Innocent Bystander

Innocent Bystander



As for me, I’m holding my own, I keep saying, but I’m afraid to look behind me in case it’s catching up.
Spanish Jack

Drew was twenty-six as he lay dying on the cold wet rock by the stream in the Blue Mountains. It had rained and misted for the four days he had lain there. Blue smoke wisped up from the embers of the fire Drew had made. He had been very pleased with the fire when he made it: it had been very hard to light a fire in the damp conditions and Drew was injured inside and could not move well. It had been great good fortune to land where he did, though it had broken his body. There was a log nearby and Drew had crawled slowly to it with the parachute dragging behind. Then he managed to light the fire and build it slowly with leaves and twigs and then small branches until the log itself first charred and finally burned slowly. Drew was very proud of the fire then.
But now it was different. He had been four days with the hurt deep inside him and after the second day had lost normal consciousness. His mind worked when he opened his eyes and concentrated hard, but this caused him to notice the pain, so he kept his eyes closed and lived a floating life within. He knew that the chance of rescue was remote; he was quite aware that life was leaving his body. Strangely this did not upset Drew — indeed it was a comfort. The pain and the cold wet rock that stole his body’s heat caused him to loosen the finger-light grip he had on his life.
The birds helped at first. Drew listened to glossy black cockatoos with their raucous calls and watched their flashing yellow, white and red tail feathers as they fed in the casuarinas. Later he only listened. He managed to keep the fire going, but the effort was great and the reward … there was no reward.
So this is it, he thought, it’s not been too bad for a boy from Connecticut, a Yankee in the great world … a fine world, yes … but a small life. Not too small. Don’t complain. Look my friend, don’t complain. What about Africa? What about Europe? Good places and you’ve been there and done those things so you can’t complain. Never complain and never explain. Good Aussie expression. What about Australia then? I love her, but I never thought she would leave me here and take my life … take my life and leave me here. Not her fault. I went up in the damn dud plane with the damn dud pilot and the damn dud engine, it’s not her fault, not Australia’s fault. It was me. Always liked that flying. Listen, hear that? Cicadas I think. Noisy buggers. I won’t look. Hurts if I look. Won’t look. I wonder what the family will think? Guess it’s normal for the black sheep to lie down a long way from home. Hope they know that it’s all right. Don’t think I’d do it much differently if I had the chance. Travel and animals, animals and travel, fine things to do and love and love and do. I’d love to do some more though. I’d live by the sea for a start. Keep away from these mountains. Sleep where I could hear the sea. This creek is not too bad. Sea is better though. Love the sea. See the sea love sea see. I’d live by the sea. And I’d have a family. Need a woman though. Wouldn’t be fussy. Not like before. Wouldn’t wait either. No time to wait. Don’t wait to be happy. Make it work. Make it work with the first woman, the only woman. And kids, love kids, family to replace the American mob, the wild Yankees where laughter and competition and being six of us kept us going, though we shouldn’t have survived. Don’t wait to be happy. Happy now if I just keep the eyes closed. Cicadas still there so I guess I’m still here. And I would still sculpt. No more animals though. People. Remember that Rodin? What was it? That’s right, “The Burghers of Calais”. That’s the stuff. Make it so real that you can taste it. Don’t wait to be happy though. Do it, don’t talk about it. Not the negative, easy to do the sorrow, hard to do the other side, the positive. Could do it maybe. Try. Try hard. Good at trying. Try to open the eyes? Like the black cockatoos better than the cicadas. Too loud. Open the eyes? Too hard. Thought you were the trier? It will hurt if I do. So? Don’t want to hurt. Open them! No. Piker! No. Go on! But … Go on! Okay, give me a minute. No way, do it now! Don’t wait to be happy. Do it now!
Drew opened his eyes. The wind stung and the noise of the helicopter was deafening. The man on the windlass landed next to Drew and shouted into his helmet mike. “His eyes are open … Over. He’s alive …Over. Call Royal North Shore and let down the stretcher …Over.”
“G’day mate. Gave us a bit of a bloody chase then, didn’t you? Where does it hurt, mate? Can you tell me? Where does it hurt?”
But Drew had closed his eyes and didn’t hear him.

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