A Postcard from Luck
Luck. I hate the word. I can’t get it out of my mouth. It sticks in the throat like a furball, with all the other ‘uck’ words. Yuck. Muck. Fuck. Truck.
Some people sit around for years trying to define it, name it, shape it. They wrestle with its slipperiness. These are the kind of people who spend their Sunday mornings at church. Or the casino.
I don’t roll dice. There’s no praying on my part, no sinking bottles of scotch and jumping in pools for a swim. We try to keep out of each other’s way, luck and me. The few scrapes we’ve had have been amiable. It made me a tall white man in a tall white man’s world. It gave me English. In return I try not to bother it.
I stayed in school, ate my greens, brushed my teeth and flossed. It’s started to pay off, in that I do what I like and get paid for it.
It’s a lot of work, making your own luck. Sometimes I need a break. A postcard from a friend offered the perfect excuse. “New Plymouth is cool,” she wrote, “you guys should come hang out.” The next day’s sunrise caught S- and me in our white Toyota, fanging our way out of Auckland.
Lucky people in Taranaki. Even the road into town is spoiled for choice. It doesn’t know which way to look, flicking its head between mountain and sea as it winds through the hills to the coast.
We had a good run, clear roads and good conditions ‘till it started to spit and we found ourselves tailing a truck. I’ve got no beef with truckies. Sure they clog up the roads and sleep in their rigs, tip in high winds and their guts spill out of their shorts. But they’re good drivers. I don’t overtake them unless there’s a passing lane, or they tell me to with their blinkers, like the milk tanker did, easing into a wide shoulder of the road.
I accelerate past, not too fast, lights on full to combat the gloom and gritty rain. I pull back into my lane and begin to slow for the corner, letting the steering wheel follow the curve of the road…. follow the curve of the road…FOLLOW THE CURVE OF THE ROAD!
The back tires slide gently open like the door to a stranger’s house. The car makes a bee line across the centre line directly into the path of oncoming traffic. I wrench the steering wheel back towards the left, trying to wrestle the car to heel. The Toyota shakes its head and bucks into a clumsy piroette, a 180 degree farewell bow as it slides towards the edge of a cliff.
Slow, so slow, all the time in the world. The love of my life has a curious look on her face. ‘I’m so sorry,’ I say.
Slam. Slam dunk. A second is all it takes to realise we’ve been cushioned by a safety barrier, a reassuring thump on the back like a coach after you’ve missed a tackle. No airbags, no whiplash no nothing. Just dazed and alive and in luck.
Around the sweep comes the rig we’d passed before. We sit, white as bone in the face of a cannonball, life’s final act playing out in high definition frame-by- frame.
A moving rig takes a while to stop. It’s physics. The equation can be derived from Newton’s first law and looks like this:
Where v = velocity, a = acceleration and d= distance (or death).
In short, it’s very complicated and much easier for the trailer to jack-knife and bat your car for six.
But stop it did. A few feet from our nose, growling with dissatisfaction.
Traffic stopped. Time ticked on. I started the car and drove to a vehicle bay. The reassuring words of my girlfriend went in one ear and out my legs, reducing them to the consistency of rice pudding.
I wobbled round the car, examining the punch in the bumper while the alternative scenarios started playing themselves out.
If the truck had been going faster, if I’d gone slower into the turn, if the rain hadn’t just started after a month of drought, if a car had been coming the other way, if the barrier was a couple of meters shorter….
My death flashed in front of my eyes.
“Mrs Meek I’m very sorry but I’m afraid there’s been a terrible accident….” Or worse. ‘Mr H-, my name is Officer…”
For days they played out, the scenarios, the recriminations. I embarked on a frenzy of self-insurance. I finally coughed up for new rear tires and cursed my stinginess after a borderline warrant last May. I quizzed my petrol head friend about the subtleties of pump braking. I did everything in my power to avoid accepting it for what it was. A postcard from luck. Still thinking of me and playing a role, whether I believe it or like it or not.