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Three Car Incident at Twyford Down

Richard WIlliams

And so we wait. Strangers together in stationary cars, yearning for movement, for finding a meaningful start. Headlights dipped. Six pearl necklaces across the nape of a black-dressed hill are bunched up, rethreaded, behind a clasp of mangled steel. Southampton ahead. Orange smear a slowly bleeding stain. The lost consecration of night, where the only stars are airport bound.

I surf the radio. Talk show hosts witter on. Music stations play the same songs over and over again. Adele is Rolling in the Deep. I do not want to Move like Jagger. Ads become a relief, then a curse. The news, such that it is, never is. Celebrities, political spin, product placement. What of us, of our insignificance? Are we no more than detritus from meteorites, burning up at the periphery of fame?

A yawning gap in the road is illuminated by emergency vehicles on the hard shoulder. Every second counts, every second, counting every second, fingers drumming, counting the beat; Yellow, by Coldplay. I wind down the window. Turn up the volume. Next song up, Disco Inferno; I am alive, almost.

Every now and then a train slingshots past. Behind trees, behind embankments, a javelin of light, then it’s gone. A second, maybe two at most, but I am beyond counting. Somewhere down the line signals shift. Fareham Portsmouth, Southampton Bournemouth, east or west or west or east. How many commuters are counting down the minutes till terminus?

I am sleepwalking the world I used to know. I have driven this road so many times, know the pull of its curves, remember how it was; the old A33, those bloody lights. I turn the key, get out of the car to stretch my legs, reach the walls of the cutting, put my hand through the safety mesh, touch crumbling chalk.

How many years ago was it? Roman coins, Iron Age burial chambers, ancient tracks and monuments; God how I loved this place. Summer evenings spent lying on our backs watching clouds cross the face of the Moon.

Here, now, if it weren’t for the overhead carriageway lights, my car would sit in a solitary pool of darkness. In every other car every other driver glows in the reflection of dashboard luminescence. A low murmur of engines ticking over is punctured by the whine of spinning rotor blades. The air ambulance is up and on its way, spearing into the night. The thread will soon be lost, this incidental crowd dispersing across the counties of southern England. And so again I must go.

I taste the white dust on my fingertips, try to recall the sound of your voice, the way you smiled, your kiss.

About the Author

Richard Williams lives in Portsmouth, England. He has had poems published in a range of UK magazines and online publications, including Acumen, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, Orbis and South, and others on radio including the BBC. His first collection, Landings, was published by Dempsey & Windle in 2018. He has a blog at Twitter: @richardw65.

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