OK, here’s the deal. I’ve just been run over by a car – been in an accident. Except they say you can’t use the word ‘accident’ because it implies no blame. But what the hell, I have been in an accident and, oh boy, am I blaming someone!
I didn’t get a good look, of course. It happened too quickly. A step off the sidewalk, a rush of wind, something blue and metallic coming at me, then…a quick tour over the bonnet, briefly visiting the windshield, roof and every other hard surface en-route before returning to the tarmac for a hefty dose of pain.
No, Officer, the vehicle did not stop. Did I see the driver? Yep, incredibly briefly as it turned out. Would I recognise him again? Sure, if you could just plaster me across any similar windshield, just to, you know, jog the old memory cells I may be able to describe the bloated, shiny face, bulbous eyes and pudgy little hands that oiled over his steering wheel. Bastard...
Except there’s no cop, no concerned huddle of passers-by asking pointless questions like “Is there a Doctor here?” Or “Where’s his leg?” and, my personal favourite, “Are you OK?”
Sure thing, lady, I’ve just been hit by 2 tons of metal but give me a minute or two and a small glass of water and I’ll be ready to jog home in time for supper.
There’s just me, the damp sidewalk and a solitary fizzy drink can to keep me company. I lie, looking at it sideways on, getting comfort from the fact that it promises ‘Instant Alertness and Hydration!’
Thank God. All I had to do was find a straw, but typically, none were available in this gutter. Anyway, I didn’t have to worry about hydration because it chose that moment to start raining.
Well, if pity and an energising drink weren’t going to help me, I had better start trying to help myself. I felt on firmer ground here because I knew of a book called ‘Self-help and empowerment for women.’ Now, I’m not a woman and quite honestly it was not the type of book I would normally pick up, let alone read. But I didn’t have to because Mrs Chambers had read it to me; slowly, deliberately and with malice aforethought.
I was, during her ramblings - sorry I mean ‘readings’, a captive audience. Not a prisoner as such because, of course, I visited her little home of my own volition, but once sat comfortably on the armchair designated for me, in front of that log fire, I felt curiously unable to leave, a fact that Mrs Chambers took full advantage of. ‘Self-help’ was only one of the many books she liked to read out. Among others were ‘Overcoming sleep disorders today’, ‘Eat your way to health in a week’ and ‘Gynaecology made simple’. And all this in return for a warm drink, soft cushions and a log fire – I have no shame.
Right now, lying in the gutter, getting massively hydrated and feeling that first glimmer of alertness that can only be achieved by cold rain, I ran my minds-eye over some of the more illuminating passages of ‘Self-help’.
“The key to helping yourself is Self-care,” Mrs Chambers had read, putting the emphasis on ‘self’. I had settled down to listen.
“Self-care is not just about looking after yourself, far from it. It begins with acceptance of the knowledge that your core being has the ability to control the healing process.”
My core being was feeling a tad fragile at the moment but I made a mental note to ask it to start working properly again. What I really needed just now was something useful, a medic for preference, a warm, dry blanket and some kind of opioid-based medication. But it was the very early hours of the morning and there was no-one around, at least not here on the edge of No-town, population 2803 (soon to be 2802) Jobs: zilch. Hope: Little.
Allright, maybe I’m being a bit harsh – It did, after all, have a thriving landfill business. In fact, we took in every other town’s trash for 40 miles around. We were famous for other peoples’ cast-offs.
I was gonna die.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Just a few short hours ago I had left Mrs Chamber’s house and the smouldering embers of her log fire. If I hadn’t taken that short-cut, or I had left earlier or left later, I wouldn’t have met this very car at this particular time and in this unpromising place. People say you can’t cheat death and perhaps they are right, but I would really like to postpone it, if that’s OK with you Mr Reaper?
