A camera over the carriageway, recording, relaying, metering the moment into hours, minutes, seconds. You could speed it up if you wanted, make everything happen faster, or unhappen, slower. The pulse and fade of it all, the tidal traffic and sky; a ribbon of red to the left, a pulse of white to the right, as the sun flows west and the moon hurries over and shadows climb and fall around the tunnel mouth, the escarpment, the barriers and bushes and trees, dark to light to dark again, sunshine and gathering cloud, a twist of stars above the earth. And through it all, perched on its gantry, the camera, periodically wiping its lens, keeping watch. And as the seconds and minutes roll forwards, the framing of the precise moment the car swerves, clips the barrier, rolls through the air and lands on its roof. The still period after. Another car stopping. Flashes of blue, a fire truck into fend-off. Uniforms and scene lights. A police car. And at twenty-three thirty-one forty-nine: an ambulance.
I pull on my fluorescent jacket and approach the scene: Claudia, standing with her arms folded, giving her details to one of the traffic cops whilst the fire team examine the wreck behind her.
He nods and waves his notebook in the air.
‘I’ll leave with you with these guys for a moment and then carry on a bit later, okay?’
He steps away.
‘Like I just told him ...’ she carries on. ‘... I was driving along doing about eighty when something happened and I lost control. I think I must’ve blown a tire because the steering wheel kind of ripped round in my hands – and I tried to get it back – but the next thing I knew I clipped the barrier, flew up in the air, did a somersault and landed on the roof. I can’t believe I didn’t hit the tunnel wall. I mean – look at it.’
She’s right. This is a notorious spot. Given what happened she should’ve ploughed straight into the parapet.
‘Are you hurt?’
‘That’s the amazing thing! I was left hanging upside-down in my seatbelt for a minute or two. Then I thought maybe I’d better get out before it explodes or something. I managed to free myself from the belt, but neither door would open so I climbed over the seats and out the back. Someone stopped to help – where is he, by the way? – then the fire brigade arrived. It all happened so quickly. I still can’t believe it.’
She holds her long hair back from her face and surveys the wreck behind her.
‘I only got it last week,’ she says. ‘I suppose I’m just not destined to have nice cars.’
‘What was your last one?’
‘A crappy old two cee-vee.’
‘I don’t suppose that would’ve survived a landing on its roof quite so well.’
‘No, but then I wouldn’t have been doing eighty.’
‘Claudia – do you have any neck pain? Back pain? Pins and needles? Any other strange sensations?’
‘No. I’m good.’
‘What about if I press here? Or here? Anything at all?’
‘Nope. I think I’ve been lucky.’
‘Still – given the speed you were doing and what happened, we’re going to have to immobilise you. Just to be on the safe side. Sometimes the adrenaline of these things can hide an injury, so we have to be careful.’
‘I’m in your hands.’
‘I still can’t believe it happened,’ she says. ‘You couldn’t just blow my nose for me, could you? Thanks.’
She’s lying on the trolley in a collar, head blocks, vacuum mattress.
‘Now I know how Tutankhamen felt.’
The ambulance bounces along, heading for the hospital. I finish writing up the paperwork.
‘I rang Carl, so he should be waiting for me there.’
‘I just can’t believe it. I was going home from a night out with friends. And now this.’
She wets her lips and blinks rapidly.
‘I should’ve gone to the loo whilst I had the chance,’ she says. ‘How am I going to manage it trussed up like this?’
‘There are ways and means.’
‘Hm. Ways and means. I don’t like the sound of that.’
‘Don’t worry, Claudia. I’ll tell the nurses how desperate you are and they’ll sort something out.’
The ambulance shudders as it goes over a pothole.
‘Christ! These things aren’t built for comfort, are they?’
‘No. You’ve got to be sick to want a ride in one.’
‘How much longer?’
‘Almost there. So. How was your evening out with your friends? What did you get up to?’
‘Oh. The usual. We try to meet up once a month.’
‘Yeah – it is nice.’
She moves her eyes sideways to check me out, then looks back up at the ceiling again.
‘Actually, we meet up for a little erm ... ceremony. Every full moon, you know.’
‘What – like a pagan thing?’
‘Something like that.’
‘Wow! You’re the first witch I’ve had in the back. That I know of.’
‘It’s a lovely thing. We all meet up – eat food, drink wine, in the garden round a fire, or if the weather’s good, out in the woods and places. I mean – it’s just an excuse for a social, really. But it’s nice to have that extra focus, giving thanks to the Goddess or whatever you want to call her, for looking after us and keeping us well. I know it sounds a bit ho-hum, but it’s surprising how much it’s helped these past few years. And we’ve had some rough times in the group. It’s just – good, you know?’
She wriggles in the mattress, like an escapologist discreetly testing the straps for weakness.
‘And now look. I think the magic let me down.’
‘I don’t know, Claudia. Maybe the magic did work. Maybe it was the magic that kept you from getting badly hurt tonight – that, and the safety cage.’
‘Do you think?’ she says. ‘Hey – maybe you’re right!’
She closes her eyes for a moment, and we ride along in silence. I wonder if she’s thinking about the full moon shining down on us, or maybe replaying the moment she lost control, when the car clipped the barrier, spun in the air and landed on its roof.
Suddenly, she opens her eyes wide again.
‘It’ll take some even stronger magic explaining this to Carl,’ she says.