(Take 1) The shot opens on cornflower blue then slowly zooms out to take in a fringe of treetops, the fleeting arc of a bird, a single puff of cloud. It is dawn before a blinding sun asserts itself, before the summer day has taken shape in one direction or another. There’s a soft twittering of birds.
Slowly the camera pans down to earth, sweeping over vineyards and orchards, a rustic farmhouse, a tractor at the edge of a field. Then: a blur of colour, a yellow racing bike streaking down a winding road. The woman on the bike slows to bank around a swooping corner—there is a soft rubbery thrum—the camera cuts to her gloved hands squeezing the brakes. The angle cuts wide again, taking in another rider.
Only this one is not riding. She is flat on the ground, face down. A brown pickup is pulled off the road, onto a little lane. A bearded man in grey overalls and a brown jacket is hurrying from the pickup. Blood is pooling under the helmet of the rider on the ground.
The rider on the yellow bike is coming around the corner; there is a squeal of brakes. The rider throws down her yellow bike and runs towards the rider on the ground, her riding shoes clacking on the pavement. The twittering stops.
Shelley: Karen! Karen!*
(Camera cuts to Karen. Her eyes are wide and unblinking, a halo of blood forming around her head. Some of the blood is starting to run down the steep angle of the road. Her bike is tangled in her feet, the rear wheel still spinning languidly.)
Shelley (kneeling over her friend, looking terrified) looks up at the man hurrying over from the pickup and hollers, a strangled roar: DID YOU HIT HER?!?
Bearded man (speaking with an accent): No! No! I no hit her.
(Shelley grabs her phone from the pocket at the back of her jersey and stabs at the numbers.)
Dispatcher: 9-1-1. What’s your emergency?
Shelley: My friend has been in a cycling accident. She’s… badly hurt.
Dispatcher: Do you need ambulance, police, or fire?
Shelley: Ambulance! I’m on… (looks up and sees a signpost where the pickup is parked). Corner of Spiers and Gully.
(Bearded Man crouched over Karen makes as if to roll her over).
Shelley: DON’T TOUCH HER. (Bearded Man looks startled, lifts his hands off Karen. Camera cuts to the background revealing a gas-truck rumbling up the hill.)
Shelley (pointing): Go! Stop that truck, stop any traffic (Bearded Man hurries down towards the approaching gas-truck, waving his hands in the air).
Dispatcher: Ma’am, can you tell me what’s going on there. Are you safe?
Shelley: I’m fine, but my friend—there’s a lot of blood. Around her head. And her eyes are open. I think she’s, is she… ?
Dispatcher: Can you tell if she’s breathing?
(Blood is bubbling steadily from Karen’s nose. Abruptly her hips jolt upwards in a gasp of air, her face still immobile in the pooling blood.)
Shelley: Yes! Yes, she’s breathing.
Dispatcher: Okay, I need you to try and keep her still, don’t move her, the ambulance is on its way. You’re certain you’re safe?
(Shelley looks around for the first time and sees a number of cars have pulled up on the street behind them. The man from the gas-truck has taken pylons from his rig and is placing them in a wide ring, directing vehicles around the accident.)
Shelley: We’re fine. Please hurry.
(The camera cuts to Karen’s face again, her eyes wide and unblinking. Her ragged breathing the only movement in her face. The camera starts to zoom out to take in Shelley, sitting at Karen’s shoulder talking to her, softly stroking her back. The stream of bright blood grows larger and larger. There is Shelley’s yellow bike—someone has propped it against a tree—the orchards and farms, the sweeping stretch of road, the little lane called Gully and, in the distance, an ambulance, finally, finally, making its way up the hill.)
~ ~ ~
She had thought she wouldn’t sleep that night, thought she would try to close her eyes and all she’d see would be Karen’s eyes, panicked and wide. That bubbling blood. All day long the image has been cleaving her like a mallet.
But she’s exhausted. She can feel sleep rolling over her like a boulder, pushing her down, down, down. Tyler shifts in the bed beside her, his hand burrowing under the duvet to find hers. He gives it a squeeze.
“It’s going to be okay,” he says softly.
It had taken another twenty minutes to load Karen into the ambulance. A fire-truck arrived to hose the blood off the road and the firemen waited with her until Tyler showed up, loaded her bike and Karen’s onto the bike rack, and drove to the hospital.
Karen’s husband, Trevor, was already there, waiting on Karen’s CT scan results. He broke down crying when they arrived. “She recognized me,” he said, but Shelley could hear the doubt in his voice. Later, they let Trevor, Shelley, and Tyler in to see Karen and she was still matted in blood. Her eye was swollen up and her cheekbones jutted at odd angles. She didn’t look like Karen. She jolted her head around and blinked. She made a noise that didn’t sound like it belonged to words and sentences.
