Crash. Part 1

Crash.

By Ballard, J.G.

Chapter 1

Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. During our friendship he had rehea.r.s.ed his death in many crashes, but this was his only true accident. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, his car jumped the rails of the London Airport flyover and plunged through the roof of a bus filled with airline pa.s.sengers. The crushed bodies of package tourists, like a haemorrhage of the sun, still lay across the vinyl seats when I pushed my way through the police engineers an hour later. Holding the arm of her chauffeur, the film actress Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Vaughan had dreamed of dying for so many months, stood alone under the revolving ambulance lights. As I knelt over Vaughan's body she placed a gloved hand to her throat.Could she see, in Vaughan's posture, the formula of the death which he had devised for her? During the last weeks of his life Vaughan thought of nothing else but her death, a coronation of wounds he had staged with the devotion of an Earl Marshal. The walls of his apartment near the film studios at Shepperton were covered with the photographs he had taken through his zoom lens each morning as she left her hotel in London, from the pedestrian bridges above the westbound motorways, and from the roof of the multi-storey car-park at the studios. The magnified details of her knees and hands, of the inner surface of her thighs and the left apex of her mouth, I uneasily prepared for Vaughan on the copying machine in my office, handing him the packages of prints as if they were the instalments of a death warrant. At his apartment I watched him matching the details of her body with the photographs of grotesque wounds in a textbook of plastic surgery.In his vision of a car-crash with the actress, Vaughan was obsessed by many wounds and impacts - by the dying chromium and collapsing bulkheads of their two cars meeting head-on in complex collisions endlessly repeated in slow-motion films, by the identical wounds inflicted on their bodies, by the image of windshield gla.s.s frosting around her face as she broke its tinted surface like a death-born Aphrodite, by the compound fractures of their thighs impacted against their handbrake mountings, and above all by the wounds to their genitalia, her uterus pierced by the heraldic beak of the manufacturer's medallion, his s.e.m.e.n emptying across the luminescent dials that registered for ever the last temperature and fuel levels of the engine.It was only at these times, as he described this last crash to me, that Vaughan was calm. He talked of these wounds and collisions with the erotic tenderness of a long-separated lover. Searching through the photographs in his apartment, he half turned towards me, so that his heavy groin quietened me with its profile of an almost erect p.e.n.i.s. He knew that as long as he provoked me with his own s.e.x, which he used casually as if he might discard it for ever at any moment, I would never leave him.Ten days ago, as he stole my car from the garage of my apartment house, Vaughan hurtled up the concrete ramp, an ugly machine sprung from a trap. Yesterday his body lay under the police arc-lights at the foot of the flyover, veiled by a delicate lacework of blood. The broken postures of his legs and arms, the b.l.o.o.d.y geometry of his face, seemed to parody the photographs of crash injuries that covered the walls of his apartment. I looked down for the last time at his huge groin, engorged with blood. Twenty yards away, illuminated by the revolving lamps, the actress hovered on the arm of her chauffeur. Vaughan had dreamed of dying at the moment of her o.r.g.a.s.m.Before his death Vaughan had taken part in many crashes. As I think of Vaughan I see him in the stolen cars he drove and damaged, the surfaces of deformed metal and plastic that for ever embraced him. Two months earlier I found him on the lower deck of the airport flyover after the first rehearsal of his own death. A taxi driver helped two shaken air hostesses from a small car into which Vaughan had collided as he lurched from the mouth of a concealed access road. As I ran across to Vaughan I saw him through the fractured windshield of the white convertible he had taken from the car-park of the Oceanic Terminal. His exhausted face, with its scarred mouth, was lit by broken rainbows. I pulled the dented pa.s.senger door from its frame. Vaughan sat on the gla.s.s-covered seat, studying his own posture with a complacent gaze. His hands, palms upwards at his sides, were covered with blood from his injured knee-caps. He examined the vomit staining the lapels of his leather jacket, and reached forward to touch the globes of s.e.m.e.n clinging to the instrument binnacle. I tried to lift him from the car, but his tight b.u.t.tocks were clamped together as if they had seized while forcing the last drops of fluid from his seminal vesicles. On the seat beside him were the torn photographs of the film actress which I had reproduced for him that morning at my office. Magnified sections of lip and eyebrow, elbow and cleavage formed a broken mosaic.For Vaughan the car-crash and his own s.e.xuality had made their final marriage. I remember him at night with nervous young women in the crushed rear compartments of abandoned cars in breakers' yards, and their photographs in the postures of uneasy s.e.x acts. Their tight faces and strained thighs were lit by his polaroid flash, like startled survivors of a submarine disaster. These aspiring wh.o.r.es, whom Vaughan met in the all-night cafes and supermarkets of London Airport, were the first cousins of the patients ill.u.s.trated in his surgical textbooks. During his studied courtship of injured women, Vaughan was obsessed with the buboes of gas bacillus infections, by facial injuries and genital wounds.Through Vaughan I discovered the true significance of the automobile crash, the meaning of whiplash injuries and roll-over, the ecstasies of head-on collisions. Together we visited the Road Research Laboratory twenty miles to the west of London, and watched the calibrated vehicles crashing into the concrete target blocks. Later, in his apartment, Vaughan screened slow-motion films of test collisions that he had photographed with his cinecamera. Sitting in the darkness on the floor cushions, we watched the silent impacts flicker on the wall above our heads. The repeated sequences of crashing cars first calmed and then aroused me. Cruising alone on the motorway under the yellow glare of the sodium lights, I thought of myself at the controls of these impacting vehicles.During the months that followed, Vaughan and I spent many hours driving along the express highways on the northern perimeter of the airport. On the calm summer evenings these fast boulevards became a zone of nightmare collisions. Listening to the police broadcasts on Vaughan's radio, we moved from one accident to the next. Often we stopped under arc-lights that flared over the sites of major collisions, watching while firemen and police engineers worked with acetylene torches and lifting tackle to free unconscious wives trapped beside their dead husbands, or waited as a pa.s.sing doctor fumbled with a dying man pinned below an inverted truck. Sometimes Vaughan was pulled back by the other spectators, and fought for his cameras with the ambulance attendants. Above all, Vaughan waited for head-on collisions with the concrete pillars of the motorway overpa.s.ses, the melancholy conjunction formed by a crushed vehicle abandoned on the gra.s.s verge and the serene motion sculpture of the concrete.Once we were the first to reach the crashed car of an injured woman driver. A middle-aged cashier at the airport duty-free liquor store, she sat unsteadily in the crushed compartment, fragments of the tinted windshield set in her forehead like jewels. As a police car approached, its emergency beacon pulsing along the overhead motorway, Vaughan ran back for his camera and flash equipment. Taking off my tie, I searched helplessly for the woman's wounds. She stared at me without speaking, and lay on her side across the seat. I watched the blood irrigate her white blouse. When Vaughan had taken the last of his pictures he knelt down inside the car and held her face carefully in his hands, whispering into her ear. Together we helped to lift her on to the ambulance trolley.On our way to Vaughan's apartment he recognized an airport wh.o.r.e waiting in the forecourt of a motorway restaurant, a part-time cinema usherette for ever worrying about her small son's defective hearing-aid. As they sat behind me she complained to Vaughan about my nervous driving, but he was watching her movements with an abstracted gaze, almost encouraging her to gesture with her hands and knees. On the deserted roof of a Northolt multi-storey car-park I waited by the bal.u.s.trade. In the rear seat of the car Vaughan