by Sandra Arnold
The water level is rising inside the car and the doors and windows won’t open, but the wheels have settled on the river bed so you’re not alarmed. You remember a film you saw a few years ago about a car in a river and the driver saying that when the pressure of the water on the inside is equal to the pressure of the water on the outside the doors will open. While you wait for this to happen you search for the right words to tell Mike. You’ll explain that when you saw the normally dry ford was flooded you backtracked to go down another road, forgetting there was a ford there too and in the inky night and the rain sheeting down on pitch black tarmac you didn’t see the river until you drove into it and the car started floating sideways. Before you had time to panic it lurched up against a grassy bank that jutted out from the side and began sinking. Then the wheels touched gravel and you knew all you had to do was wait.
And now the water level outside the car is the same as the water level inside and yes, the door does open and you clamber out holding your bag with students’ essays above your head. And you slip and slide up the muddy bank and see a tractor on the other side of the ford and a man standing beside it. He shouts across the river and you can just make out the words about the water being too deep on his side to drive his tractor across, but the rest of what he says is blown away by the wind. For a second you contemplate swimming, but the water is freezing and you have the bag of essays, so you set off along the dark track with the rain flaying your face.
You are soaking wet and it’s a long way to the bridge, but then you see headlights at the end of the track. A truck pulls up and the driver leans out and says g’day howzit goin’? He tells you to hop in and so you do and drip all over his cab and he says he’ll take you home, no worries, and he says it was his dad on the tractor back there who’d rung him to say a lass needed a lift. Through clattering teeth you thank him and you’re relieved he doesn’t ask how the hell you drove into the river.
He drops you off at your house and keeps his headlights shining down your drive until he sees you’ve let yourself in the front door. You turn on the heater and peel off your sodden clothes and get into a hot shower. Then Mike comes home and finds the wet heap on the floor and his eyes nearly roll out of their sockets when you tell him what happened and he says on the way home he was going to drive down to that ford to have a look at the water level and it was just as well he didn’t because if he’d seen your half-submerged car he’d have assumed you were in it and he would’ve plunged in to try and find you.
Later you both sit in front of the fire drinking hot tea and you make a joke about cats with nine lives. Mike’s eyes slide away and he says the car will be a write-off but the important thing is you’re okay and he’ll sort out the insurance. You say it’ll be a good story to tell your students on Monday. Mike still isn’t smiling and you get the feeling there’s something he isn’t telling you.
Next morning, while Mike’s at the wrecker’s yard making arrangements to get the car hauled out, Rita from the farm up the road appears at the door with a bunch of daffodils. She says one of her nephews flew a helicopter over the flooded rivers at first light and saw the submerged car and while the police were trying to identify it her other nephew rang and he was the one who’d given you a lift and he told her it might be a good idea if she popped down to check on you. She comes in gasping about bloody good luck you didn’t go round the bend trapped in that car. You fill a vase and arrange the flowers and say well the ford wasn’t deep and that’s why you stayed calm. You tell her about waiting for the water pressure to equalise so you could get out. Her eyes drill into yours and she says she means it was bloody good luck the bank stopped your car before it reached the old quarry. At the expression on your face she sucks in her breath. She says that being new to the district you probably wouldn’t have known about the quarry.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and is the author of five books. Her most recent, a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) and a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ) were published in 2019. Her flash fiction and short stories have been widely published and anthologised.
Learn more at www.sandraarnold.co.nz