My intention had been to pop into see Mrs Chimnskey. No, I don’t have a predilection for older ladies – it was just that she seemed to have a soft spot for me and invariably had a late dinner on the go at this time of day. I discounted the idea, though. It had been getting late and her husband, Roger, had been giving me unfriendly looks of late. He thought I was a vagabond and a wastrel and I was in no mood for a sombre lecture on the doorstep about the benefits of smartening myself up and being more self-reliant. This was from a man who had very concise opinions on the shape, size and colour of people who should live in the neighbourhood. So, I had taken a short-cut across what was locally called the ‘Park’ and more widely known as a ‘Wasteland’, a small huddle of lonely bushes and patchy windswept grass that cultivated a crop of discarded trash. It was mostly deserted at this hour apart from a small group of kids who looked as lonely as the bushes. They were sharing a cigarette and the contents of a large plastic bottle. One of them looked up as I passed and called out something, but I walked on purposefully, head down. You heard stories, after all, and although I could look after myself, I just didn’t need the aggravation.
I’d kept in more or less a straight line towards the place I called home and I don’t know exactly what happened next – perhaps my mind was elsewhere – but I had stepped into the road…
And here I was. Still. Getting colder and dying by centimetres (I prefer metric – it keeps you alive for longer). The can of fizzy drink, my silent companion, gleamed dully, its’ sides frosted with little beads of water. The gleam became more pronounced. I frowned stupidly at the can, then realised what it was: an approaching vehicle. Thank God, help at last. I could see the beam of light approaching through the curtain of rain, approaching quite rapidly, as it turned out. Really quite awesomely fast on such a lousy night - straight toward me.
Darn it all to heck, I thought. I’m going to be run over again.
I could not believe this. The vehicle was not a car but a truck, monstrous, laden and on a mission; A wall of metal surrounding an engine on steroids. It roared macho and it filled the roadway. I imagined the driver in his insulated cab – Cigar-smoking, Highway-crazed and ready to crush anything in his path. I tried desperately to scramble to the relative safety of the sidewalk and the pain shot down my body.
Please, core, I screamed inwardly. Do something! By now my front half was in the safety zone, but my body and legs were still in the road. Having a functioning brain was not going to help if the rest of me was a nub of pink mangled flesh. Then, the truck was upon me.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes, but I did have a moment of existential crisis. Where would I go? Will heaven take me in or will it be the elevator with only one ‘down’ button, no emergency exit, permanent heating and an eternal interview without coffee?
I never found out. At one fraction of a nanosecond to finding out if there was indeed life after death, my world moved and I was yanked roughly out of the monster’s way and onto the sidewalk where I thankfully passed out, thinking as I did so that it really was about time.
I came to briefly and looked up at a small ring of faces. My rescuer was one of the boys from the park and his friends.
“You OK, fella? asked the one who had saved me. I would have liked to have said something pithy, but I couldn’t talk of course, and just lay looking up at him, gasping like the last fish in a puddle. He and his friends lifted me, with some difficulty and carried me back towards town, back towards lights and people. My mind was growing fuzzy again and I remember looking up at the sign above a large door way as I was carried beneath: ‘Emergency animal treatment’. Then blackness came.
Of course, I’m not a human. No other species on the planet would put up with hours of political comment, stern homilies and inane ramblings except maybe a pot plant. Even cats find someplace else to go. I am a dog, independent. I like to come and go which is why I long ago eschewed such silly notions as being ‘owned’.
Still, it’s hard to make your way without a little help, so in return for listening to updates on Mrs Chamber’s piles and some mild xenophobia from Mr Chimnskey, I was reasonably well-fed and had someplace warm to go – When I wanted to, of course.
Well, I recovered eventually. Apparently, the surgery was quite expensive, which in dog-speak usually means a farewell pat on the head but, somehow, I found out that I’d been adopted. Mrs Chambers, the Chimnskeys and even the kids all chipped in. For a time, I was a local celebrity, my young friend a hero. I can’t say I ‘saved’ the town because, quite honestly, nothing short of a direct hit by a meteorite could have done that. But some small things changed.
The press attention helped to bring in some money to revamp the park. The kids were given a new skate-ramp. People started to clean up the litter. There was a new purpose and energy to the place. The road upon which I had nearly died was given a makeover of lighting and a safe place to cross.
The kid who had saved my bacon visited me every day as I started to get my strength back and afterwards, he started helping out at the animal shelter, talked of going back to school regularly, and even training to be a veterinarian.
In a small way, it was all very satisfying. But, then, doesn’t everyone love a shaggy dog story?