arranged her limbs in the posture of the dying cashier. His strong body, crouched across her in the reflected light of pa.s.sing headlamps, a.s.sumed a series of stylized positions.Vaughan unfolded for me all his obsessions with the mysterious eroticism of wounds: the perverse logic of blood-soaked instrument panels, seat-belts smeared with excrement, sun-visors lined with brain tissue. For Vaughan each crashed car set off a tremor of excitement, in the complex geometries of a dented fender, in the unexpected variations of crushed radiator grilles, in the grotesque overhang of an instrument panel forced on to a driver's crotch as if in some calibrated act of machine f.e.l.l.a.t.i.o. The intimate time and s.p.a.ce of a single human being had been fossilized for ever in this web of chromium knives and frosted gla.s.s.A week after the funeral of the woman cashier, as we drove at night along the western perimeter of the airport, Vaughan swerved on to the verge and struck a large mongrel dog. The impact of its body, like a padded hammer, and the shower of gla.s.s as the animal was carried over the roof, convinced me that we were about to die in a crash. Vaughan never stopped. I watched him accelerate away, his scarred face held close to the punctured windshield, angrily brushing the beads of frosted gla.s.s from his cheeks. Already his acts of violence had become so random that I was no more than a captive spectator. Yet the next morning, on the roof of the airport car-park where we abandoned the car, Vaughan calmly pointed out to me the deep dents in the bonnet and roof. He stared at an airliner filled with tourists lifting into the western sky, his sallow face puckering like a wistful child's. The long triangular grooves on the car had been formed within the death of an unknown creature, its vanished ident.i.ty abstracted in terms of the geometry of this vehicle. How much more mysterious would be our own deaths, and those of the famous and powerful?Even this first death seemed timid compared with the others in which Vaughan took part, and with those imaginary deaths that filled his mind. Trying to exhaust himself, Vaughan devised a terrifying almanac of imaginary automobile disasters and insane wounds - the lungs of elderly men punctured by door handles, the chests of young women impaled by steering-columns, the cheeks of handsome youths pierced by the chromium latches of quarter-lights. For him these wounds were the keys to a new s.e.xuality born from a perverse technology. The images of these wounds hung in the gallery of his mind like exhibits in the museum of a slaughterhouse.Thinking of Vaughan now, drowning in his own blood under the police arc-lights, I remember the countless imaginary disasters he described as we cruised together along die airport expressways. He dreamed of amba.s.sadorial limousines crashing into jack-knifing butane tankers, of taxis filled with celebrating children colliding head-on below the bright display windows of deserted supermarkets. He dreamed of alienated brothers and sisters, by chance meeting each other on collision courses on the access roads of petrochemical plants, their unconscious incest made explicit in this colliding metal, in the haemorrhages of their brain tissue flowering beneath the aluminized compression chambers and reaction vessels. Vaughan devised the ma.s.sive rear-end collisions of sworn enemies, hate-deaths celebrated in the engine fuel burning in wayside ditches, paintwork boiling through the dull afternoon sunlight of provincial towns. He visualized the specialized crashes of escaping criminals, of off-duty hotel receptionists trapped between their steering wheels and the laps of their lovers whom they were masturbating. He thought of the crashes of honeymoon couples, seated together after their impacts with the rear suspension units of runaway sugar-tankers. He thought of the crashes of automobile stylists, the most abstract of all possible deaths, wounded in their cars with promiscuous laboratory technicians.Vaughan elaborated endless variations on these collisions, thinking first of a repet.i.tion of head-on collisions: a child-molester and an overworked doctor re-enacting their deaths first in head-on collision and then in roll-over; the retired prost.i.tute crashing into a concrete motorway parapet, her overweight body propelled through the fractured windshield, menopausal loins torn on the chromium bonnet mascot. Her blood would cross the over-white concrete of the evening embankment, haunting for ever the mind of a police mechanic who carried the pieces of her body in a yellow plastic shroud. Alternatively, Vaughan saw her hit by a reversing truck in a motorway fuelling area, crushed against the nearside door of her car as she bent down to loosen her right shoe, the contours of her body buried within the b.l.o.o.d.y mould of the door panel. He saw her hurtling through the rails of the flyover and dying as Vaughan himself would later die, plunging through the roof of an airline coach, its cargo of complacent destinations multiplied by the death of this myopic middle-aged woman. He saw her hit by a speeding taxi as she stepped out of her car to relieve herself in a wayside latrine, her body whirled a hundred feet away in a spray of urine and blood.I think now of the other crashes we visualized, absurd deaths of the wounded, maimed and distraught. I think of the crashes of psychopaths, implausible accidents carried out with venom and self-disgust, vicious multiple collisions contrived in stolen cars on evening freeways among tired office-workers. I think of the absurd crashes of neurasthenic housewives returning from their VD clinics, hitting parked cars in suburban high streets. I think of the crashes of excited schizophrenics colliding head-on into stalled laundry vans in one-way streets; of manic-depressives crushed while making pointless litmus on motorway access roads; of luckless paranoids driving at full speed into the brick walls at the ends of known culs-de-sac; of s.a.d.i.s.tic charge nurses decapitated in inverted crashes on complex interchanges; of lesbian supermarket manageresses burning to death in the collapsed frames of their midget cars before the stoical eyes of middle-aged firemen; of autistic children crushed in rear-end collisions, their eyes less wounded in death; of buses filled with mental defectives drowning together stoically in roadside industrial ca.n.a.ls.Long before Vaughan died I had begun to think of my own death. With whom would I die, and in what role - psychopath, neurasthenic, absconding criminal? Vaughan dreamed endlessly of the deaths of the famous, inventing imaginary crashes for them. Around the deaths of James Dean and Albert Camus, Jayne Mansfield and John Kennedy he had woven elaborate fantasies. His imagination was a target gallery of screen actresses, politicians, business tyc.o.o.ns and television executives. Vaughan followed them everywhere with his camera, zoom lens watching from the observation platform of the Oceanic Terminal at the airport, from hotel mezzanine balconies and studio car-parks. For each of them Vaughan devised an optimum auto-death. Ona.s.sis and his wife would die in a recreation of the Dealey Plaza a.s.sa.s.sination. He saw Reagan in a complex rear-end collision, dying a stylized death that expressed Vaughan's obsession with Reagan's genital organs, like his obsession with the exquisite transits of the screen actress's pubis across the vinyl seat covers of hired limousines.After his last attempt to kill my wife Catherine, I knew that Vaughan had retired finally into his own skull. In this overlit realm ruled by violence and technology he was now driving for ever at a hundred miles an hour along an empty motorway, past deserted filling stations on the edges of wide fields, waiting for a single oncoming car. In his mind Vaughan saw the whole world dying in a simultaneous automobile disaster, millions of vehicles hurled together in a terminal congress of spurting loins and engine coolant.I remember my first minor collision in a deserted hotel car-park. Disturbed by a police patrol, we had forced ourselves through a hurried s.e.x-act. Reversing out of the park, I struck an unmarked tree. Catherine vomited over my seat. This pool of vomit with its clots of blood like liquid rubies, as viscous and discreet as everything produced by Catherine, still contains for me the essence of the erotic delirium of the car-crash, more exciting than her own rectal and v.a.g.i.n.al mucus, as refined as the excrement of a fairy queen, or the minuscule globes of liquid that formed beside the bubbles of her contact lenses. In this magic pool, lifting from her throat like a rare discharge of fluid from the mouth of a remote and mysterious shrine, I saw my own reflection, a mirror of blood, s.e.m.e.n and vomit, distilled from a mouth whose contours only a few minutes before had drawn steadily against my p.e.n.i.s.

