On writing ‘Are We There Yet?’

Jane Roberts

New Lonely Crowd 3 Front CoverA country road is a macabre place indeed. The road is a constant stage for that peculiarly fragile balance, the theatre of life and death – of birds, of all creatures, and humans.

I had a car accident on black ice last winter. It was slow-paced, but the car was out of control and ended up ricocheting off objects like the ball on a pinball machine. No one else was involved in the incident: my car had substantial damage; I had whiplash, a blow to the head, and a previously fractured rib that began to groan again.

In the moments after the car stopped spinning and sliding, everything was silent. I later calculated that I must have lost twenty minutes at least that day. I couldn’t hear my own heartbeat. It seemed as if I’d gone into a sort of state of sensory deprivation. I was detached from everything, a satellite looking on – somehow recording information, but not feeling. This extraordinary numbness occurred again when I witnessed a car and tractor collide in the heat of April this year. A different scenario, in a different season, that produced the same feeling.

Safety is something we can take for granted. Often road accidents happen violently and suddenly. People have to react in a short space of time. Whereas after the event, there could be all the time in this life – or the next – to reflect.

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The idea of the journey – mental and physical – in literature is well-worn territory for both reader and writer. A simple question – used by so many of us in our childhood – becomes something far more philosophical and meaningful with the addition of age and the power of hindsight: “Are we there yet?”

The structure of the piece is relatively short and balanced; a very conscious decision intended to engender a brief immersion in two scenarios coupled with a parallel jolt at the conclusion of each. In the first segment, the dialogue is whittled down into fragments, repetition echoed between the front and back of the car; the second journey actually gives an answer to the question asked, yet the ponderous and weighty silence of thinking dominates.

I wanted to fill the first journey with as much everyday detritus as possible, common distractions, and annoyances. For some, a vehicle can be a second home, and with that comes a misguided feeling of security – a complacency. With small spaces it is easy to feel in control, and yet these small spaces have the potential to be deadly. The second journey had to have that colourless, silent numbness that comes after something horrific. Is it the afterlife, or is this someone merely struggling to cope in reality? Does it matter? Does it even matter who dies? We come full circle to that question that niggles so much: “Are we there yet?”

jane robertsJane Roberts is a freelance writer living in Shropshire, UK. She has been published in magazines (including: Litro, Bare Fiction, Firewords Quarterly). Shortlisted, Bridport Prize Flash 2013. Winner, Writers’ and Artists’ Flash Fiction 2013. Shortlisted, National Flash Fiction Day Micro Fiction 2014. Honourable Mention, Retreat West “Fear” Short Story Competition 2014. Shortlisted, “Flash 500” Second Quarter 2014. Shortlisted, Fish Publishing Short Story 2015.

You can read ‘Are We There Yet’ in the Winter issue of The Lonely Crowd, which can be bought here.

© Jane Roberts, 2015.