Sometimes, I’ll try to insert an experience that happened to me into my fiction, if for no other reason than the satisfaction of writing about it.
A few years back, I was involved in a car accident which resulted in the car flipping over onto its side. Luckily, the driver and me were both unharmed, but I’ve always wanted to capture what that experience was like. So, in the earlier drafts of Natural Order, I included a scene where Joyce and Walter get into a car accident. It seemed dramatic at the time, but my editor questioned it.
“Why is it here?” she asked. “Why do you need it?”
I couldn’t think of a good reason (this happens a lot when editors ask writers questions), so I ended up deleting it. My car accident might one day work its way into a book or story. But for the time being, here’s the scene that ended up on the cutting room floor of Natural Order.
PS: The part about Joyce accidentally grabbing the woman’s breast happened in real life to my mom. I was with her at the time and the woman’s reply was priceless. We couldn’t stop laughing.
He stops at a red light.
“That was what it was like, Joyce.”
The light turns green.“How did—’’ I say before a hard explosion rocks the car. I watch the view through the windshield turn sideways and hear the shriek of tires on pavement. The car skids to a stop followed by eerie silence. Everything has gone topsy-turvy in a matter of seconds. I’m dangling in the air, held in place by my seatbelt, as though I’m on a carnival ride. Then I realize the car has flipped onto its side. Walter is below me. We’ve been in an accident. My head flops against my shoulder and I struggle to keep it upright. My feet kick the air. The windshield is a spider web of cracks. I watch legs of strangers approach before backing away.
“Walter,” I say.
He undoes his seatbelt and maneuvers around so that he’s crouching on one knee. He looks up. “Are you alright?”
“I think so.” I wiggle my dangling arms and legs.
“Prop yourself up using my shoulder.”
I try to balance myself. The seatbelt digs into my waist. The reality of the situation hits me and panic sets in. We’ve been hit. I’m trapped inside the car. Gas could be leaking. We’ll be burned alive. I need to get out of here. My heart quickens and I fumble for my seatbelt buckle. I’ll fall on top of Walter, but I don’t care. We can’t sit here waiting to die.
Through the open passenger window above me, a hand appears, fluttering against the backdrop of the blue sky.
“Here,” a man’s voice says. Urgent. “Take my hand. Don’t let go. Don’t move. Help is on the way.”
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Take my hand!”
I grab the hand. I can’t see his face, but his voice doesn’t stop. He tells me I must keep holding on. I must not move. The sound of sirens builds in the distance. In the midst of this chaos, a memory blooms.
A few years after John left for Toronto, my uncle passed away. John came home to Balsden for the funeral. It was the first time he’d stayed overnight since leaving for Toronto. It was comforting to have him there. And strange. I’d forgotten what it was like to have another person around. I fussed over what he wanted for breakfast and did his laundry.
After the funeral service, John and I were standing in the church parking lot, blinking back the midday sun and chatting with a woman who’d introduced herself as my uncle’s neighbour. I went to give her a quick hug goodbye but my hand slipped and landed on her left breast.
“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed, pulling my hand away as though her breast was a hot burner.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “There’s not much left to grab anyway.”
John and I burst out laughing as soon as we got inside the car. Tears rolled down our faces and when Charlie got in and asked what the heck was going on, our voices came out as squeaks. The memory of that laughter now covers me like liquid. A gift in this moment from John? I squeeze the hand harder.
“I won’t let you go,” I whisper.
When the firefighters arrive, they cover Walter and me with a heavy blanket. Then they smash the windshield and help Walter out. Another firefighter crawls into the car. He tells me he’ll undo my seatbelt and I’m to fall onto him. He asks me if I think I can do that and I nod. The seatbelt clicks and for the tiniest of moments, I’m in the air. Ungrounded. Free.
A crowd has gathered at all four intersections. When I step through the open windshield, they break into applause. I’m an actress taking her curtain call. It’s only when I turn around do I realize how bad the accident was. The passenger side of Walter’s car is completely smashed in. I don’t know how we’re walking away from this. I see the other car, airbags like lungs drooping from the windows. A woman I assume is the driver is pacing back and forth in front of it.
“We almost died,” Walter says, his face as crumpled as his car.