Now that Vaughan has died, we will leave with the others who gathered around him, like a crowd drawn to an injured cripple whose deformed postures reveal the secret formulas of their minds and lives. All of us who knew Vaughan accept the perverse eroticism of the car-crash, as painful as the drawing of an exposed organ through the aperture of a surgical wound. I have watched copulating couples moving along darkened freeways at night, men and women on the verge of o.r.g.a.s.m, their cars speeding in a series of inviting trajectories towards the flashing headlamps of the oncoming traffic stream. Young men alone behind the wheels of their first cars, near-wrecks picked up in sc.r.a.p-yards, m.a.s.t.u.r.b.a.t.e as they move on worn tyres to aimless destinations. After a near collision at a traffic intersection s.e.m.e.n jolts across a cracked speedometer dial. Later, the dried residues of that same s.e.m.e.n are brushed by the lacquered hair of the first young woman who lies across his lap with her mouth over his p.e.n.i.s, one hand on the wheel hurtling the car through the darkness towards a multi-level interchange, the swerving brakes drawing the s.e.m.e.n from him as he grazes the tailgate of an articulated truck loaded with colour television sets, his left hand vibrating her c.l.i.toris towards o.r.g.a.s.m as the headlamps of the truck flare warningly in his rear-view mirror. Later still, he watches as a friend takes a teenage girl in the rear seat. Greasy mechanic's hands expose her b.u.t.tocks to the advertis.e.m.e.nt h.o.a.rdings that hurl past them. The wet highways flash by in the glare of headlamps and the scream of brake-pads. The shaft of his p.e.n.i.s glistens above the girl as he strikes at the frayed plastic roof of the car, marking the yellow fabric with his s.m.e.g.m.a. The last ambulance had left. An hour earlier the film actress had been steered towards her limousine. In the evening light the white concrete of the collision corridor below the flyover resembled a secret airstrip from which mysterious machines would take off into a metallized sky. Vaughan's gla.s.s aeroplane flew somewhere above the heads of the bored spectators moving back to their cars, above the tired policemen gathering together the crushed suitcases and handbags of the airline tourists. I thought of Vaughan's body, colder now, its rectal temperature following the same downward gradients as those of the other victims of the crash. Across the night air these gradients fell like streamers from the office towers and apartment houses of the city, and from the warm mucosa of the film actress in her hotel suite.I drove back towards the airport. The lights along Western Avenue illuminated the speeding cars, moving together towards their celebration of wounds.Crash - J G Balard-0003

Chapter 2

I began to understand the real excitements of the car-crash after my first meeting with Vaughan. Propelled on a pair of scarred and uneven legs repeatedly injured in one or other vehicle collision, the harsh and unsettling figure of this hoodlum scientist came into my life at a time when his obsessions were self-evidently those of a madman.As I drove home from the film studios at Shepperton on a rain-swept June evening, my car skidded at the intersection below the entrance to the Western Avenue flyover. Within seconds I was moving at sixty miles an hour into the oncoming lane. As the car struck the central reservation the off-side tyre blew out and whirled off its rim. Out of my control, the car crossed the reservation and turned up the high-speed exit ramp. Three vehicles were approaching, ma.s.s-produced saloon cars whose exact model-year, colour schemes and external accessories I can still remember with the painful accuracy of a never-to-be-eluded nightmare. The first two I missed, pumping the brakes and barely managing to steer my car between them. The third, carrying a young woman doctor and her husband, I struck head-on. The man, a chemical engineer with an American foodstuffs company, was killed instantly, propelled through his windshield like a mattress from the barrel of a circus cannon. He died on the bonnet of my car, his blood sprayed through the fractured windshield across my face and chest. The firemen who later cut me from the crushed cabin of my car a.s.sumed that I was bleeding to death from a ma.s.sive open-heart wound.I was barely injured. On my way home after leaving my secretary Renata, who was freeing herself from an unsettling affair with me, I was still wearing the safety belt I had deliberately fastened to save her from the embarra.s.sment of embracing me. My chest was severely bruised against the steering wheel, my knees crushed into the instrument panel as my body moved forwards into its own collision with the interior of the car, but my only serious injury was a severed nerve in my scalp.The same mysterious forces that saved me from being impaled on the steering wheel also saved the young engineer's wife. Apart from a bruised upper jawbone and several loosened teeth, she was unharmed. During my first hours in Ashford Hospital all I could see in my mind was the image of us locked together face to face in these two cars, the body of her dying husband lying between us on the bonnet of my car. We looked at each other through the fractured windshields, neither able to move. Her husband's hand, no more than a few inches from me, lay palm upwards beside the right windshield wiper. His hand had struck some rigid object as he was hurled from his seat, and the pattern of a sign formed itself as I sat there, pumped up by his dying circulation into a huge blood-blister - the triton signature of my radiator emblem.Supported by her diagonal seat belt, his wife sat behind her steering wheel, staring at me in a curiously formal way, as if unsure what had brought us together. Her handsome face, topped by a broad, intelligent forehead, had the blank and unresponsive look of a madonna in an early Renaissance icon, unwilling to accept the miracle, or nightmare, sprung from her loins. Only once did any emotion cross it, when she seemed to see me clearly for the first time, and a peculiar rictus twisted the right side of her face, as if the nerve had been pulled on a string. Did she realize then that the blood covering my face and chest was her husband's?Our two cars were surrounded by a circle of spectators, their silent faces watching us with enormous seriousness. After this brief pause everything broke into manic activity. Tyres singing, half a dozen cars pulled on to the verge and mounted the central reservation. A ma.s.sive traffic jam formed along Western Avenue, sirens wailed as police headlamps flared against the rear b.u.mpers of stalled vehicles tailing back along the flyover. An elderly man in a transparent plastic raincoat was pulling uneasily at the pa.s.senger door behind my head, as if frightened that the car might throw a powerful electric charge into his thin hand. A young woman carrying a tartan blanket lowered her head to the window. Only a few inches away, she stared at me with pursed lips, like a mourner peering down at a corpse laid out in an open coffin.Unaware of any pain at that time, I sat with my right hand holding a spoke of the steering wheel. Still wearing her seat belt, the dead man's wife was coming to her senses. A small group of people - a truck driver, an off-duty soldier in uniform and a woman ice-cream attendant - were pressing their hands at her through the windows, apparently touching parts of her body. She beckoned them away, and freed the harness across her chest, her capable hand fumbling with the chromium release mechanism. For a moment I felt that we were the princ.i.p.al actors at the climax of some grim drama in an unrehea.r.s.ed theatre of technology, involving these crushed machines, the dead man destroyed in their collision, and the hundreds of drivers waiting beside the stage with their headlamps blazing.The young woman was helped from her