Monday, December 29, 2014

'Now this bell tolling softly for another...'

Christmas Day being spent in time-honoured fashion, just the two of us, eating, drinking and opening a few things, we rather reluctantly took ourselves out on a lunchtime buffet invitation on Boxing Day. At the last minute I picked up the bag of remaining bread crusts, which, with typical largely self-defeating parsimony, I collect over time and freeze, and which had not succeeded in being transfigured into stuffing, and said we would go to the beach afterwards, the weather notwithstanding, and feed them to the seagulls, which would also give us an excuse to leave early.

I was glad of this, being tetchy and disinclined towards either the food or the company, both of which were perfectly pleasant, the fault was with me. It was raining when we left but we headed beachward anyway, and when we arrived the rain did clear somewhat, and we had quite a long low tide walk. It was, in fact, a perfect Boxing Day place to be: chill and damp and blowy and empty of any souls except ourselves, a feisty little sandy coloured dog and his chap, and a handful of lonely, mewing seagulls, none of whom were interested in the bread crusts, and way off in the distance, a harvesting tractor like a toy, plying its way between the mussel posts on the far away tideline - people work on Boxing Day here. 

We set off back with pink cheeks and aching ears. Within ten miles or so of home, near Quessoy, we noticed black smoke blowing across the sky in front of us, and cars stopped with hazard lights on. Some way ahead, on its own, a small green car very much like mine, hazards also flashing, at first seemed to be the source of the smoke, till we realised that in fact the fire was coming from another vehicle, less clearly visible, in a field off the road. After a few moments waiting, we turned carefully in a driveway, where a woman stood grim-faced under an umbrella, with a look of an impassive but resolute witness, and returned home by another way. We were unsettled and a bit jumpy the rest of the way, but got in, lit the fire, made tea and did our best to put it from our minds. 

Living here as we do, we aren't automatically connected to events, don't, I'm afraid, tune into local TV or radio, or take a regular local paper; we have to make the effort to find out about things, or else we learn things by chance in conversation, which is hit-or-miss, especially since old Marie next-door-but-one moved on anyway. The following day curiosity drove me to the computer and the Télégramme, where we learned that the burning car contained a fatality, a man of 59 who, inexplicably, had lost control of the vehicle, hit an oncoming car - presumably the small green one - and gone off the road, the car instantly bursting into flames. He was, as the gendarmes delicately put it 'carbonisé dans l'habitacle, les témoins n'ayant rien pu faire'  - 'burnt to a crisp in the driving seat, the witnesses being able to do nothing'. The young family in the other car, a couple in their thirties and their four-year old child, were taken to hospital, shocked but unhurt. It had happened no more than half an hour before we got there.

Something of a 'for whom the bell tolls' moment.  And yet, 'any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind' isn't really true for most of us, it can't be, we couldn't survive if it were. I'm left pondering this matter of closeness of death and disaster, the difference which distance, or ignorance, makes to us. It's about  personal fear: it could have been me... if we'd been on that road a little earlier... Yet in terms of probability, a miss is as good as a mile, and I don't think that's the whole story, though what else is compassion, fellow feeling, that trite word empathy if you will, but a sense putting oneself in the place of? And I'm wondering why my imagination, which seems dismally impoverished in terms of an ability to construct fiction, visualise some spatial and constructional project Tom has in mind, or even know which colours of wool will go together, has been working with great energy and creativity when it comes to the last few moments in that car, and what it contained when we saw it, in a way it doesn't, or at least I have not too much difficulty curbing it, with the Malaysian air disaster, say, or the Greek ferry, or a similar road accident in the next department, or even the same crash on a day when I wasn't anywhere near it. I wonder if he was someone known to anyone I know (even dwelled briefly on whether it might have been someone we'd seen at the party earlier; it wasn't); I hope not, but of course he was known and probably dear to someone, may have had a dog waiting at home... enough.

I don't want it brought any closer, but then again I do because I want to know the facts, out of morbid curiosity or to contain and make them safer; had he been drinking, or burning the candle at both ends, was the car not roadworthy, did he pass out? Much of which will never, presumably, be known anyway, but we tend, I think, to want to believe there was some 'good' reason why it happened, a kind of superstitious rationalism which we hold to, that if one just follows all the right and correct and logical procedures, these episodes of cosmic injustice won't happen to us.

