuddered with quiet sobs.
A hand on his arm. He looked up and saw the clear blue gaze of a girl. ‘Are you all right? Let me help you with those. It’s fine, happens all the time.’ Her nametag read ‘Natalie.’
Natalie frowned. ‘I think you’re going to need a trolley for all this.’ She smiled and her eyetooth overlapped the front one. She pushed a lock of blonde hair behind her ear and stood.
‘Wait here.’ She returned with a trolley and they stacked everything inside. She didn’t touch him again. As she spoke the kind tone in her words washed over him, cleansing and pure. He was too overwhelmed to listen to their meaning.
Her superior was at the checkout and she looked straight through him. Yet Greg felt light, suspended. As if cloaked in something protective. He would drive home and put the shopping away. He would call his one remaining friend for help searching for a job. He would begin again.