Shelley cried on the drive home and during the day, even after she went back to work and tried to think of things as being out of her hands. She had chosen that route down Spiers road. She had been the one to suggest they go riding that morning.
Tyler’s hand squeezes Shelley’s under the duvet and he says: “it’s going to be okay.” Then: “Do you want to talk about it?”
Shelley wants more than anything to sleep but she is replaying the scene over and over in her head. She was just behind Karen on Spiers, she is soaring down the road and she looks up and Karen is down, face down, Shelley didn’t see it happen, and the man is running over.
(Take 2) The camera cuts wide again taking in the road ahead, taking in another rider. Only this one is not riding. She is flat on the ground, face down. A beige van has pulled off the road, onto a little lane and a bearded man in brown overalls over a grey long-sleeved shirt is throwing open the door of the van.
Tyler reaches over and switches on the light.
“Wait—the man getting out of the pickup—how do you know he didn’t hit her?”
“I shouted at him, did you hit her? And he was running towards us and saying, I no hit her, I no hit her.”
“So he couldn’t speak English? He was foreign?”
Shelley rolls over to lie on her back, looking at the ceiling, replaying the scene in her mind. There is a cobweb suspended between the pot-light and the bedroom wall, a gnat, long dead, is caught in the dusty strands.
“He was dressed like a farm worker,” she says. “His English wasn’t very good, but I believed him, he was panicking, but we were both panicking.”
“But he was getting out of the pickup, right?” Tyler says. He is piecing it all together. “He might not have hit her, but if he didn’t see her and pulled off onto that lane…”
“Gully. If he pulled onto Gully and didn’t see her, she would have to swerve to avoid him.”
Shelley is flipping this over and over in her head like she can’t quite hold it, like it is something so hot, or so cold, she has to toss it from hand to hand.
“He was running over from the van, and he had a beard. When he spoke, and from what he was wearing, I thought maybe he was a migrant worker, those guys that pick the cherries or whatever. He was terrified,” she adds.
“A van? I thought you said it was a pickup? You saw him get out of the pickup, right?” Tyler is pressing this point. “And he wasn’t there when the ambulance arrived, right?”
Shelley hasn’t said this, or has she? She can’t remember. And she now can’t remember if he was there or not. There was the gas-truck man with the pylons who stayed until the ambulance left. Another man who crouched beside her and waited with her for help to come.
But the bearded man, the man in the pickup. Or van. The man getting out of the vehicle. Slamming a door and running over. Did he slam a door? Did he get out of the vehicle? Or did he just happen to be nearby? Did the man stay until the ambulance arrived?
“I didn’t see him get out of the van,” Shelley says, still staring at the cobweb.
Tyler props himself up on his elbow so he can look at Shelley. He is frustrated, she can tell. It had never occurred to her to get a license plate. The bearded man said he didn’t hit Karen. She sat with Karen for what seemed like an hour but Shelley didn’t think to look again at the beige pickup. Or van.
“But he left the scene, right? He took off.”
Shelley is thinking of the other people who flitted through the scene. The people who came over to gawk and gasp and turn away. The others who stayed in their cars and tried to inch around the accident to get to work on time.
“Maybe he had to get to work,” she says, almost a whisper. She’s more certain now that he was a migrant worker. He was brown-skinned and had a beard and an accent. He was from India, or Bangladesh. He was dressed in farmworker clothes. He was terrified he’d be late for work and be deported. He could barely speak English.
“But he was first on the scene!” Tyler is saying, sitting up. “He’s not supposed to leave!”
“NO.” Shelley says. “I was first on the scene. I got to her first and it was me sitting with her, me. I didn’t let him move her. I was first.”
Hurt and anger are muscling their way into her voice. She is so tired. Why is Tyler doing this? This day has been hard enough. Did the bearded man leave? She doesn’t remember. She simply doesn’t remember.
Tyler lets out a long breath. “I’m sorry, Shell. It’s been an awful day, I know. But this is important. If that man was responsible for her crash and he left the scene, that’s something we need to know. That’s something the police need to know.”
Rewind, she is thinking. Roll it back.
(Take 3) The camera cuts to Karen’s face again, her eyes wide and unblinking. Her ragged breathing the only movement in her face. Then the camera zooms out to take in the gas-truck driver officiously stopping oncoming cars, Shelley’s yellow bike, propped against a tree, the orchards and farms, the sweeping stretch of road, an ambulance, finally, finally, making its way up the hill. And the pickup. Or van. Is it still parked in the little lane? Where is the bearded man?
~ ~ ~
“Case file number 28762. My name is Corporal Prommer it is Thursday July 11, 2013. Shelley, as I explained, I’ve turned on my tape recorder and we’re going to go through the things that we’ve already discussed, okay?”
“Can you start by telling me what happened on the morning of July 9. A Tuesday.
