HE KNEW she wasn’t Chinese, he knew she wasn’t Spanish, he knew she wasn’t Korean. He knew she wasn’t black, and therefore not African, Indian nor Hispanic. She wasn’t tall, she wasn’t short, she wasn’t fat, she wasn’t thin. She didn’t have an eye-patch, she didn’t have an S-shaped scar on her cheek, she didn’t have a nose piercing in the shape of a sickle. She had not uttered a word.
If he closed his eyes, he could picture everything within the cab, from the leather headrests to the alloy door handles, but when he turned his head to where she sat, the visual fabric diffused into a black hole. On occasion he would see an empty seat beside him.
He had looked at her; he remembered doing so. He had looked upon her when he truly believed she would be the last person he would ever look upon again.
Leon would remember her. He remembered everybody. Vince had never considered this an estimable quality. Vince didn’t have to remember. Many so-called virtues irritated him: faith, honesty, empathy, modesty, punctuality, reliability, consistency. Yes, people with such fibre were needed for his business and the world in general. Success cornered him into being a hypocrite. But Leon offered Vince the sort of banter that took the tedium from the cloying silkiness of his life.
Vince hoped she was ugly, sow-faced, saggy-breasted and weak-chinned. But the police had shots of her leaving the Nexus beside him. He could barely stand to look. He could barely stand to hear her name. Nancy Hutchens. She wasn’t ugly. And Vince had been right; she had been none of the above. She had a heart-shaped face, brown hair and brown eyes. She wore a cocktail dress, a tiara of some kind and lots of eyeliner. She would probably not be so pretty the next morning.
The photograph had not jolted his memory. He still could not imagine her on the seat beside him in the limo. He would not have made the connection even by the sight of her face.
The police told him that the woman claimed she had left the limo prior to the crash. Was this true?
Vince hesitated at this revelation. She probably feared exposure or of getting sued. He would rather not speculate but was grateful her wishes accorded with his. Vince decided to confirm this fact. The police had then showed him a photo of some peacock called Cora. Vince would rather it was nobody. A woman who didn’t exist, like the one Leon had picked up at the restaurant after dropping off Nancy and which Vince could not give a description to. A fictional woman. Vince had told the police he couldn’t confirm.
But the truth remained that a non-fictional woman had punctured a hole in his throat from where she had pushed her breaths into his lungs. Why did his life have to be saved in such a repugnant way? Anything else would have been preferable: the hurling of rope over a cliff face; the pressure of a tourniquet over a gushing artery.
But the pain of mangled legs was nothing next to the torture of suffocation. A cold sweat would occasionally descend upon him at the thought of it. Vince had initially thought he had sustained a throat injury before realising Dennis’s recreational sweet had taken a trip of its own. This eucalyptus delicacy comprised onion-like layers beginning with a mellow opium-based narcotic to get him in the mood. Amphetamine next, for a little euphoria in the small hours, concluding with a coke hit. Suck, don’t bite, Dennis had instructed. To elucidate his point, he had molded the sweets into little penises. Suck it, he had said; suck it slow and you will never want the night to end. The shape happened to form the ideal cork for any throat.
Vince had awoken in the hospital bed on account of her. Sunlit squares on the ceiling had fuzzed into focus on account of her. He was still Vince who could speak, think and remember his own name on account of her. He should be grateful. He tried, God how he tried. Thank you. He had uttered the words once to himself in the bathroom. The vocalization spurred a tingling in his larynx and briefly suspended his swallowing reflex.
He had encountered her at his final breath in a deep, dark ditch where he believed daylight would never find him again.
He had clawed at her dress, his vision speckling over and his chest lurching violently, uselessly.
He had finally blacked out at the point at which his fist had stiffened over the hem of her dress.
Vince had not experienced a blinding white light at the end of a tunnel. He did not feel born again. He did not discover a new Vince that looked upon the world with fresh eyes and heightened clarity. If anything, he had become more of a creep.
He would rather have died in the crash like Randy Savage or Marc Bolan. Death by crash had a certain poetry. A survivor sweating and swearing on a calf-stretcher was simply distasteful and undignified.
If she should seek him out, and he hoped she would not, Vince would compensate her. Yes, compensate her in an orderly, proper and business-like fashion. He would then hope to never see her again.