car. Her awkward legs and the angular movements of her head appeared to mimic the distorted streamlining of the two cars. The rectangular bonnet of my car had been wrenched off its seating below the windshield, and the narrow angle between the bonnet and fenders seemed to my exhausted mind to be repeated in everything around me - the expressions and postures of the spectators, the ascending ramp of the flyover, the flight paths of the airliners lifting from the distant runways of the airport. The young woman was carefully steered from her car by an olive-skinned man in the midnight-blue uniform of an Arab airline pilot. A thin stream of urine trickled involuntarily between her legs, running down on to the roadway. The pilot held her shoulders rea.s.suringly. Standing beside their cars, the spectators watched this puddle forming on the oil-stained macadam. In the fading evening light, rainbows began to circle her weak ankles. She turned and stared down at me, a peculiar grimace on her bruised face, a clear confusion of concern and hostility. However, all I could see was the unusual junction of her thighs, opened towards me in this deformed way. It was not the s.e.xuality of the posture that stayed in my mind, but the stylization of the terrible events that had involved us, the extremes of pain and violence ritualized in this gesture of her legs, like the exaggerated pirouette of a mentally defective girl I had once seen performing in a Christmas play at an inst.i.tution.I gripped the steering wheel in both hands, trying to keep still. A continuous tremor shook my chest, and almost stopped me from breathing. A policeman's strong hands held my shoulder. A second policeman placed his flat-peaked cap on the bonnet of the car beside the dead man and began to wrench at the door. The frontal impact had compressed the forward section of the pa.s.senger compartment, jamming the doors on to their locks.An ambulance attendant reached across me and cut the sleeve from my right arm. A young man in a dark suit drew my hand through the window. As the hypodermic needle slid into my arm I wondered if this doctor, who seemed no more than an overlarge child, was old enough to have qualified professionally.An uneasy euphoria carried me towards the hospital. I vomited across the steering wheel, half-conscious of a series of unpleasant fantasies. Two firemen cut the door from its hinges. Dropping it into the road, they peered down at me like the a.s.sistants, of a gored bullfighter. Even their smallest movements seemed to be formalized, hands reaching towards me in a series of coded gestures. If one of them had unb.u.t.toned his coa.r.s.e serge trousers to reveal his genitalia, and pressed his p.e.n.i.s into the b.l.o.o.d.y crotch of my armpit, even this bizarre act would have been acceptable in terms of the stylization of violence and rescue. I waited for someone to rea.s.sure me as I sat there, dressed in another man's blood while the urine of his young widow formed rainbows around my rescuers' feet. By this same nightmare logic the firemen racing towards the burning wrecks of crashed airliners might trace obscene or humorous slogans on the scalding concrete with their carbon dioxide sprays, executioners could dress their victims in grotesque costumes. In return, the victims would stylize the entrances to their deaths with ironic gestures, solemnly kissing their executioners' gun-b.u.t.ts, desecrating imaginary flags. Surgeons would cut themselves carelessly before making their first incisions, wives casually murmur the names of their lovers at the moment of their husbands' o.r.g.a.s.ms, the wh.o.r.e mouthing her customer's p.e.n.i.s might without offence bite a small circle of tissue from the upper curvature of his glans. That same painful bite which I once received from a tired prost.i.tute irritated by my hesitant erection reminds me of the stylized gestures of ambulance attendants and filling station personnel, each with their repertory of private movements.Later, I learned that Vaughan collected the grimaces of casualty nurses in his photographic alb.u.ms. Their dark skins mediated all the sly s.e.xuality which Vaughan aroused in them. Their patients died in the interval between one rubber-soled step and the next, in the shifting contours of their thighs as they touched each other in the. doors of emergency theatres.The policemen lifted me from the car, their firm hands steering me on to the stretcher. Already I felt isolated from the reality of this accident. I tried to sit up on the stretcher, and swung my legs from the blanket. The young doctor pushed me back, hitting my chest with the palm of his hand. Surprised by the irritation in his eyes, I lay back pa.s.sively.The draped body of the dead man was lifted from the bonnet of my car. Seated like a demented madonna between the doors of the second ambulance, his wife gazed vacantly at the evening traffic. The wound in her right cheek was slowly deforming her face as the bruised tissues gorged themselves on their own blood. Already I was aware that the interlocked radiator grilles of our cars formed the model of an inescapable and perverse union between us. I stared at the contours of her thighs. Across them the grey blanket formed a graceful dune. Somewhere beneath this mound lay the treasure of her pubis. Its precise jut and rake, the untouched s.e.xuality of this intelligent woman, presided over the tragic events of the evening.Crash - J G Balard-0004

Chapter 3

The harsh blue lights of police cars revolved within my mind during the next three weeks as I lay in an empty ward of the casualty hospital near London Airport. In this quiet terrain of used-car marts, water reservoirs and remand centres, surrounded by the motorway systems that served London Airport, I began my recovery from the accident. Two wards of twenty-four beds - the maximum number of survivors antic.i.p.ated - were permanently reserved for the possible victims of an air-crash. One of these was temporarily occupied by car-crash injuries.Not all the blood which covered me had belonged to the man I killed. The Asian doctors in the emergency theatre found that both my knee-caps had been fractured against the instrument panel. Long spurs of pain reached along the inner surface of my thighs into my groin, as if fine steel catheters were being drawn through the veins of my legs.Three days after the first surgery on my knees I caught some minor hospital infection. I lay in the empty ward, taking up a bed that belonged by rights to an air-crash victim, and thinking in a disordered way about the wounds and pains he would feel. Around me, the empty beds contained a hundred histories of collision and bereavement, the translation of wounds through the violence of aircraft and automobile crashes. Two nurses moved through the ward, tidying the beds and radio headphones. These amiable young women ministered within a cathedral of-invisible wounds, their burgeoning s.e.xualities presiding over the most terrifying facial and genital injuries.As they adjusted the harness around my legs, I listened to the aircraft rising from London Airport. The geometry of this complex torture device seemed in some way related to the slopes and contours of these young women's bodies. Who would be the next tenant of this bed - some middle-aged bank cashier en route to the Balearics, her head full of gin, pubis moistening towards the bored widower seated beside her? After a runway accident at London Airport her body would be marked for years by the bruising of her abdomen against the seat belt stanchion. Each time she slipped away to the lavatory of her provincial restaurant, weakened bladder biting at a worn urethra, during each s.e.x act with her prostatic husband she would think of the few seconds before her crash. Her injuries fixed for ever this imagined infidelity.Did my wife, when she visited the ward each evening, ever wonder what s.e.xual errand had brought me to the Western Avenue