The Short Flight of Sheilah Barrington

Sheilah Barrington was hit at exactly three forty-five and twenty-two seconds in the afternoon of February twelfth, two thousand and sixteen. She was airborne for precisely four seconds, quite a long time.

Neil Watson’s car had been travelling at forty-seven kilometres an hour. The speed limit at that spot was fifty kilometres an hour, so on that score alone he was innocent. He was later found to have had no alcohol in his blood. His mobile phone was in his pocket. His radio was switched off. He was alone in his car.

Sheilah had darted through the gap between two parked cars, rushing a little because she was quite late, and distracted by the sound of a siren, possibly that of an ambulance, a police car or fire engine, she couldn’t tell the difference, which had suddenly started shockingly loudly a little further up the road. Consequently she was looking the wrong way as she began to cross the road, with disastrous results.

Sheilah was hit first by the bumper of Neil’s car, an eight-year old Toyota with a recent certificate of roadworthiness. The bumper struck her right knee, sweeping her legs from under her.

Neil had applied his brakes in an emergency stop one point three seconds before the collision, and by the time Sheilah was hit, the Toyota’s speed had reduced to thirty-six kilometres an hour. Neil’s wheels had locked and the car had skidded, slightly askew, for a further twenty metres before stopping. Smoke was, by then, pouring from the wheel-arches, the smell of burning rubber acrid in the still air. Sheilah’s right knee was destroyed, and a millisecond later her left knee came into contact with the bumper. Surprisingly, her left knee was relatively unscathed.

Sheilah’s left arm had been curled around a parcel, a present for

her mother, a chrysanthemum in a rather elaborate pot. Her mother was to celebrate her birthday on the following day, the thirteenth of February. The flower and the pot were wrapped in a conical package, the flower itself open to the air. A grey and orange ribbon held the package together. The wrapping paper was a deep chocolate brown.

As her legs were swept from under her her left elbow was the next to be stuck by the Toyota. Still clutching the package, her elbow was driven into the thin metal of the bonnet. The package was flung to one side, hitting the tarmac nineteen point seven metres away.

Sheilah was at this stage already airborne, though still intimately connected to the Toyota. Her left shoulder hit the rear of the bonnet, though by then her body was rising. The blow to her shoulder was considerably lighter than that to her elbow, though her collar-bone snapped under the impact.

Her head, of course, hit the windscreen, which immediately collapsed: it was later determined that the collapse saved Sheilah’s life for the time being, the laminated glass acting as a cushion.

Her legs, flung forward, had followed her body in its rising course, more of a slide across the vehicle at that stage. The forces imparted by the Toyota thrust Sheilah higher into the air, and at that moment no more damage to her body was suffered. She still faced the impact of eventually coming back to earth, but that seemed to her to be ages away.

Sheilah had not yet suffered any pain. Oh dear, she thought, I’m having an accident. It was clear to her at that stage that pain was going to be inevitable. Probably very great pain. But this foreknowledge was almost academic, not at all part of Sheilah’s new reality.

As her legs were swept from under her in the first millisecond of the event she reflected that at least her underwear was clean. Such a strange thought at such a moment, she realised, but her brain was reacting at warp speed, slowing everything down. She didn’t hear the bang of her collision, but she noticed the woman immediately beside her on the pavement turn in shock to witness the event. In Sheilah’s brain the image was slightly blurred, as though a camera was panning just too fast for reliable impressions on the film.

As the chrysanthemum was wrenched from her arm she was filled with regret that she wouldn’t find the time to replace it before her mother’s birthday. She reflected that she had not, in previous years, given her mother enough love and attention, and that she had intended to improve the situation this year, having realised as she matured the efforts her mother had taken over her upbringing. Ah well, too late now, she thought.

In the cabin of the Toyota Neil was horrified by the accident. Thrown forward against his safety belt, his head had collided with the top of the steering wheel and already a trickle of blood was falling across his right eye, making everything look red. Although dazed by the impact, he saw Sheilah arcing towards him in slow motion. Her long copper-coloured hair flew ahead of her, the sun back-lighting it. He watched, aghast and aware of the only possible conclusion, as her head came closer and closer to the windscreen until, after an age, it seemed, the glass collapsed with a loud bang, obscuring the scene immediately.

Cushioned it might have been by the collapse of the windscreen, but the impact to her head was still considerable and Sheilah blacked out. Instead of nothing, though, she saw her mother, at home in her kitchen, turn in shock and reach out towards her, hand outstretched, the alarm on her face terrible to see.

To one side was Philip, her older brother, his face crumpling in tears as he, too, reached out to catch her as she fell. And Michael, her younger brother, though he was in reality in Quebec, half the World away, cradled her head in his arms and smoothed her hair. She immediately felt safe.

In the glove box to Neil’s left was a packet of marijuana, and even as Sheilah’s head sped towards the windscreen, Neil was wondering how he would get rid of it before the police arrived. They probably would, he thought. Of course they would. And they’d check him for everything, drink, drugs, the lot. And he still had getting on for a hundred grams. No chance he’d get off having that and being involved in an accident. Did he have any in his blood-stream? Probably. Shit.

By the time Sheilah’s head struck the windscreen he knew he was deeply in it. The sharp bang of the windscreen disintegrating brought him back to the current scene.

Sheilah’s body curled as she slid upwards over the roof of the car, upwards and forwards, beginning a cartwheel in the sky that would throw her arms and legs in a circle through the air. It was at that point that the Toyota, having rapidly decelerated, came to a smoking halt, a long skid-mark of rubber marking the progress of the collision.

It was also the moment that Sheilah’s mind came back to the

reality of her position, her eyes open, observing the kaleidoscopic whirl as the world around her seemed to wheel past her eyes. She saw the upturned faces of the crowds on the pavement, saw the smoke-wreathed car behind her, the cause of her predicament; saw some distance away the smashed pot on the tarmac, the chrysanthemum still gay against the wreckage of the pot and the wrapping. Saw also the tarmac of the road beneath her appear to rear up, black and greasy, and smash her in the face. As she crumpled to the ground the fourth second of her flight ticked by.