By the time Lolly heard the crunching sound of metal hitting metal, the accident had already happened ten minutes ago. At least that’s how it felt. She’d paused in the carpark, her indicator on as she prepared to manoeuvre her car into the newly-vacant space when she saw, out of the corner of her eye, the reversing lights, the car backing out and then… fifty-seven minutes later… the back end of the BMW crunching into her passenger side door.
It was like watching a car crash in slow motion, as her friend Jennifer was fond of saying. Except it was literally watching a car crash in slow motion and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.
And yet there was a part of her that felt that it was somehow her fault. That her distracted, spiralling mind obsessed with all her current concerns was the reason the accident had occurred.
She hadn’t really been paying attention, had she? She hadn’t really been as focussed as she should be? Surely she was somehow complicit in this moment of slow unfolding disaster?
She didn’t know what to do so she parked. It was all she could think of. And then she got out of her battered old Corolla and surveyed the damage. He’d hit a crumple zone and the passenger door was jammed open. She tried to close it. Stubborn, it would not close.
“You can’t drive that,” a passerby told her. “Door’s fucked”.
She could only nod helplessly at just how ‘fucked’ the car was. The driver of the BMW, an older Korean man, had handed over his licence wordlessly and they’d all photographed the various damage and then he’d driven away and she was left wondering how to deal with the sheer weight of her life’s latest disaster.
“At least nobody’s hurt, love,” another woman told her. She had the dyed blonde hair and bronzed wrinkles of a white woman somewhere between the ages of 50 and 90. And she was right, of course. But it was scant comfort. Deep inside, Laura wondered if maybe it would have been nice to be hurt. Like seriously hurt. In hospital and unable to get up and forced to just lie there for a few weeks doing nothing. Nobody could blame her. She’d have no other choice.
At least nobody was hurt. She repeated it like a mantra because she didn’t really want to be hurt. She may have had the flicker of a thought but she didn’t really mean it. At least nobody was hurt. But she still had a car she couldn’t drive, a shift at the servo to get to and absolutely no money in her bank account. Oh and yeah, a car that wasn’t roadworthy parked in a busy suburban shopping centre that she couldn’t afford to get repaired.
Her insurance had lapsed, why had she let her insurance lapse? She couldn’t afford her insurance, that was why. The bill had come and she’d pretended it hadn’t. As though her insurance wouldn’t expire if she didn’t notice the Due Date on the notice. But it had. She knew that.
The guy who hit her would call his insurer and make the claim and the car would be repaired but when was the question and what did she do now? She had no choice, she had to get the car towed home at least and then hopefully claim it back from his insurance company when the time came.
Idiot, idiot, idiot. What kind of adult is uninsured? It’s Adulting 101.
Laura put her head for a moment, for a single raw moment, on the steering wheel and allowed herself to feel completely overwhelmed. Just for a heartbeat. But in that heartbeat somebody knocked on her passenger-side window.
It was a guy, maybe early 30s with a roll of duct tape. Behind him, she could see his freckled-shoulders girlfriend with matching boardies and a singlet standing next to what must be their 4WD. It was the ‘door’s fucked’ guy. She opened the door and got out.
“Let’s get you fixed up,” he told her. He managed to be laconic somehow, although she didn’t see how it was possible in that situation. “Get you home at least”.
He and his devastatingly-efficient other half proceeded to work wonders with rope and tape until the door was closed and wouldn’t open at least while she was driving home. Lolly was so grateful she almost cried.
“Can’t believe that bastard just left you here like that,” he capped it off, but the whole time not entirely looking at her as though he was fixing a car belonging to nobody – or everybody. “Didn’t even offer you a lift or call a cab. Fucking asshole,” he concluded to the air and Laura found it weirdly comforting, as though the act of helping her was something that was just happening and another human being wasn’t involved at all.
Before she could barely work out how to thank them for their help, they declared “she’ll be right” and headed off into the shopping centre with a dozen shopping bags and a cooler bag. They were going camping she guessed and had treated her extreme crisis as if it was at the same level as doing their groceries.
As she drove off, Laura was in a small bizarre bubble of happiness as though her trashed car paled beside the small routine act of human kindness. It was a glistening, pink bubble of groundless euphoria that lasted as long as the drive to her afternoon shift. Where she got fired.
I really believed you, Laura wanted to say as she stared unblinking at her boss. I really believed we were family.
That’s what they’d always said to her, after all. “We’re a family business,” Rick had said so often. “Our workers are family.”
Implied. You’re family.
Family didn’t fire you with no notice just as you were about to start your shift.
She didn’t deal well with confrontation, at least with those she knew. So she left in a haze, drove off in the car she shouldn’t be driving and hesitated for an hour two, assertively procrastinating while the voice in the back of her mind told her she needed to at least ask them. In the end, while she lay on her bed staring at the monochromatic ceiling in the monochromatic cupboard of a unit she desperately wanted to leave, she found herself texting the wiry middle-aged former mechanic who owned the service station that had been her favourite part-time job.
“I’m sorry,” he replied quickly, too quickly, as though his reply was there waiting for her inevitable message for him to press ‘send’. “Because of Jobkeeper, it makes sense for us to keep our full-time staff and get rid of our casuals,” he explained bluntly. “It’s not personal. I’ll give you a reference. Just typing it now.”
A reference. For her to apply to do what? Work as an Uber driver in a car with a duct taped door that she couldn’t legally drive.
And there it was, thrumming even louder on the back of her skull. Driving her crazy with his incessant drum beat.
Money. Money. Money.