flyover? As she sat beside me, her shrewd eyes itemizing whatever vital parts of her husband's anatomy were left to her, I was certain that she read the answer to her unspoken questions in the scars on my legs and chest.The nurses hovered around me, carrying out their painful ch.o.r.es. When they replaced the drainage tubes in my knees I tried not to vomit back my sedative, strong enough to keep me quiet but not to relieve the pain. Only their sharp tempers rallied me.A young, blond-haired doctor with a callous face examined the wounds on my chest. The skin was broken around the lower edge of the sternum, where the horn boss had been driven upwards by the collapsing engine compartment. A semi-circular bruise marked my chest, a marbled rainbow running from one nipple to the other. During the next week this rainbow moved through a sequence of tone changes Mice the colour spectrum of automobile varnishes. As I looked down at myself I realized that the precise make and model-year of my car could have been reconstructed by an automobile engineer from the pattern of my wounds. The layout of the instrument panel, like the profile of the steering wheel bruised into my chest, was inset on my knees and shin-bones. The impact of the second collision between my body and the interior compartment of the car was denned in these wounds, like the contours of a woman's body remembered in the responding pressure of one's own skin for a few hours after a s.e.xual act.On the fourth day, for no evident reason, the anaesthetics were withdrawn. All morning I vomited into the enamel pail which a nurse held under my face. She stared at me with good-humoured but unmoved eyes. The cold rim of the kidney pail pressed against my cheek. Its porcelain surface was marked by a small thread of blood from some nameless previous user.I leaned my forehead against the nurse's strong thigh as I vomited. Beside my bruised mouth her worn fingers contrasted strangely with her youthful skin. I found myself thinking of her natal cleft. When had she last washed this moist gulley? During my recovery, questions like this one obsessed me as I talked to the doctors and nurses. When had they last bathed their genitalia, did small grains of faecal matter still cling to their a.n.u.ses as they prescribed some antibiotic for a streptococcal throat, did the odour of illicit s.e.x acts infest their underwear as they drove home from the hospital, the traces of s.m.e.g.m.a and v.a.g.i.n.al mucus on their hands marrying with the splashed engine coolant of unexpected car-crashes? I let a few threads of green bile leak into the pail, aware of the warm contours of the young woman's thighs. A seam of her gingham frock had been repaired with a few loops of black cotton. I stared at the loosening coils lying against the round surface of her left b.u.t.tock. Their curvatures seemed as arbitrary and as meaningful as the wounds on my chest and legs.This obsession with the s.e.xual possibilities of everything around me had been jerked loose from my mind by the crash. I imagined the ward filled with convalescing air-disaster victims, each of their minds a brothel of images. The crash between our two cars was a model of some ultimate and yet undreamt s.e.xual union. The injuries of still-to-be-admitted patients beckoned to me, an immense encyclopedia of accessible dreams.Catherine seemed well aware of these fantasies. During her first visits I had been in shock and she had made herself familiar with the layout and atmosphere of the hospital, exchanging good-humoured banter with the doctors. As a nurse carried away my vomit Catherine expertly pulled the metal table from the foot of the bed and unloaded on to it a clutch of magazines. She sat down beside me, casting a brisk eye over my unshaven face and fretting hands.I tried to smile at her. The st.i.tches in the laceration across my scalp, a second hairline an inch to the left of the original, made it difficult for me to change my expression. In the shaving mirror the nurses held up to my face I resembled an alarmed contortionist, startled by his own deviant anatomy.'I'm sorry.' I took her hand. 'I must look rather sunk in myself.''You're fine,' she said. 'Absolutely. You're like someone's victim in Madame Tussaud's.''Try to come tomorrow.''I will.' She touched my forehead, gingerly peering at the scalp wound. 'I'll bring some make-up for you. I imagine the only cosmetic attention given to the patients here is at Ashford Mortuary.'I looked up at her more clearly. Her show of warmth and wifely concern pleasantly surprised me. The mental distance between my work at the television commercial studios in Shepperton and her own burgeoning career in the overseas tours section of Pan American had separated us more and more during the past years. Catherine was now taking flying lessons, and with one of her boyfriends had started a small air-tourist charter firm. All these activities she pursued with a single mind, deliberately marking out her independence and self-reliance as if staking her claim to a terrain that would later soar in value. I had reacted to all this like most husbands, quickly developing an extensive repertory of resigned att.i.tudes. The small but determined drone of her light aircraft crossed the sky over our apartment house each weekend, a tocsin that sounded the note of our relationship.The blond-haired doctor walked through the ward, nodding to Catherine. She turned away from me, her bare legs revealing her thighs as far as her plump pubis, shrewdly summing up the s.e.xual potential of this young man. I noticed that she was dressed more for a smart lunch with an airline executive than to visit her husband in hospital. Later I learned that she had been badgered at the airport by police officers investigating the road-death. Clearly the accident and any possible manslaughter charges against me had made her something of a celebrity.'This ward is reserved for air-crash victims,' I told Catherine. 'The beds are kept waiting.''If I groundloop on Sat.u.r.day you might wake up and find me next to you.' Catherine peered at the deserted beds, presumably visualizing each imaginary injury. 'You're getting out of bed tomorrow. They want you to walk.' She looked down at me solicitously. 'Poor man. Have you antagonized them in any way?'I let this pa.s.s, but Catherine added, 'The other man's wife is a doctor - Dr Helen Remington.'Crossing her legs, she began the business of lighting a cigarette, fumbling with an unfamiliar lighter. From which new lover had she borrowed this ugly machine, all too clearly a man's? Tooled from an aircraft cannon sh.e.l.l, it was more like a weapon. For years I had been able to spot Catherine's affairs within almost a few hours of her first s.e.x act simply by glancing over any new physical or mental furniture - a sudden interest in some third-rate wine or film-maker, a different tack across the waters of aviation politics. Often I could guess the name of her latest lover long before she released it at the climax of our s.e.xual acts. This teasing game she and I needed to play. As we lay together we would describe a complete amatory encounter, from the first chit-chat at an airline c.o.c.ktail party to the s.e.xual act itself. The climax of these games was the name of the illicit partner. Held back until the last moment, it would always produce the most exquisite o.r.g.a.s.ms for both of us. There were times when I felt that these affairs took place merely to provide the raw material for our s.e.xual games.Watching her cigarette smoke move away across the empty ward, I wondered with whom she spent the past few days. No doubt the thought that her husband had killed another man lent an unexpected dimension to their s.e.x acts, presumably conducted on our bed in sight of the chromium telephone which had brought Catherine the first news of my accident. The elements of new technologies linked our affections.Irritated by the aircraft noise, I sat up on one