“Do I know you?” Normally he wouldn’t turn his head when he heard a stranger call out, as he lived in a busy city, and strangers calling out were as common in a busy city as crime, rats, and skyscrapers. The sounds of strangers hailing taxis, strangers greeting friends, whatever it was they were doing, he had learned to filter all of this down to white noise, but for some reason this one voice caught his attention and pulled him quickly out of his daydreams.
He turned his head and caught sight of who he assumed owned the voice. He assumed this because he could only see one person in the vicinity. He also drew this assumption because the man was now staring at him intently; he could almost feel the man’s eyes on him, like when you imagine someone’s eyes burning into the back of your head.
A slight twinge of fear replaced his previous curiosity. Night was swiftly falling and this street wasn’t very well lit, he was alone and his only weapons were the books and notes in his bag. Quickly, he dismissed the thought of defending himself with The Collins English Gem Dictionary and his student’s essays.
If they were to serve as weapons, he thought the rather hefty dictionary would do the job. It wasn’t very large but it was certainly very thick. The essays were short, much shorter than the 5000 words he had asked for, and they were fleshed out with a lot of words he was pretty sure didn’t exist, which was why he was carrying the dictionary. This wasn’t the time for such thoughts of course; the man that his over suspicious brain had already designated as a potential assailant was still eyeing him up like he was a buffet at an all you can eat Chinese restaurant.
He began to wish he had taken his car to work today.
The man spoke again and he felt his previous fear melting away, completely forgotten. In his place a strange feeling of recognition crawled over him, it was like remembering the smell of home after being away for a long time, like tasting your favourite meal as a child, like remembering a particularly fantastic sexual encounter. Déjà vu slapped him across the face as the voice met his ears.
“We have met before, I know your face! You're David.”
The man’s previously impassive face and seemingly murderous stare became a warm smile of greeting; his arm began to rise as if he was about to wave, or perhaps convey warning. David had no time to decipher either way. What he hadn’t noticed in his confusion was that he had stopped in the middle of the road. As he turned to find who had called out to him, a young man hurtled around a corner about 200 metres away in his shiny sports car.
Undoubtedly bought for him by his parents, the car was in perfect condition, brand spanking new. It had a chrome paintjob, which was about to get a makeover of sorts. Also what was brand new was the young mans glorified music player/radio/cd changer/sound system which the salesman had called an “all inclusive and modern entertainment set up”. This also meant it was very complicated, and the young man didn’t handle complicated things too well, which is why he was crouched over fiddling with it, with one hand on the wheel and not a single ounce of his attention on the road.
He had just managed to tune into his favourite radio station when he ploughed into David at about 60 miles per hour, which according to the doctor he would met later meant he was “Very lucky to be alive”. Of course the man who the car hit was the dumbstruck school teacher with the dictionary, not the stranger who called out to him. No one would notice amidst the carnage that the same instant that the all-powerful car gave the poor soul the strongest tackle he’d ever feel, the stranger produced a thick, old looking book and briefly wrote something in it. He then turned and disappeared into the coming night.
David himself was vaguely aware of the headlights on his face and the sound of the engine moments before he was hit. When the 60mph chrome beast snapped a fair few of his bones like dry twigs, he felt a split second of agony and the curious sensation of flight before he was swallowed by sweet oblivion. It would never really become clear to him how grateful he should be that he was probably already a thousand miles away in a coma, dreaming about his college days or about winning the Nobel Prize for Literature as his body was flung without grace through the air.
He bounced and skidded off the tarmac like someone skipping a stone off the surface of the water, except water was quite a bit softer generally, and would have done much less damage. His bag was flung from his back (along with the shoes from his feet, who would have thought that could actually happen?) and it ripped open, scattering the unmarked but undoubtedly terrible essays all over the street.
The dictionary bounced a bit further than the man did; eventually setting on its spine, which ironically did not break, unlike its owner's. It fell open on a page which happened to have the following word and its definition somewhere near the top. No one ever paid witness to this seemingly random and entirely coincidental act.
1. a motorized road vehicle designed to carry a small number of people,
2. the passenger compartment of a cable car, airship, lift, or balloon,
3. (US Canad) a railway carriage,
Latin carra, carrum two-wheeled wagon
Not that the man would ever need someone to tell him what a car was, or what it felt like to have one pulverize you at well above the national speed limit. The wind then blew the pages of the dictionary back and forward, dancing through random words and definitions like a silent and over descriptive ballad, until a man dressed in a suit that made him resemble an astronaut carefully collected it, sealed it in a great big sandwich bag and threw it in an evidence locker to rot.
The young man swerved all over the road in blind panic, until he was eventually brought to an abrupt stop by a lamp post. The post tore through the bonnet of the car like a knife through butter and came to rest closer to the driver than was remotely comfortable. It was a damn sturdy lamp post. The car chugged smoke like an old train and the scent of petrol fumes filled his nose as he pulled himself from the wreckage with what would later be called “Minor Injuries”. His neck and back were in agony from the whiplash, and he was vaguely aware of blood running down his forehead and into his left eye.
The man staggered into the road in a complete daze. He had almost forgotten what had happened before he crashed when he saw the man lying in the middle of the road, remarkably still. The young man decided almost immediately that the man wasn’t moving because he was dead. Dead as dead can be. His thoughts became an intense whirr of activity.
