It wasn’t my fault I was speeding. I had an absolute mare of a day, right from the off; rowing with Angela about mortgage repayments over burnt toast, still shivering from an ice-cold shower thanks to our temperamental boiler. Work was no better, with the shadow of annual reviews looming over us; the spectre at the coffee machine. John said I was safe, but everyone knows John would sell his mother to Alan Sugar if it meant a five per cent pay rise.
So I stayed late, to try and get my head around the latest batch of spreadsheets which might as well be all hieroglyphs for all the sense I can make of them. Then, when I finally did manage to escape the office, I hit roadworks on the dual carriageway. So yes, by the time I reached my junction and split off onto the winding, unlit lane that cuts through the fields near our estate, I was keen to make up at least a couple of minutes.
It seems stupid now, of course.
I didn’t even see him, must have been in a world of my own. The first I knew of him was when he tumbled over the hood, making the entire car shake. I yelped like a little girl, and felt a tiny, rapid spurt of urine leave my body.
‘It was a deer,’ I told myself as I got out of the car, legs shaking. I knew it wasn’t a deer. A deer would have gone straight through the windshield. Deer don’t wear rubber-soled shoes that squeak against metallic paintwork. I staggered around to the rear end of the car, and there he was.
I’m unsure how long I’ve been stood here, looking down at him. He hasn’t moved, but it’s dark and I can’t make out if he’s breathing or not and I can’t quite get my legs to reengage, to take the extra two steps needed to lean down and check his pulse. I think of Angela at home — dinner will sat hardening in the oven, she doesn’t like to serve it until both Millie and I are sat at the table. I wonder if this man has dinner waiting for him somewhere.
I contemplate calling for an ambulance. I even think about hauling him into the back of the car and heading to the nearest hospital, at least twenty miles away. But I don’t move. I don’t do anything.
For a split second, and with remarkable clarity, I see the future. The courts, the expensive solicitors and appeals. I see Millie’s future, her education and a big wedding someday, gone just like that, frittered away on legal fees and this man’s hospital bills.
I look down at him — what if his back is broken? What if he is injured in some irreversible, life-altering way? Crippled or brain-damaged? That kind of life isn’t worth living, I’ve always thought. Is it fair of me to let that happen? To take away his independence and dignity?
I take a step back, and then another. I get back into the car. The engine is still running, for which I am thankful; turning the key in the ignition would require more courage than I feel I have. I dutifully buckle up and pull the gear stick into Reverse.
It doesn’t feel like a man the second time. It doesn’t feel like anything, really. No more than a speed bump.
Dinner is on the table when I get home. Millie barely glances up from her phone throughout the entire meal, while Angela prattles on about some office arch-nemesis. Neither of them will ever know the sacrifice I made tonight to protect them, to keep this roof over their heads. The thought makes me feel noble. Heroic, even. I pour myself a second glass of scotch after dinner and then Angela and I enjoy a rare, brief bout of lovemaking before falling asleep.
I wake late the next morning. In her romantic daze, Angela forgot to set the alarm. I curse her as I dress without showering and run out the front door. The car looks like a wedding cake, sparkling white under a layer of frost which takes forever to scrape away.
As I finally pull out of the drive, I decide to avoid the country lanes; they’ll still be frosty and hazardous this time of morning. Better to stick to the main road — that way, I might just make it to work on time.
If I put my foot down.