elbow. The bruises across my chest wall made it painful for me to breathe. Catherine peered down at me with a worried gaze, obviously concerned that I might die on the spot. She put the cigarette between my lips. I drew uncertainly on the geranium-flavoured smoke. The warm tip of the cigarette, stained with pink lipstick, carried with it the unique taste of Catherine's body, a flavour I had forgotten in the phenol-saturated odour of the hospital. Catherine reached for the cigarette, but I held on to it like a child. The grease-smeared tip reminded me of her nipples, liberally painted with lipstick, which I would press against my face, arms and chest, secretly imagining the imprints to be wounds. In a nightmare I had once seen her giving birth to a devil's child, her swollen b.r.e.a.s.t.s spurting liquid faeces.A dark-haired student nurse came into the ward. Smiling at my wife, she pulled back the bedclothes and dug the urine bottle from between my legs. Inspecting its level, she flipped back the sheets. Immediately my p.e.n.i.s began to dribble; with an effort I controlled the sphincter, numbed by the long succession of anaesthetics. Lying there with a weak bladder, I wondered why, after this tragic accident involving the death of an unknown young man - his ident.i.ty, despite the questions I asked Catherine, remained an enigma to me, like an anonymous opponent killed in a pointless duel - all these women around me seemed to attend only to my most infantile zones. The nurses who emptied my urinal and worked my bowels with their enema contraption, who steered my p.e.n.i.s through the vent of my pyjama shorts and adjusted the drainage tubes in my knees, who cleansed the pus from the dressings on my scalp and wiped my mouth with their hard hands - these starched women in all their roles reminded me of those who attended my childhood, commissionaires guarding my orifices.A student nurse moved around my bed, sly thighs under her gingham, eyes fixed on Catherine's glamorous figure. Was she calculating how many lovers Catherine had taken since the accident, excited by the strange posture of her husband in his bed, or - more ba.n.a.l - the cost of her expensive suit and jewellery? By contrast, Catherine gazed frankly at this young girl's body. Her a.s.sessment of the contours of thigh and b.u.t.tock, breast and armpit, and their relationship with the chromium bars of my leg harness, an abstract sculpture designed to show off her slim figure, was open and interested. An interesting lesbian streak ran through Catherine's mind. Often as we made love she asked me to visualize her in intercourse with another woman - usually her secretary Karen, an unsmiling girl with silver lipstick who spent the entire office party before Christmas staring motion-lessly at my wife like a pointer in rut. Catherine often asked me how she could allow herself to be seduced by Karen. She soon came up with the suggestion that they visit a department store together, where she would ask Karen's help in choosing various kinds of underwear. I waited for them among the racks of nightdresses outside their cubicle. Now and then I glanced through the curtains and watched them together, their bodies and fingers involved in the soft technology of Catherine's b.r.e.a.s.t.s and the bra.s.sieres designed to show them off to this or that advantage. Karen was touching my wife with peculiar caresses, tapping her lightly with the tips of her fingers, first upon the shoulders along the pink grooves left by her underwear, then across her back, where the metal clasps of her bra.s.siere had left a medallion of impressed skin, and finally to the elastic-patterned grooves beneath Catherine's b.r.e.a.s.t.s themselves. My wife stood through this in a trance-like state, gabbling to herself in a low voice, as the tip of Karen's right forefinger touched her nipple.I thought of the bored glance which the a.s.sistant, a middle-aged woman with the small face of a corrupt doll, had given me as the two young women had left, flicking back the curtain as if some little s.e.xual playlet had ended. In her expression was the clear a.s.sumption that not only did I know what had been going on, and that these booths were often used for these purposes, but that Catherine and I would later exploit the experience for our own complex pleasures. As I sat in the car beside my wife, my fingers moved across the control panel, switching on the ignition, the direction indicator, selecting the drive lever. I realized that I was almost exactly modelling my responses to the car on the way in which Karen had touched Catherine's body. Her sullen eroticism, the elegant distance she placed between her fingertips and my wife's nipples, were recapitulated in the distance between myself and the car.Catherine's continuing erotic interest in her secretary seemed an interest as much in the idea of making love to her as in the physical pleasures of the s.e.x act itself. Nonetheless, these pursuits had begun to make all our relationships, both between ourselves and with other people, more and more abstract. She soon became unable to reach an o.r.g.a.s.m without an elaborate fantasy of a lesbian s.e.x-act with Karen, of her c.l.i.toris being tongued, nipples erected, a.n.u.s caressed. These descriptions seemed to be a language in search of objects, or even, perhaps, the beginnings of a new s.e.xuality divorced from any possible physical expression.I a.s.sumed that she had at least once made love to Karen, but we had now reached the point where it no longer mattered, or had any reference to anything but a few square inches of v.a.g.i.n.al mucosa, fingernails and bruised lips and nipples. Lying in my hospital ward, I watched Catherine summing up the student nurse's slim legs and strong b.u.t.tocks, the deep-blue belt that outlined her waist and broad hips. I half expected Catherine to reach out and put her hand on this young woman's breast, or slip it under her short, skirt, the edge of her palm sliding between the natal cleft into the sticky perineum. Far from giving a squeal of outrage, or even pleasure, the nurse would probably continue folding her hospital corner, unmoved by this s.e.xual gesture, no more significant than the most commonplace spoken remark.Catherine pulled a manila folder from her bag. I recognized the treatment of a television commercial I had prepared. For this high-budget film, a thirty-second commercial advertising Ford's entire new sports car range, we hoped to use one of a number of well-known actresses. On the afternoon of my accident I had attended a conference with Aida James, a freelance director we had brought in. By chance, one of the actresses, Elizabeth Taylor, was about to start work on a new feature film at Shepperton.'Aida telephoned to say how sorry she was. Can you look at the treatment again? She's made a number of changes.'I waved the folder away, gazing at the reflection of myself in Catherine's hand-mirror. The severed nerve in my scalp had fractionally lowered my right eyebrow, a built-in eye-patch that seemed to conceal my new character from myself. This marked tilt was evident in everything around me. I stared at my pale, mannequin-like face, trying to read its lines. The smooth skin almost belonged to someone in a science-fiction film, stepping out of his capsule after an immense inward journey on to the overlit soil of an unfamiliar planet. At any moment the skies might slide ...On an impulse I asked, 'Where's the car?''Outside - in the consultant's car-park.''What?' I sat up on one elbow, trying to see through the window behind my bed. 'My car, not yours.' I had visualized it mounted as some kind of cautionary exhibit outside the operating theatres.'It's a complete wreck. The police dragged it to the pound behind the station.''Have you seen it?''The sergeant asked me to identify it. He didn't believe you'd got out alive.' She crushed her cigarette. 