There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end, right ? That’s how stories work. So you’re probably wondering what this is ? The beginning ? The end ? Somewhere in the middle ?
Let’s give ourselves something to work with. I’m clinging to the hand rail on the Severn Bridge, wind blowing in my face, cars rushing past behind me. Does that make this the end ? I haven’t told you on which side of that hand rail I am standing. What did you suppose ? Is this just an innocent walk from England to Wales or the prelude to a plummet into the tidal depths of the water below ?
I’m clinging to the hand rail, retching across the side of the bridge, watching flecks of my own vomit disappear, whipped in the wind, down towards the river. There’s a stationary car behind me at an angle across the carriageway, driver’s door open, headlights on. So perhaps this is the middle ? The reaction to what happened in the beginning but with somewhere still to go.
A hand on my shoulder startles me into pulling tighter on the hand rail. I look round to see a woman, her face furrowed with concern, her car pulled to an abrupt halt behind us, headlights left on to illuminate her route to me. She asks if I’m alright and I note the sadness in her eyes even as the wind wraps her long, dark hair across her face. A beginning then ? Two strangers meeting at the mercy of circumstance.
I want to tell her what happened and why I come back. Why it always leaves me like this; physically sick, violently forcing the memories back out of my body. I imagine that you want to know too. That’s how stories work, isn’t it ? If this was the end you’d already know, if it’s the middle then you’d be finding out, but if this is the beginning then you only know what I want to tell you. Perhaps I will tell her and you can listen.
I tell her that I’m okay. She frowns and I don’t blame her. I’m throwing up over the side of a bridge in the middle of the night. I’m clearly not okay. She asks me again, this time assuring me that she just wants to help. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand and let go my grip on the rail with the other. Really, I tell her, I’m really okay. Just a sudden wave of nausea. Maybe vertigo. Now she starts to look annoyed. I don’t know why I bothered lying or at least I don’t know why I didn’t come up with something even half way believable.
She starts to turn away to return to her car. The bridge isn’t busy at this time but I guess she’s suddenly aware that she’s blocking up the inside lane, was in such a rush that she didn’t flick on her hazards. I take a step after her and start to speak. She looks over her shoulder and says that she’ll be back in just a minute. I watch her clamber back up to the road and walk back to her car, a featureless black silhouette in the headlights.
It’s the hazards that do it. I notice them wink on and then off and it all comes back. Lights flashing on this bridge a year ago. Lights that I could see reflected off the thousands of pieces of broken glass, the fractured remains of a windscreen. Fractured as I’d been thrown through it and onto the tarmac on that still, cold night. I thought it was the end.
And so I come back. I come back because it wasn’t the end but it won’t leave me. I am stuck in some kind of middle.
She finds me again sitting and weeping, my head buried in my knees, wrapping myself up tightly against the echoes of the accident. This time she doesn’t ask if I’m okay, she just sits beside me and puts her arm across my shoulders. I tell her about my friends and our trip to Wales. I tell her about the minibus and how I’d taken to slipping off the seatbelt when I sat in the front so that I could turn around to speak to everyone. I tell her that I should have known he was tired, that we should have done more to share the drive home. We were so close to home though. I tell her that I was thrown out when we hit the central reservation before the bus span around in the road, turned up onto its side and was ploughed into by the lorry behind us. I tell her that I only survived because I wasn’t in the bus. That’s what the police said later. They called it a miracle.
Now that you’ve listened to me telling her I guess this is the end ? This is the first time since I’ve been back that anybody stopped, the first time I haven’t stood on the bridge alone. It’s the first time that I’ve told anyone what happened. It’s the first time I’ve cried. With so many firsts perhaps this is actually the beginning ?
She still has her arm across my shoulders, that worried furrow creasing her forehead, and those sad eyes watching me with concern. I wipe my eyes clear of tears and ask her for her name.
This short story is the first in a series of 42 to try to raise awareness and money for Mind, the mental health charity. Please feel free to share it if you enjoyed it. More details here: https://www.justgiving.com/42shorts/