By Lech Blaine
I never told anyone about the second time I watched a person die.
I was working at a bottle shop on Old Cleveland Road. The manager looked like a short, fat Gene Hackman. His name was Greg. He had the weary anger of a returned serviceman. Far as I could tell, the furthest he’d been was Phuket.
He always asked me things I had no way of knowing.
He’d say, ‘What the hell is wrong with young people these days?’
I’d say, ‘No idea, Greg.’
One night there was an explosion from the road. Skids followed by a lengthy scrape. Greg cocked an eyebrow in a cagey way. ‘What the hell was that?’
‘No idea,’ I said. The truth was I had a few. Hoons, almost surely. Greg used all proof of their existence in his hypothetical lawsuit against Generation Y.
He stormed outside. I followed in the quick camaraderie of closing time. The intersection was empty. Past the lights a man in a helmet wheeled a motorbike down a side street. The bike left behind a long line of debris.
Greg yelled, ‘Oi!’
We marched fearlessly up the road. Greg seemed ready for anything. Then he collapsed into a heap. I looked down. There was a body on the bitumen. He’d tripped over the legs. Greg said, ‘Shit! Shit! Stay here,’ and sprinted back to the bottle-o.
This was disorientating. I’d never seen him run before. No one should have to see that.
There were more pressing issues. I fumbled around for my iPhone and shined the light onto the ground. The body belonged to a man. He was surrounded by groceries. Soy milk and quinoa. Free range eggs and vegan ice cream.
I thought, ‘The organic type.’
Then I looked closer. There was a vertical incision in his forehead. Blood gushed on a white rectangle of skull. Otherwise he appeared to be asleep.
I didn’t know the first thing about first aid. I said, ‘Hang in there, buddy! You’ll be fine.’ Then I just stood there, grimacing, wishing I were some place else.
Greg ran back with a fire extinguisher. I looked around. There weren’t any fires. ‘What’s that for?’ I said.
He ignored my question. ‘Hit and run! Hit and run!’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The bikie. Mongrel dog has done a runner. Or do you think he nipped off for a fucking feed?’
I thought it over. ‘No,’ I said, ‘probably not.’
The first fleet of emergency vehicles arrived. Men and women climbed out, casually, cones of red and blue spinning on all the concrete. I knew this was a bad sign. They were covering their asses, ticking off a checklist.
Greg pursed his lips and squinted at the doomed arrival. He cleared his throat, staring off into the middle distance. I hoped like Christ he wasn’t going to cry.
Instead he started laughing. This was far worse. The medics glared at Greg like he’d tried to kiss the dead man on the lips. I wished he would get to the punch line.
He said, ‘That’s life, isn’t it? You’re either hitting or getting hit.’
I couldn’t argue with that, largely because I didn’t know what the hell he was getting at.
Then I looked back at the man, and maybe I did. A bottle of sorbolene cream leaked symbolically across the street. The man was wearing an expensive wedding band. I thought about his widow, alone and dry-skinned. But mostly I felt sorry for him. The defining moment of his life was crossing the road.
Lech Blaine studies writing at UQ. He is a very serious young man. You can read more of his work at www.lechblaine.com