'I'm sorry for the other man - Dr Hamilton's husband.'I stared pointedly at the clock over the door, hoping that she would soon leave. This bogus commiseration over the dead man irritated me, merely an excuse for an exercise in moral gymnastics. The brusqueness of the young nurses was part of the same pantomime of regret. I had thought for hours about the dead man, visualizing the effects of his death on his wife and family. I had thought of his last moments alive, frantic milliseconds of pain and violence in which he had been catapulted from a pleasant domestic interlude into a concertina of metallized death. These feelings existed within my relationship with the dead man, within the reality of the wounds on my chest and legs, and within the unforgettable collision between my own body and the interior of my car. By comparison, Catherine's mock-grief was a mere stylization of a gesture - I waited for her to break into song, tap her forehead, touch every second temperature chart around the ward, switch on every fourth set of radio headphones.At the same time, I knew that my feelings towards the dead man and his doctor wife were already overlaid by certain undefined hostilities, half-formed dreams of revenge.Catherine watched me trying to catch my breath. I took her left hand and pressed it to my sternum. In her sophisticated eyes I was already becoming a kind of emotional ca.s.sette, taking my place with all those scenes of pain and violence that illuminated the margins of our lives - television newsreels of wars and student riots, natural disasters and police brutality which we vaguely watched on the colour TV set in our bedroom as we m.a.s.t.u.r.b.a.t.ed each other. This violence experienced at so many removes had become intimately a.s.sociated with our s.e.x acts. The beatings and burnings married in our minds with the delicious tremors of our erectile tissues, the spilt blood of students with the genital fluids that irrigated our fingers and mouths. Even my own pain as I lay in the hospital bed, while Catherine steered the gla.s.s urinal between my legs, painted fingernails p.r.i.c.king my p.e.n.i.s, even the vagal flushes that seized at my chest seemed extensions of that real world of violence calmed and tamed within our television programmes and the pages of news magazines.Catherine left me to rest, taking with her half the flowers she had brought. As the elder of the Asian doctors watched her from the doorway she hesitated at the foot of my bed, smiling at me with sudden warmth as if unsure whether she would ever see me again.A nurse came into the ward with a bowl in one hand. She was a new recruit to the casualty section, a refined-looking woman in her late thirties. After a pleasant greeting, she drew back the bedclothes and began a careful examination of my dressings, her serious eyes following the bruised contours. I caught her attention once, but she stared back at me evenly, and went on with her work, steering her sponge around the central bandage that ran from the waistband between my legs. What was she thinking about - her husband's evening meal, her children's latest minor infection? Was she aware of the automobile components shadowed like contact prints in my skin and musculature? Perhaps she was wondering which model of the car I drove, guessing at the weight of the saloon, estimating the rake of the steering column.'Which side do you want it?'I looked down. She was holding my limp p.e.n.i.s between thumb and forefinger, waiting for me to decide whether I wanted it to lie to right or left of the central bandage.As I thought about this strange decision, the brief glimmer of my first erection since the accident stirred through the cavernosa of my p.e.n.i.s, reflected in a slight release of tension in her neat fingers.Crash - J G Balard-0005

Chapter 4

This quickening impulse, my loins soon at full c.o.c.k, lifted me almost literally from the sick-bed. Within three days I hobbled to the physiotherapy department, ran errands for the nurses and hung around the staff room, trying to talk shop to the bored doctors. The sense of a vital s.e.x cut through my unhappy euphoria, my confused guilt over the man I had killed. The week after the accident had been a maze of pain and insane fantasies. After the commonplaces of everyday life, with their m.u.f.fled dramas, all my organic expertise for dealing with physical injury had long been blunted or forgotten. The crash was the only real experience I had been through for years. For the first time I was in physical confrontation with my own body, an inexhaustible encyclopedia of pains and discharges, with the hostile gaze of other people, and with the fact of the dead man. After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident. Like everyone else bludgeoned by these billboard harangues and television films of imaginary accidents, I had felt a vague sense of unease that the gruesome climax of my life was being rehea.r.s.ed years in advance, and would take place on some highway or road junction known only to the makers of these films. At times I had even speculated on the kind of traffic accident in which I would die.I was sent to the X-ray department, where a pleasant young woman who discussed the state of the film industry with me began to photograph my knees. I enjoyed her conversation, the contrast between her idealistic view of the commercial feature-film and the matter-of-fact way in which she operated her own bizarre equipment. Like all laboratory technicians, there was something clinically s.e.xual about her plump body in its white coat. Her strong arms steered me around, arranging my legs as if I were some huge jointed doll, one of those elaborate humanoid dummies fitted with every conceivable orifice and pain response.I lay back as she concentrated on the eye-piece of her machine. Her left breast rose inside the jacket of her white coat, the chest wall swelling below the collar bone. Somewhere within that complex of nylon and starched cotton lay a large inert nipple, its pink face crushed by the scented fabrics. I watched her mouth, no more than ten inches from mine as she arranged my arms in a new posture. Unaware of my curiosity about her body, she walked to the remote control switch. How could I bring her to life - by ramming one of these ma.s.sive steel plugs into a socket at the base of her spine? Perhaps she would then leap into life, talk to me in animated tones about the latest Hitchc.o.c.k retrospective, launch an aggressive discussion about women's rights, c.o.c.k one hip in a provocative way, bare a nipple.Instead, we faced each other in this maze of electronic machinery as if completely de-cerebrated. The languages of invisible eroticisms, of undiscovered s.e.xual acts, lay waiting among this complex equipment. The same unseen s.e.xuality hovered over the queues of pa.s.sengers moving through airport terminals, the junctions of their barely concealed genitalia and the engine nacelles of giant aircraft, the buccal pouts of airline hostesses. Two months before my accident, during a journey to Paris, I had become so excited by the conjunction of an air hostess's fawn gaberdine skirt on the escalator in front of me and the distant fuselages of the aircraft, each inclined like a silver p.e.n.i.s towards her natal cleft, that I had involuntarily touched her left b.u.t.tock. I laid my palm across a small dimple in the slightly worn fabric, as this young woman, completely faceless to me, switched her weight from left thigh to right. After a long pause, she looked down at me with a knowing eye. I waved my briefcase at her and murmured something in pidgin French, at the same time going through an elaborate pantomime of falling down an upcoming escalator, nearly throwing myself off-balance. The flight to Orly took place under the sceptical gaze of two pa.s.sengers who witnessed this episode, a Dutch businessman and his wife. During the short flight I was in a state of intense excitement, thinking of the strange tactile and geometric landscape of the airport