Side Mirror By D.I. Jolly
Recommended reading: Public Transportation
In Gabrielle’s opinion, the worse days in her life, by far, were the days after she had decided to not act, and instead turn a blind eye. A moment of fear that caused a wealth of pain.
She’d been stopped at a traffic light and saw in the mirror some teenagers harassing what looked like an old man. She knew that it was more than kids playing games, but that’s still what she told herself it was. Then she forced herself to look ahead and tried to will the light green. She didn’t want to, but her eyes kept flicking back to the scene in the mirror, hoping that it would get better, that someone else was going to get involved. But with each new glance, it was clearly getting worse, and no one was doing anything about it. For another second she was able to distract herself with the outrage that,
“No one was helping that poor man.”
“Someone should do something!”
The light change and almost by reflex she put the car in gear and drove off, letting the scene become just another object that looked closer than it really was. Getting home, she made some dinner, watched some tv and read a bit before bed.
Although she’d managed to put it out of her mind while awake, asleep her dreams betrayed her and shadows surrounded her. They didn’t touch her, but they imposed on her, pushing her down with their very presence. They made her feel small, judged and paralysed with fear. When she woke up, she cried, and failing to find the cause of her tears in the darkness, she had to struggle to make them stop. The whole rest of the day seemed to drift by in a haze until she got to the same traffic lights and fear reached an ice-cold hand into her and closed around her heart. She wanted to check the mirror but she couldn’t move. Her hands shook as she desperately tried to fight herself into action. It was just a mirror, nothing would be there, she just had to look. But her imagination played the scenes from the day before. A part of her believed she would see a dead man lying there now, and her heart broke at the thought. Mentally she reached for,
“Why hadn’t anyone helped?”
But knew the real question was,
“Why hadn’t I helped?”
She’d seen it, she was there, she was capable. She could have yelled, gathered some people or called the police. Done something, anything, but she’d done nothing, let it happen while looking for the justification for her inactions. Just then a loud beep of the car behind her woke her from her spiral. Seeing a green light, she set off too quickly and her car stalled. The horn of the car behind her sounded again and this time the cars behind that one joined in too. The sound and the stress mingled with her nightmare and she was on the edge of screaming as she tried to restart the car and desperately get away from the noise. Still terrified of what might be in the mirror, the car rumbled back to life and she sped forward through what was now a red light as another car came across, hit her nose and sent her spinning. She screamed as her world became a blur until the car hit a pole and she was left staring down the empty sidewalk where the old man had been the day before. She covered her face in her hands for a second then slammed them down on the steering wheel.
The rest of the day was spent giving accident reports, swopping phone numbers and insurance details and eventually getting a tow truck for her car and a taxi for herself.
An ambulance tech had advised she go to a doctor, but she settled on a long hot bath and a bottle of wine, quietly prayed she could put it all somewhere and forget about it. Put it somewhere so safe that it was even safe from her. But she knew that that too, was a lie.
In the morning she took the bus to work, and watched in horror as a sickly-looking man walked up to her and undid his trousers while muttering something incoherent. Then in even more horror as the bus driver began to brutalise him. She closed her eyes for the first few seconds but then something inside of her shatter. Another old man being attacked but this time she wasn’t going to do nothing, she wasn’t going to be the victim of her own inactions again. As if her fear had burst into flame she stepped out of the bus and slammed her fist into the side of the bus drivers face, knocking him to the ground.
‘What the fuck are you doing? He’s probably sick, and needs help! Not… not… not… THIS!”
She’d never punched anyone before or ever been that angry, but she still thought the driver had fallen more out of surprise than actual force. She pulled out her phone and called an ambulance for the man, and while she did, she saw that everyone on the bus had turned away, had put earphones in and were actively not engaging. She realised that that was not something she was ever going to let herself do again. The bus driver had got up, grumbled something under his breath about her and went back to work, leaving her with a man who was still on the floor curled into a ball muttering to himself. When the ambulance arrived, she gave them the story but none of her personal details. She wasn’t willing to do nothing anymore, but also knew that she could only do some much. She knew that if she was going to change her life like that, she was going to need to find balance or would quickly go too far the other way. She’d get herself hurt or killed or worse. She knew that her life had already changed, and as the adrenaline faded, suspected that her hand was broken.