Patrick Pittman
Patrick Pittman has variously been a journalist, a programmer, an academic, a blogger, an activist, and was once, for a few glorious months, the nightshift carer of a supercomputer. If you ask him to be specific, he'll still call himself a writer. He has spoken and performed his work at the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne and the National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle. His fiction appears mostly in grubby zines and anthologies and has been heard several times on stage, most notably as a regular reader at Cottonmouth. In a past life as a freelancer, he wrote features for Black & White, The West Australian, Metro, Scoop and all kinds of inky street press, online outlets and strange glossy things long since passed from memory.

He is a presenter on RTRfm in Perth, where he can be heard blending new classical orchestras, Belgian glitches, Bulgarian folk and shimmery American indie-pop into a strange cocktail of new releases called Out to Lunch. He's run all sorts of random writerly and community projects over the years and likes to start fights from the safety of his Northbridge loft. He also builds websites for money. He's won some awards for that. He lives at patrickpittman.com.

We both go down together
By Patrick Pittman

Christmas day, late afternoon, my stomach digesting cold turkey and garlic bread atop my Vespa, riding down the left lane of the Mitchell Freeway somewhere near 100 kilometres an hour. Behind me, the girl I love holds on as the wind whips past us, gloriously fresh when all that’s between you and it is a t-shirt, jeans and an open face helmet.

Then there’s a wobble. A little at first, perhaps just a crosswind.

A fraction of a second passes. There it is again. A shake now more than a wobble. Not the wind.

Freeze right there, feel time stretch.

In our waking lives we let the seconds march by one by one, sixty by sixty, hardly even noticing their passage. Time is a constant, immutable presence. But the human brain, in its intricate brilliance, can be resourceful in its relationship to those singular little seconds in moments of extreme immediate danger--we are wired so well to deal with the pouncing predator, the whiff of smoke under a door, the boulder rumbling down the hill. Today, though, we must attend to an increasingly unstable relationship to velocity.

First things first; assign the motor functions to automatic pilot, while the higher order instincts assess the situation and debate a course of action.

“If we had to guess”, my inner transport experts have to guess, “your back tire has blown out. We don’t know exactly what that would feel like, but we’d put our money on something a lot like this.”

“A fair point,” concede my safety sub-committee, while the body continues to grab the handle bars and massage the throttle. It is decided that I should probably let Her know, in case her brain is not yet on the same page but is contemplating the further unwrapping of presents at home, and the watching of excellent DVDs.

“I think we’ve blown the back tire!” I shout forward, letting the wind carry it back to her ears. I may or may not offer that we may or may not be fucked.

“So if we’ve lost a tire,” my sub-committee ponder, “what course of action going forward? Let us first consider the emergency stop--we are well trained in how to do this at half this speed with two working tires--how might we fare herein?”

Still, the wobble, the wind, and the bitumen, ever closer, not yet slower.

“We think, were we to attempt such a thing at this speed, without a back tire, there would be one of three likely outcomes. We would a) throw ourselves over the handlebars, into the freeway traffic; b) flip the bike, throwing it and ourselves into the traffic, killing god knows how many people, or c) drop instantly, probably resulting in death on impact with the complete lack of protection available to us.”

It is decided that instead we will attempt to slow the bike down. There are just as many likely negative outcomes, but the one potential positive that the bike might actually come to a stop safely or--less optimistic but more realistic--it’ll be going much slower when we hit the ground, and we’ll have a fighting chance.

Perhaps a second or two has passed. The body has kept the bike in a holding pattern, awaiting a decision. I think about the Joan Didion book I bought my sister for Christmas, as I begin to squeeze the front brake gently.

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant.”

It lodges in my head. The last year (but not my life) rushes past with the traffic, I think of everything falling into place. I think of the hopes and dreams, everything that the next year was going to mean for me, for us, the culmination of so many years at sea. And now, fast, in the instant, it’s all laid out--I get to check out in the most undignified manner possible.

Christmas Road Toll.

As the speedo drops to the mid seventies, the bike becomes less stable still. I pull closer to the side of the road. I imagine thirtysomething female newsreaders, generically attractive, invoking “holiday carnage on our roads” in their generically attractive voices as a double digit number appears next to their shoulder, dripping with digital blood. And that’s all I get.