But now I am home and warm and safe and looking forward to a walk after lunch; a distance of time is already establishing itself, and I'll post about something more cheerful next time.


The Crow said...

This was a good and, I think, necessary post, Lucy. Thank you for this reminder that this, too, is life.

The Crow said...

PS: Don't know how to say this, in light of the tragedy to another human being, without sounding callous, but I am so glad you and Tom are safe.

Lucy said...

Thanks Martha. Me too, of course, and also, though I don't know them, the little family in the green car, though it must have been horrifying for them. I bet they're hugging each other extra hard just now.

Stella said...

An intriguing tale, full of weight and I am going to read again, and perhaps again after that. You are so observant and precise. A hard day and a hard thing to witness.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Glad you're both safe.

I think it's only natural to think about the last moments and how a tragedy happened, specially when you find yourself so accidentally close to it.

Nimble said...

Life is full of bumping into each other, sometimes literally. Chance decides if we're bumped or among the temoins. Here's to doing what we can and letting go of the rest. Wishing you comfort. Glad to hear of the Boxing Day outing in the cold air.

natalie said...

I can't think of anything adequate to say except that I know what you mean and even at this distance, I can, to some extent, feel the impact of this event. One small local tragedy is no less huge and tragic than those involving hundreds or thousands or millions of individuals, each one with their histories and their inconsolable loved ones left behind to grieve. Death is so randomly cruel to the living.

Catalyst said...

Life can be short and death unexpected and sudden. One can hope the deceased driver had a heart malfunction and was already gone before the flames broke out. All that said, I'm wishing you and your Tom a happy and safe new year.

the polish chick said...

there's so much that happens, that to care about it all would overburden us. it's a safety mechanism, i think, and it usually only allows for caring when it matters to us, or someone near to us, or, in this case, physically near.

i remember driving down a road in the mountains somewhere with my parents, in the middle of a three-way fight, when we passed a fatal motorcycle accident. the silence in the car, after we passed the flashing lights, and the sheet-covered body, was deafening. an almost tangible reminder of our own mortality.

like the others, thank god you two are safe.

Lyse said...

Il n'est pas très gai ton post Lucy, mais comme je te comprends;
Moi aussi cet accident m'a beaucoup choquée, surtout quand j'ai eu la confirmation que je le connaissais et que j'avais travaillé avec lui il y a 25 ans .
Allez , je vous souhaite malgré tout un bon réveillon à tous les deux, ce soir

Roderick Robinson said...

You may remember I once posted about the occasions in my life when I'd been closest to death. You responded with something witty and discursive. What I failed to include was the here and now, a circumstance that has become - and will continue to become - more urgent. You have flirted most elegantly with a sub-section of this consideration and, as ever, tempted me to use your post as a springboard. But I doubt my ability to handle it as well as you have done. As Clint Eastwood mutters at the end of one of his manly movies: a man's gotta know his limitations.

I'm sure I'm right.

Avus said...

Hum! Food for thought, Lucy. After my stroke I have been banned from driving for a minimum of 30 days. I obviously long to get back in the car, or on the motorcycle,but not at the expense, perhaps, of others.
Let's hope the fatality died from a cardiac event before the resultant impact.

Rouchswalwe said...

Yesterday, I was waiting for the X-ray technician to collect me when a man hobbled in - cast on one arm, bandage on his left eyebrow, and a collar contraption surrounding his neck and running down the front of his chest, making him look like a cyberman. It turns out he had tumbled down the stairs and was lucky to have survived the surgery. There was a hush in the room when he told us he is 59 and glad to still be around.

He warned me never to hurry down stairs and I told him to watch out for slippery leaves. But the truth is that it's simply impossible to be on one's guard all the time. And it is different when "the episode of cosmic injustice" occurs right in front you rather than in the headlines. So many people were shaken by this accident you describe. The price we human beings have to pay. Can't be cheery all the time.

Lucy said...

Thanks all, you are dear.

It occurred to me that perhaps he passed out, let's hope so.

Witty and discursive: subtext glib? If so I'm sorry.