Before, During, After
How it all happened is up to you. Do you remember? The motorbike swerving round the corner of the cliff and the cliff knowing that something is going to break here, a branch off a tree, maybe, a tyre bursting, maybe, a heart stopping, maybe. A cliff is that place where a hair’s breadth could lead to everything—or nothing, if you are lucky.
The police ask questions. Were you a witness? How many people were involved? Was it going at high speed? An ambulance takes you away and more questions: Ma’am, please keep talking, the flashlight killing my eyes, Ma’am keep talking, a voice stabbing my sleep, you’ll be fine, Ma’am, just keep talking. You wanted to ask questions, did you ask any questions: Is he alive? Is he alive? Why isn’t he here? Why is he not here? Who or what crashed into that part of him that was the softest, most essential, most beautiful? Ask stupid questions if you remember how to speak. Do you know what happened? Do you remember exactly what happened, Ma’am? Parts of you are broken. Remove watch, jewellery, piercings. Enter the MRI scan, the big black hole and make a wish that none of this ever happened, make a wish that the black hole will cancel everything, the big black MRI is your life in between before and after, and when you come out of it, you’re a different person. Do you remember what happened before? Exactly?
They say parts of you are broken but they’re wrong. It isn’t your leg, or your rib. It’s something else.
Did I see you next at an event, some kind of party, where we celebrated our narrow escape—or was the event before all this. I gave you a stick of marshmallows which you were supposed to dip in the chocolate fountain. My, what a fairy tale ending, a chocolate fountain, and you smiled, and I thought you looked tired and maybe I said Are you tired? And maybe you had a glass of wine, or two? In the photo there is no wine, there are no drinks, just a chocolate fountain next to you, flowing, flowing. And somebody (who? I can’t remember) took a photo of us, the golden couple. Before and After, like those Before and After cosmetic surgery photos you sometimes see, everything perfect, bad turns to good, the broken are unbroken. Yes, all good! If I didn’t have the photo as proof, I would never know that moment existed.
We are both in the photo, almost touching but not quite. You’re holding a stick of marshmallows. On your right, a chocolate fountain. On your left, the person who was me.
I think I must have screamed but all I can hear is silence. A silent scene in slow motion of things crashing, splattering, crumpling, shattering, flying, rolling,slashing, cracking. I think I must have screamed but I can’t hear it, it all happened so fast and so slowly it happens again and again. I was there. It happened. I witnessed it, it happened. I was part of it, it happened. And yet, the details, the exact details that the police officer was after, I don’t have those. You were wearing that T-shirt I’d given you for your birthday. Or was it the white shirt you wore for work? The smell of the aftershave from the smashed bottle in the glove compartment burned into my nostrils, I would recognise that smell anywhere. Everything else is shrouded in mist.
Was it marshmallows or strawberries? I think it was strawberries. Yes, now that I think of it, it was a stick of strawberries. There is no photo of us at that last event, and I can’t be sure.
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