buildings, the ribbons of dulled aluminium and areas of imitation wood laminates. Even my relationship with a young mezzanine bartender had been brought alive by the contoured lighting systems above his balding head, by the tiled bar and his stylized uniform. I thought of my last forced o.r.g.a.s.ms with Catherine, the sluggish s.e.m.e.n urged into her v.a.g.i.n.a by my bored pelvis. Over the profiles of her body now presided the metallized excitements of our shared dreams of technology. The elegant aluminized air-vents in the walls of the X-ray department beckoned as invitingly as the warmest organic orifice.'All right, you've finished.' She put a strong arm under my back and lifted me into a sitting position, her body as close to mine as it would have been in a s.e.xual act. I held her arm above the elbow, my wrist pressing against her breast. Behind her was the X-ray camera on its high pivot, heavy cables trailing across the floor. As I shuffled away along the corridor I could still feel the pressure of her strong hands on various parts of my body.Tired by the crutches, I paused near the entrance to the women's casualty ward, resting against the part.i.tion wall of the external corridor. An altercation was going on between the sister in charge and a young coloured nurse. Listening in a bored way, the women patients lay in their beds. Two of them were suspended with their legs in traction, as if involved in the fantasies of a demented gymnast. One of my first errands had been to collect the urine specimens of an elderly woman in this ward, who had been knocked down by a cycling child. Her right leg had been amputated, and she now spent all her time folding a silk scarf around the small stump, tying and re-tying the ends as if endlessly wrapping a parcel. During the day this senile old dear was the nurses' pride, but at night, when no visitors were present, she was humiliated over the bedpan and callously ignored by the two nuns knitting in the staff room.The sister cut short her reprimand and turned on her heel. A young woman wearing a dressing-gown and a white-coated doctor stepped through the door of a private ward reserved for 'friends' of the hospital: members of the nursing staff, doctors and their families. I had often seen the man before, always bare-chested under his white coat, moving about on errands not much more exalted than my own. I a.s.sumed that he was a graduate student specializing in accident surgery at this airport hospital. His strong hands carried a briefcase filled with photographs. As his pock-marked jaws champed on a piece of gum I had the sudden feeling that he was hawking obscene pictures around the wards, p.o.r.nographic X-ray plates and blacklisted urinalyses. A bra.s.s medallion swung on his bare chest from a black silk chord, but what marked him out was the scar tissue around his forehead and mouth, residues of some terrifying act of violence. I guessed that he was one of those ambitious young physicians who more and more fill the profession, opportunists with a fashionable hoodlum image, openly hostile to their patients. My brief stay at the hospital had already convinced me that the medical profession was an open door to anyone nursing a grudge against the human race.He looked me up and down, taking in every detail of my injuries with evident interest, but I was more concerned with the young woman moving towards me on her stick. This aid was clearly an affectation, a postural disguise that allowed her to press her face into her raised shoulder and hide the bruise marking her right cheekbone. I had last seen her as she sat in the ambulance beside the body of her husband, staring at me with calm hatred.'Dr Remington - ?' Without thinking, I asked her name.She came up to me, changing her grip on the stick as if ready to thrash me across the face with it. She moved her head in a peculiar gesture of the neck, deliberately forcing her injury on me. She paused when she reached the doorway, waiting for me to step out of her way. I looked down at the scar tissue on her face, a seam left by an invisible zip three inches long, running from the corner of her right eye to the apex of her mouth. With the naso-l.a.b.i.al fold this new line formed an image like the palm-lines of a sensitive and elusive hand. Reading an imaginary biography into this history of the skin, I visualized her as a glamorous but overworked medical student, breaking out of a long adolescence when she qualified as a doctor into a series of uncertain s.e.xual affairs, happily climaxed by a deep emotional and genital union with her engineer husband, each ransacking the other's body like Crusoe stripping his ship. Already the skin picked in a palisade of notches from her lower lip marked the arithmetic of widowhood, the desperate calculation that she would never find another lover. I was aware of her strong body underneath her mauve bathrobe, her rib-cage partly shielded by a sheath of white plaster that ran from one shoulder to the opposite armpit like a cla.s.sical Hollywood ball-gown.Deciding to ignore me, she walked stiffly along the communication corridor, parading her anger and her wound.During my last days in the hospital I did not see Dr Helen Remington again, but as I lay in the empty ward I thought constantly of the crash that had brought us together. A powerful sense of eroticism had sprung up between me and this bereaved young woman, almost as if I unconsciously wished to re-conceive her dead husband in her womb. By entering her v.a.g.i.n.a among the metal cabinets and white cables of the X-ray department I would somehow conjure back her husband from the dead, from the conjunction of her left armpit and the chromium camera stand, from the marriage of our genitalia and the elegantly tooled lens shroud.I listened to the nurses arguing in the staff room. Catherine visited me. She would soap her hand from the toilet bar in its wet saucer inside my cupboard, her pale eyes staring through the flower-filled window as she m.a.s.t.u.r.b.a.t.ed me, left hand holding an unfamiliar brand of cigarette. Without any prompting, she began to talk about my crash, and the police inquiries. She described the damage to the car with the persistence of a voyeur, almost nagging me with her lurid picture of the crushed radiator grille and the blood spattered across the bonnet.'You should have gone to the funeral,' I told her.'I wish I had,' she replied promptly. 'They bury the dead so quickly - they should leave them lying around for months. I wasn't ready.''Remington was ready.''I suppose he was.''What about his wife?' I asked. 'The woman doctor? Have you visited her yet?''No, I couldn't. I feel too close to her.'Already Catherine saw me in a new light. Did she respect, and perhaps even envy me for having killed someone, in almost the only way in which one can now legally take another person's life? Within the car-crash death was directed by the vectors of speed, violence and aggression. Did Catherine respond to the image of these which had been caught, like a photographic plate or the still from a newsreel, in the dark bruises of my body and the physical outline of the steering wheel? In my left knee the scars above my fractured patella exactly replicated the protruding switches of the windshield wipers and parking lights. As I moved towards my o.r.g.a.s.m she began to soap her hand every ten seconds, her cigarette forgotten, concentrating her attention on this orifice of my body like the nurses who attended me in the first hours after my accident. As my s.e.m.e.n jerked into Catherine's palm she held tightly to my p.e.n.i.s, as if these first o.r.g.a.s.ms after the crash celebrated a unique event. Her rapt gaze reminded me of the Italian governess employed by a Milanese account executive with whom we had stayed one summer at Sestri Levante. This prim spinster had lavished her life on the s.e.xual organ of the two-year-old boy s

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