Afterwards he remembered the night only in flashes. The vibrant sparks of the red and yellow leaves carpeting the sodden ground; the acrid tang of wet asphalt in his nostrils; the tree’s shadow that fell across the road; the crash of the panic and the ghastly, stretching, endless silence that followed.
The appalling slickness of the girl’s wet skin under his fingers in the rain.
He had had a headache. It was a miserable evening after a terrible day in the office. He’d watched the streetlights flicker on and been depressed when his watch said it was only four-thirty and decided to call it a day. He’d forgotten his brolly, so had to sprint across the car park in the rain. By the time he’d climbed into the driver’s seat he was soaked.
And then the engine wouldn’t start. Come on, come on, he thought desperately, turning the key in the ignition, forcing it round. You can do this.
But it was no good. Kevin from Estates had had to come out with the jump leads and it was gone six before he managed to get away, wet, cold and thoroughly pissed off.
Traffic was dreadful, as usual, all stop-start the whole way out of the city. When he finally turned onto the Lake Road with no traffic lights, it was like stretching his wings and taking flight. He allowed himself to relax with the pull of the car, the autumn trees flashing past the window in fiery bursts like flaming torches along the roadside.
And then everything became fragmented, his memories like a jigsaw he couldn’t put back together again afterwards - he could see bits, but never the whole.
He remembered being jerked violently from his reverie by the crunch of metal on metal. Remembered something luminous flying past his window. A shout. The screech of brakes. A dull thud, then that terrible silence.
He climbed out of the car and she had just been lying there utterly still as the rain fell on her upturned face. Her bike, a crumpled scrap of metal on the ground.
For three breaths he just stood there, staring. And then he was touching her face, shaking her shoulders, shouting at her to come on, come on. You can do this. But she didn’t move.
He didn’t remember calling the ambulance, though he must have done it, or moving her bike out of the road. He didn’t remember putting his hazard lights on, or how cold he must have been in just his work shirt and trousers in all that rain.
Instead it was the tight elastic of her raincoat as he forced his fingers inside to check for a pulse that wouldn’t come that had stayed with him. The coldness of her skin under his fingers; the cold blue flash of light tearing apart the darkness and taking her away in an impossibly white blanket.
And then the silence as he was left alone in the dark again, the terrible image of her still, pale face, slick with rain flashing behind his eyes with every blink.