“Where does the hand become the wrist?
where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.”
I have often, as a writer, obsessed on that notion, when does the hand become the wrist, when does something become a different thing entirely, the imperceptible moment when everything changes.
My mother has a house on the west coast that she visits several times a year, a key point of her life now that she has reached eighty one and my father, with his immense inner strength and intolerance of “feck-acting”, has left us these two years to mourn him and miss his grounding presence. She still drives, but cannot make it through the ring-road motorway system that has become a fortress to the elderly, preventing their passage through it either in or out. One of us drives her half way, where she insists on taking over. It was me this Easter, and my ten year old daughter Katrina came with us out of love for her Granny and her daddy.
We stopped at Termonbarry on the river Shannon for lunch and afterwards I stood at the driver’s door insisting I should drive the rest of the way. She was having none of it. Katrina had a talking book with her, the Hamster Massacre, and we listened to it on the CD.This is, I think, the principle mistake we made. My mother likes to maintain a continuous monologue, exerting her rights to bear witness to the awful drivers around her, the disgrace of the ghost estates, the terrible lonesomeness of the midlands, and any other subject where an opinion grown sharp with age can be expressed. The talking book prevented that, and my mother, I guess, just did not have another way of keeping herself focussed. I sat in the front seat beside her fiddling with my iPad, thinking about the next Shorty’s Writing Challenge, the Gathering Storm.
The moment came about half an hour after she took over. There was an awful tearing crunching noise, and my mother let out some kind of inhuman howl, and there we were, the hand had become the wrist. There was no hard shoulder, and the stone wall had collapsed into the field that was below the level of the road. When my mother had lost focus for a moment, the front wheel had become entangled with the wall. The bottom of the car scraping along the wall, slowing us down. I remember a moment of absolute clarity realising we were hanging over a field, not knowing if we had stopped.
We had not. The car rolled over the front passenger side down onto its roof in the field.
I collapse in anxiety faced with the most trivial of tasks like having to ask a bus driver to let me out at the right stop, but in times of absolute adversity something cool and calm takes over. Hanging upside down, I asked Katrina if she was ok, told her to release herself and get out. I let myself out of the seat belt, landing on a carpet of shattered windscreen glass and then set about my mother. I put my head and shoulders under her and released her seat belt so that she would not fall. My door would not ope so I climbed out the window, the glass being smashed. I ran around to her side and pulled her out. There was blood all over my jeans. “Somebody’s bleeding,” I said, then checked my arms. “Oh, it’s me!” I held my mother as hysteria overwhelmed her. Katrina turned the car off.
People stopped for us, then a paramedic, then the fire brigade, police, three ambulances.The world went ass-ways, the coping instinct overwhelmed by shock. They put a collar on me and laid me on a back board.
The outcome? Two hours later my wife picked us all up from hospital. I have broken the metacarpal in my right hand – it’s in plaster now but I can still write. Katrina was so brave through it all that she has been spoiled mercilessly by both me and her mother. My own mother, at eighty one, walked away completely unscathed and, while she was inconsolable on the day, her children rallied around her, got the insurance sorted, a replacement car.
Yet the world has changed. One thing has become the other. Our trip to the West is lost, but our lives have not. When the sun shines in the morning, it is the beginning of the rest of our lives.