“At least you’ll make the news,” my inappropriate joke faculty offers. The bike slows, the traffic around seems to be clearing. 60 now, less stable but I’ve got a handle on it.

50, it’s slipping but I’m figuring it out.

40, I’m ready to declare to the wind, “I think we’re gonna be okay! I’ve got it under control! We’re going to stop!”

The world begins to turn on its side, the skyline tilts harshly. The bike no longer responds to my commands. My hands slip from the handlebars and the road becomes so much closer. I smell the bitumen as it rushes towards me. I think I have time to declare my love into the wind, a last gesture as we both go down together. I feel her squeeze my sides--in fear or in love, I’m not certain. Tears stream from my eyes, pulled back across my face by the rushing wind.

I am now travelling forward on the freeway without the aid of motor propulsion, only inertia. My skin, unprotected, tears away from my arms as I slide across the ground. But all objects must come to rest, say the laws of physics, and my Newtonian self does so after an indeterminate distance, somewhere near the Vincent Street exit.

There are now several tasks the brain must achieve. As soon as possible, it must send me into shock and knock me out, because I am severely hurt and all functions must be directed towards life support and basic systems checks. Before it is safe to shift into diagnostics, however, there is a more pressing issue of self-preservation at hand; Newton (or the front wheel) has propelled the bike into the grass, but has sent us straight forward, keeping us safely in the left-hand lane of the freeway, with traffic approaching.

We stand, not noticing the blood, not checking the bones, not surveilling the situation, just operating on base instinct. We walk to the side of the road, together, alive, though we’ve not really noticed.

Clear of the traffic, everything fades to black.

***

When vision swims back in, the piercing blue sky is above me--everything is blurred, but most likely because my brand new Belgian frames have been thrown from my face. Circling my field of vision are several heads, faces frozen in various expressions of worry, concern and horror. Diagnostics. Limbs appear to be present; twitch feet, they shift willingly. Shift arms, no resistance. No pain. Motor functions mostly intact. Shift head.

“Keep your head still!” orders a muddy, disembodied voice. “Do not move!”

So the head moved. Good. My face feels sticky, tears of blood running down. I try and talk, everything tastes sticky and sickly; my lips sting as the words pass them by.

I shout for her and a terrified voice comes from somewhere close by--she’s okay. She’s fine.

“What happened?” I cough. And everything fades to black again.

Quickly it returns, and I ask again what happened. This dance repeats, four or five times.

When I return with a little more stable presence, an assertive and confident woman manages to explain to me that she’s a nurse, I’ve had an accident. I’ve lost a lot of blood but I’m okay. There’s an ambulance on the way. My hearing is distorted for the blood in the ear, but still I hear the freeway rumble a few feet to my right.

There’s chaos and concern all around, and then a mask over my face and the blurred vision of a paramedic. I swim into the back of an ambulance as the voices of roadside observers tell me (or tell themselves) that I’m going to be okay. Through the mask I shout for her again, demand visual evidence that she’s okay. The paramedic assures me that she is well and riding in the front seat.

Not good enough--she needs to be back here, I need to see her and keep her well.

Not going to happen.

I need her.

He concedes, and allows her back, to give me a single kiss on my face--of which I catch a glimpse in the reflection of the ambulance insides, and see little other than blood. Though everything is blurred, I see her clearly. I see the worry in her eyes, and the shock. But I don’t feel any pain--I mean, fuck, I’m alive. It could be worse, right? I think I say this several times to various occupants of the ambulance. Her kiss placates me. And everything fades to black.

The stretcher crashes out of the ambulance into the emergency room, which I know by instinct and atmosphere to be Royal Perth. Before going through the doors, I hear the distant but close voice of my sister, who’s been waiting there. I think I tell her that I’m fine, and that I love her.

Then there are machines that sound angry, and nurses and doctors crowded around, lights in eyes and needles in arms.

A friendly face with a friendly needle: “Can you hear me Patrick? I’m just going to give you some morphine.”

Yes please.

Pushlished in The Diamond & the Thief - December 09