A Taster for White Lies
Sam Davenport thought she’d imagined it: the driving rain, her husband Neil’s shout
of surprise, the sickening crunch of metal on metal, the explosion of inflating airbags.
A bad dream. That was all it was. Why, even now, they were on their way back to
Meadowview Cottage with its thatched roof dipping low over leaded-glass windows
and a welcoming fire burning in the TV room to keep the children and their sitter
cosy in their absence.
Yes, it was a bad dream. Soon, they would be home and Neil would take off his clothes
in the bedroom while she took off her make-up in the ensuite and together they
would dissect the party and their friends.
Except, they wouldn’t. Because she hadn’t imagined it. The Range Rover was skewed
at a crazy angle across one of the main roads of the Essex market town of Abbeyleigh
and picked out in its headlights was the shape of a motorbike and, a few metres on,
the body of its rider.
‘Shit! I didn’t see him! Did you see him?’ Neil’s voice was high-pitched.
‘No. I was looking for my mobile,’ Sam replied, flustered. Letting her bag fall to the
floor, she threw open the door.
‘What are you doing?’ Neil grabbed her arm. ‘We have to go.’
‘We can’t go!’ She watched him looking at the large, executive-style houses that surrounded them. At midnight, they were all in darkness. For now.
‘We sure as hell can’t stay. What if he’s dead? It’ll ruin me.’
‘For God’s sake, Neil! Is that all you can think of?’ Wrenching her arm free, she got out of the car. ‘There’s more to life than your bloody reputation.’ The freezing January rain fell in torrents, soaking her Stella McCartney dress. ‘I’m going to see if he’s all right.’
The motorbike lay on its side and in the arc of its headlight Sam could see the body of a man in black riding leathers. Her cerise-coloured party shoes slapped on the wet tarmac as she ran towards him.
‘All right?’ Neil chased after her. ‘I hit him at forty miles an hour. Of course he’s not all right. Jesus!’
The man was on his back, rain streaming over the visor of his crash helmet. Sam stared at his chest. Was it moving? In her mind, she heard again the screech of brakes, the sickening bang.
Kneeling beside him, she unzipped his jacket and pressed her fingertips to his neck the way she’d seen them do on the television. His skin felt cold and clammy. Sam bit back a cry of relief when, at last, she found his pulse.
‘Call an ambulance.’
‘Can we say you were driving?’
‘I’m probably over the limit.’
‘Will you just ring for the ambulance?’
‘Of course, if we’d stayed at the Northey Hotel like I wanted this would never have happened.’
‘So can I say you were driving?’
‘Say what you bloody well like, just ring!’
‘Hello? Ambulance, please.’
It was true. He had wanted to stay at the Northey.
‘They’ve got a spare room. Our sitter will be okay. I’ll pay her double.’
‘I have to go home, Neil. The children aren’t well.’
‘They’ve got colds not scarlet bloody fever.’
‘And they need their mum. You can stay if you want.’
‘A great way to celebrate my fortieth, spending the night alone,’ he’d grumbled. ‘No, we’ll both go home.’
Sleet began to mingle with the rain. Sam shivered. ‘Give me your jacket.’
Neil did as she asked and Sam placed it over the stricken man, pulling the collar up under his chin and tucking it in round his shoulders.
Sitting back on her haunches, she watched as Neil began to pace, talking urgently into his phone, his left hand thrusting continuously through his hair. His white silk shirt was plastered to his body, stretches of pink skin showing through, revealing the hint of a spare tyre.
He turned to Sam. ‘They’ll be here soon,’ he said, yanking at his tie. His gaze moved to the injured man. ‘They want to know if he’s conscious.’
Nervously, Sam lifted the man’s visor. To her relief, his face looked normal, peaceful even.
As Neil relayed this information, Sam studied the man in front of her. He was white. Early thirties, Sam guessed. With brown eyebrows and a long, thin nose.
‘On his back,’ Neil said. ‘His left leg doesn’t look good. There’s … it looks like blood. A lot of it. Shit! I think that might be a bone.’
Sam was amazed that she hadn’t noticed the injury to the man’s leg. Now, as she looked, she could see the blood pooling on the ground, mixing with the rain, washing away along the road. Suddenly the smell of it hit her and she felt nauseous.
‘My God, Neil! What have you done?’
Neil gave her a horrified look before turning and throwing up in the gutter.
‘I’m sorry,’ Sam whispered. She stroked the motorcyclist’s cheek.
Her hand froze as she suddenly found herself staring into the man’s dark eyes. Instinctively, she reached for his gloved hand and gave it a squeeze. To her joy, he returned the pressure.
‘The ambulance will be here soon. You’re going to be okay.’ As she stroked his cheek once more, his eyes flickered and closed. Alarmed, Sam checked his pulse. It was thin and weak, worryingly so.
‘Shouldn’t we be doing something about his leg?’ she asked as Neil returned wiping spittle from his chin onto the sleeve of his shirt.
‘She said the ambulance will be here soon and not to move him. We’d only make matters worse.’
Worse? Could they be any worse? Another fifteen minutes and they would have been home. Safe, inside Meadowview Cottage. Sam pictured its squat wooden front door and, within, thick, beamed walls painted in a variety of pastel colours, the open fireplaces so lovingly restored downstairs, the pretty patchwork quilts upstairs. Her beautiful home. Yet she’d move out tomorrow if only this man, this stranger, would live. If only his blood would stop running along the road.
She closed her eyes, willing him better. In the distance, she could hear sirens wailing and, when she opened her eyes again, the area was bathed in flashing lights.
‘Remember, you were driving because I’d been drinking. The rain was heavy. You didn’t see him until it was too late. Okay? Sam! Okay?’
They’d been in the foyer of the hotel. ‘Give me the keys,’ Sam had said.
‘No. I’m fine.’
‘But we agreed, I’d drive tonight.’ She’d tried to take the keys from him.
Grinning, he’d put his hand to her cheek. ‘I love you so much.’
And she had thought: But do I still love you?