Oh my god he’s dead he’s dead I killed him. My car is wrecked it’s goddamn totalled my dad is gonna kill me oh god oh-
The young man then turned to an expletive laden monologue where he made use of every swear word he had ever heard. Then his thoughts turned to self-preservation. He decided it might be a good idea to get the fuck out of dodge, so to speak. He turned to make a run for it; he managed about 10 steps before he was tackled to the ground. He was hit with a lot less force than his car dealt to the other man, who was now identified as David O’Leary by the locals who had spilled into the street and had made it their duty to phone an ambulance, phone the police, and nosy through his wallet to try and find some sort of ID.
The tackle he received still hurt a fair bit and it knocked the breath from him, and he was sure he felt his nose bust as it made contact with the hard road and he felt warmth begin to stream down over his mouth. He couldn’t turn his head to see who was now pinning him to the ground, but he judged by their weight and their grunting as they tried to keep him down that it was a pretty big guy. He spat blood out of his mouth and shouted uselessly.
“Hey get the hell off me! Let me go-“
The man cut across him with such authority and strength that he fell silent immediately.
“Sit tight you little punk, the police are on their way. You’re not going anywhere.”
He was content to sit there for a while, considering he had no choice in the matter. When he began to hear the sirens echo in the distance like death knells, he resumed his futile struggle, but the man who was now sitting on him like he was a cushion was head of the street’s neighbourhood watch and he was basking in the chance to finally have some action.
This was the kind of thing he dreamed about. As far as he was concerned, this little ‘punk’ sitting underneath him was the next Hitler and he was not going anywhere, no sir.
Everyone else on the street had formed a tight circle around Mr O’Leary, but they kept their distance. None of them knew any first aid or the proper procedure for helping someone who had been in this magnitude of an accident. Morbid curiosity brought then closer, but the fear of responsibility kept then several steps away, as if they were afraid that being hit by a car was a contagious disease. There were occasional murmurs of “Oh my god” or “What happened” from the mostly mute onlookers.
Eventually the police arrived and took the driver into custody. The ambulance took the poor victim to hospital, into A&E, then into surgery. Then out into a ward onto a life support machine, and in to surgery again, again, and again. This repeated more times than David would probably ever know, because he spent several weeks in a state of unconsciousness, at times because of the accident and at times because of the drugs he was being fed intravenously.
Several of his bones were broke and re set, and the doctors feared that he might never walk again or have any sensation in the lower half of his body. He had metal plates place in his head and in his spine. He had several blood transfusions as well as a number of other unpleasant treatments. The nature of his injuries wasn’t really important to him, he was just happy to survive.
The first time he regained consciousness; a pretty young nurse was refilling his IV and giving him more morphine. He didn’t really register how unusual the situation was, probably because he was doped up to his eyeballs. The nurse noticed he was stirring and called the doctor. The doctor introduced himself as Doctor Proctor.
“Hello Mr. O’Leary, you’ve been unconscious for several weeks so please do not try to move too much. Your legs are broken, and even if they weren’t the muscles in them will have atrophied to practically jelly by this point anyway. So just stay completely still, you’ve been through a lot…”
David wanted to compliment him on his reassuring bedside manner, but his mouth was bone dry and he didn’t think he could move it even if he wanted to. He began to work his jaw and was surprised by how quickly the feeling began to return to it. The morphine probably hadn’t kicked in again quite yet, but then that wouldn’t explain why there was 3 copies of the good doctor standing by his bed and one of them was dressed as a policeman, and the other a cowboy.
David dismissed what he hoped was a hallucination and focused back on the doctor. It was hard to keep his mind from drifting into sleep, and the corners of his vision appeared to be greying as if his eyes had been switched to old black and white models. He was dimly aware of a dull ache, like hot shards of glass beneath his skin, spreading throughout all of his body. The ache slowly turned into a feeling of cool numbness, and it became even harder to cling to consciousness. He worked his jaw and tentatively wiggled his fingers as the doctor continued.
“…You sustained very heavy bodily trauma in the accident, which will likely take a very long time to recovery from. There may be long term consequences to your health, but we will worry about these when you have recovered further. You will need to undergo extensive physiotherapy, as well as probably regular old therapy. But again, we will come to this when you’re feeling a bit better. For the next week or two you will be drifting in and out of consciousness, but you are being fed via IV and you shouldn’t need any further surgery…”
Further surgery? He’d had surgery? Oh Christ. The doctor’s voice echoed like he was standing at the end of a long hallway, shouting and telling anyone who would listen about just how ill David O’Leary was.
“…That is, unless there are complications. However, all surgery so far has gone successfully and we are simply leaving your body to rest. You should be back on regular food in a week or two and we will reduce your doses of anaesthetic, and then we will begin to discuss your injuries and your options for rehabilitation. Please try to relax and rest well.”
Like I have a choice, he thought. It wasn’t a bitter thought; he still hadn’t really stopped to consider what was going on here. He’d been dreaming strangely for the past while now so he couldn’t even be sure if this was real. The doctor looked down at his chart and a small smile crossed his face.
“…David O’Leary, you are very lucky to be alive, but I’m sure you don’t really feel like it is a blessing right now. I guess you could call it the luck of the Irish.”
The doctor laughed softly and turned to leave the room. David opened his mouth and the best way to describe the sounds he made would have been croaking, because his throat was dry like a desert.
“I’m not Irish.”
Dr. Proctor stopped in the door for a second. He turned and looked over his shoulder, David had lapsed into unconsciousness again. He would never be sure if he heard those words or if he just imagined them. He laughed to himself and thought,
"With a name like David O’Leary, how could he not be Irish?"