Brush with death – extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Life is extravagantly coloured by death. Death gives it life. Life is at its brightest when we flirt with brother death.

With very little money and stranded on the L.A to San Francisco coast road, we hitched a ride. Our thumbs were quick to get a response or could that have had anything to do with Liz’s young frame? Anyway this black army lieutenant pulled up and picked us up in his huge Cadillac. He then picked up this other pretty young thing who was hitching further along the road. It was the perfect lift. We cruised in the back, luxuriously lolling into the plush upholstery, and she cruised in the front smiling and talking to the dude.

The roof was down. It was summer, hot with blue skies. The sea lapped and sparkled below us. The wind pulled at our hair and whipped it out trailing behind us.

The coast road was a long and windy two laner. It hugged the shoreline. On our left, a sheer cliff rose up to the heights of the Sam Madres. On our right, a sheer cliff fell away to the rocks of the shore hundreds of feet below. Between the drop and us was a six-foot-wide strip of sand and a red and white crash barrier.

The lieutenant was obviously quite keen on the young lady. She was obviously equally attracted to him. They smiled at each other and looked into each other’s eyes – which was a little worrying as we were driving at speed along a difficult stretch of road. We had a two hundred mile journey ahead of us to L.A. and he seemed to want to get there quickly. They talked about going to a drive-in movie. He negotiated some gas fare with us to finance their movie-going. They were undoubtedly both very keen moviegoers.

We roared along the road at a hundred plus. It was exhilarating going round the bends as the cliff and sea slid past. We did some bends on the wrong side of the road. He seemed a good driver, well in control, even if he was showing off a lot.

Then the inevitable happened. We negotiated a curve and there in front of us was a big truck overtaking another monster truck – all polished chrome grills and headlights. The trucks were right alongside each other and they took up all of the road. There was no road left for us. We were hurtling towards them and they were hurtling towards us far too close to us for either of us to stop. It was apparent that we were going to go straight into the front of one or the other of the trucks. It looked like a straight choice as to which one we’d hit. Of course, we could try and go between them and hit both.

As cool as William Burroughs, the lieutenant turned the wheel and pulled the car over on to the strip of land at the side. We didn’t slow at all. The sand was much more uneven than it looked and we bucked and bounced our way along, being thrown hither and thither.

The two trucks roared towards us horns blazing. Ahead, on the sandy strip, a big signpost loomed. Right to our side, the cliff fell away to the distant sea. Somehow we stayed on course. We bounced and crashed along. The car kept going airborne and crashing back to land, throwing us about, bouncing out of our seats. A huge cloud of dust obliterated the road behind us. Still, our lieutenant didn’t touch the brakes. The trucks careered past and their horns changed in pitch with the Doppler effect. The sign was almost upon us. We bounced up out of our seats and thudded back down with bone-rattling intensity eyes fixed on the signpost.

At the last minute, the lieutenant eased the wheel over to take us back on to the road. The wheels on the offside gripped the tarmac and instantly threw the car into a spin. Instead of a cloud of dust, we were now throwing out a cloud of smoke as we whirled around completely out of control, at close to a hundred miles an hour. He fought with the wheel as we spun and the car threatened to roll, as we clung on to whatever we could. Then all the wheels gripped and we shot forward. Except we were not now facing down the road, we were facing directly towards the crash barrier and the sheer drop to the sea.

We hit the sand. The nose ploughed into a sand dune and the car stopped dead. The rear of the car went up in the air until we were vertical, threatening to pitch us out over the barrier, and for a moment we were poised looking out over space to the rocks that seemed a million miles below. Time stood still. We teetered. The car fell back with a thud. We sat there stunned as the dust storm of our trip along the sand strip and the smoke of our spin along the tarmac enveloped us. The engine stalled and we sat in the silence as the hot engine ticked.

Somehow, we had lost enough momentum not to go end over end. Somehow, we hadn’t been catapulted out of the car. Somehow, we had not rolled over. We had been lucky enough to hit a flattish stretch of sand. We had been lucky enough to hit the only big sand dune we could see along this stretch of the sandy strip.

The trucks had roared off into the distance and disappeared around the bend. They hadn’t stopped to come back and see if we were still alive. The dust settled. The smoke drifted into the distance. Silence engulfed us. We sat in that silence completely stunned – amazed that we were alive.

The lieutenant looked around at us and grinned. Then we all climbed gingerly out of the car, not quite believing that we were still here, still breathing, not crushed, torn or splattered. The day was the same. Same sun. Same sky. Same sea. We were the same. Even the car was the same. Well the bumper was dented by a big rock buried in the dune but the engine started up first time and we helped push it out of the sand. The road was deserted. We examined the car. The bodywork had a few minor scratches and dents. Nothing much. We all laughed, euphoric with relief.

We got back in and drove off



Vive le Difference!



Life is not a novel but a road movie. There is no script. We make it up as we go. No director. The audience is ourselves. The galaxy swirls. We curtsy and bow. We make up rules and try to live by them. This road movie is heading off into new dimensions.


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