I was missing for three days. I wandered the forest that rose up the sides of the valley, drank from the iced waters that continued to carve the riverbed, slept in the abandoned barn that creaked and moaned in the wind as if to give away my position. The search party numbered less than a bakers-dozen — no women — and it seemed to me they were more keen to get back to the bar for a warming dram of whiskey. They were easy to evade – I followed their movements through sound as they told bawdy jokes at distance, or when they were within my sight I could read their vulgar breath as it escaped their blue lips to form speech-bubbles in the winter air.
I kept proximity to the crash site, each morning looking down upon the wreckage from my concealed vantage, sat within a fortress of rocks my brother and I had built upon the crest of the hill two seasons earlier, when the days were long and the evenings warm. The car had not yet been towed, a burnt out shell, nothing left but a twisted and charred cage, sat in a circle of black dust. The day following the incident a van appeared and I watched hi-vis men rebuild the crash barrier, removing lengths of twisted metal, before welding new plates over the section we had destroyed. I have often looked from a car window as we passed sections of new crash barrier and wondered why they chose that place in particular, among the miles and miles of dirty, scraped metal, to erect something fresh and gleaming — now I know; they are a death-marker.
I had resolved to never go home, that they would never find me, but on the third night I decided I was starving and needed a bacon sandwich My Uncle was ambivalent when I turned up at his door, hardly looking at me as I walked into his house and slumped into the huge sofa that dominated the lounge of his tiny Council owned flat. To the sound of bacon crackling in the pan and the smell of toasting bread, he shouted from the kitchen that the funeral had already taken place, gone ahead without me — well, there was no reason to delay, he justified. Also without Mother, who had been overcome by denial since the incident, as she had refused to attend; refused to accept this was his end. That if she didn’t see the box adorned with the brass plaque upon which was engraved his full name, well, then it wasn’t the end and that there was still hope he would come home soon. I watched him die – I could have confirmed otherwise. He said that after the cremation the ashes had been scattered over the family grave. A cremation! Of all the inappropriate things to do to a body after it has found death by fire. I guess there was no need to turn the gas up high for this one; the macabre in me wondered if we got a discounted rate on the ceremony. I looked down upon the backs of my hands, turning them over and over, searching for signs of my own physical trauma. Just then my sandwich arrived, steaming and smelling of burnt flesh.
When I had wiped the bacon fat and brown sauce from my face, my Uncle offered to drive me home. On the way I spoke just the once, asking him to take me on a detour to the cemetery. I stood over the family grave and felt the rain, hard on my face — it always rained when I came here. His ashes had washed away and run back into the sodden soil, there was nothing to see. On the return journey from the we came to the location of the accident. I tensed and gripped the carseat until my fingers turned white. My Uncle saw this and slowed, taking care to negotiate the bend in a seeming act of pity for which he was not well known. My eyes were tight shut, but I knew the road so well I could sense exactly where we were with every turn of the steering wheel, every rut and jolt of the road. When we had passed the shining new barrier I opened my eyes, relaxed, and vomited over his dashboard.