“My friend Karen and I were out on our road bikes. We went out early to avoid the heat and the traffic and we were returning to town on Spiers road. Karen was riding just a little ways ahead of me and when I approached the corner at Spiers and Gully, I looked up and saw her face down in the middle of the road.”
“And did you see what happened?”
“No, I didn’t. She was only a couple hundred metres ahead of me, but the road is sort of curvy, with lots of trees, and I guess I was just looking at the road. When I looked up, I saw her face down, in the corner ahead of me.”
“And what happened next?”
“I jumped off my bike and ran over to her, calling her name. There was a lot of blood and her eyes were open. There was a pickup parked just off of Spiers, on a little gravel lane, and a man running over and I screamed at him, ‘Did you hit her?’ ”
“And what was his response?”
“He said, ‘I no hit her, I no hit her.’ He had a strong accent and he looked to be South Asian.”
“Can you describe this man a bit more? And his pickup?”
“My impression was that he was a farm worker. He was wearing heavy work clothes, like you’d wear in the fields. And the pickup, or van, was brown, or beige, and kind of beaten up. Like a farm pickup. The man had a dark complexion and a beard and a thick accent and he seemed very frightened.”
“Frightened as in, he’d just caused the accident?”
“As in…. I don’t know. He was scared. But so was I. Karen was on the ground, not moving or responding and you could see all this blood. I got to her first but the man was right there with me and he put his hand on her shoulder and I thought he was going to roll her over, so I told him not to.”
“And what happened next?”
“I called 911, and I screamed at the man to go and stop traffic, because a big gas-truck was coming up the road. And he must have understood because he went down the road waving his arms in the air.”
“Karen, currently, is not— well, she’s in no position to try to remember what happened. What was your very first impression of what happened?”
“My first impression was that he’d hit her, because she was in the middle of the road, and she was obviously very seriously hurt.”
“But you believed him?”
(Pause). “Yes. Yes I believed him. But I didn’t have time to disbelieve him. I had to call 9-1-1 and I…”
“Did you see the man getting out of the truck?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t remember. I’m sorry, I wish I could but—”
“Did you notice any kind of dust cloud?”
(Longer pause). “I don’t understand.”
“If the truck, or van, had just pulled onto a gravel lane there might have been a cloud of dust.”
(Take 4) The angle cuts wide again to reveal another rider. Only this one is not rid-ing. She is flat on the ground, face down. A brown van has just pulled off the main road, leaving a cloud of dust and there is the sound of an engine cutting out, a door slamming. Then the driver hurries towards the woman on the ground.
“No. No, I don’t think there was a cloud of dust, but I honestly don’t remember. I just remember seeing my friend.”
“Of course. It must have been very upsetting. Can you tell me what happened after you called 9-1-1?”
“I stayed with her, and some other people arrived. The man driving the gas-truck set up some pylons so that people would drive around. Another man came and sat with me and finally the ambulance came, and then a fire-truck.”
“And the South Asian man, with the beard. Was he there too? Was he there when the ambulance arrived?”
(Take 5) Someone has propped Shelley’s yellow bike against a rock beside the ditch. The shot takes in orchards and farms, the sweeping stretch of road, an ambulance, finally, finally, driving up Spiers and pulling into Gully lane.
(Long pause). “I didn’t see him. But I didn’t really see anyone.
“And did you get a license plate number?”
(Pause) “No. I didn’t even think of it. But maybe the firemen did or the gas-truck guy, because he stayed. I remember the gas-truck man had a shaved head and a goatee, and after the ambulance left he asked me if I needed a hug. And I said yes.”
“We will try and contact this man from the gas-truck, who stayed with you. And the man from the pickup, or van. You said it was a brown?”
“Brown or beige.”
“And you thought the man was a farm worker?”
“Well, there are a lot of South Asian workers in the area and he had an accent, and he was dressed, I think, in farm clothes, and….”
“And is your impression that he left the scene? That he was not there when the emergency vehicles arrived?”
“Would you say that this man, from the pickup, left the scene before assistance arrived?”
(Long pause). “Well, his truck was parked on Gully, or I assume it was his truck. And Gully is a pretty narrow lane and that’s where the ambulance pulled in. So I don’t think the van, or truck— I don’t think it could have still been there if the ambulance pulled in there too, but I’d have to go back and see.”
“So your opinion is that the man did not remain at the scene?”
(Take 6) There is the sweeping road, a little lane, the twittering of birds. There is an ambulance arriving and a thick stream of blood easing down, down, down the road. Karen’s eyes are open, unblinking. And the brown pickup? The man? Zoom out. Zoom out. Rewind.
“I don’t know.” (Long pause. Sound of someone sighing). “I don’t know.”
*Author’s note: Karen’s case is part of ongoing legal proceedings and her real name has been withheld.