Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Black boxes

She was looking the other way and never saw the ambulance.  It didn't have its sirens on, it wasn't going that fast, but she ran out into the road and though the driver tried to stop in time, she still hit her.  It threw her thirty feet along the street, and when she landed she bounced.  A couple of times.  The ambulance driver, all credit to her, was first to her broken body and checking for a pulse.  Susan walked up much more slowly.
"I didn't see her," the driver was whispering over and over again, like a mantra against bad karma.  "I didn't see her."  She laid her fingers at the pulse-point on her neck, and there was a tense moment where everyone was holding their breath, and then the driver relaxed a little, her shoulders sagging back, and Susan knew that she was alive.
"Are you with her, miss?"  It was the ambulance driver's partner: a tall man, probably in his mid-thirties, with salt'n'pepper stubble and grey eyes that seemed understanding.
"I don't know," said Susan.  "I was, but then I don't think I was for very long."
The man looked at her closely, while his partner, still murmuring "I didn't see her," to herself loosened articles of clothing and checked for broken bones.
"I see," he said suddenly, and bent down.  There was a whispered conversation between him and the ambulance driver, which Susan couldn't hear enough of to understand, and then the ambulance driver did something inside the clothing of the broken woman.  When the man stood up again, he was holding a clear disc, about the size of his palm.
"It's from the black box recorder," he said.  "It's just a copy, they only last about four hours before they break down.  But if you want to know if you were really with her...."
Susan thanked him and walked a little way away to lean on a lamp-post.
The orange sodium blaze of light made the disc sparkle internally.  She turned it over and over in her hands, wondering if it was a breach of privacy to look at it.  Normally you only got any access to the black box recorder when someone died, or when a relationship ended.  It was the easiest way of obtaining closure, it let you see exactly what someone had been thinking and feeling about you.  It was brutal – there were plenty of businesses sprung up that specialised in giving you somewhere to recover from learning that your relationship was a tissue of deceit and lies and helping you get back on your feet.  And, not entirely coincidentally putting you in close proximity to other people who might be looking for someone a little more trustworthy.  But it was always done at the end of something, not at the start.
She looked over at the ambulance staff, who were now getting a stretcher out.  The only way she could know if she should ride to the hospital with this woman was to read the disc.  Otherwise, she'd have to throw the disc away and pick a choice: take a chance and go with her, or walk away and assume that it was never meant to be.
Of course she should throw the disc away.  Of course she should.
She slipped it into the side of her own black box recorder, and rested her finger on the touch-sensitive Play pad.
She was in a taxi, putting make-up on.  Not too much, she kept thinking to herself, not too much.  My date is called Susan, which is a terribly sensible name, and if she's a sensible person then too much make-up won't impress her.  And if she's not a sensible person, then I can just drink a little too much and show that I'm bubbly and fun as well.  Not too much make-up.  Crap, is that the pub already?  Oh well, let's hope this isn't too little make-up.
The taxi-driver was a bitch and wanted more than the meter stated, muttering about having to clean the back of the car with all the make-up spilled there.  She paid exactly what was on the meter and resisted the urge to poke her tongue out at the taxi-driver as she left.  The pub was brightly-lit, both outside and inside, and there were people already sitting at the pavement tables and standing in the smoking area looking relaxed and cool.  She wanted a cigarette, but she didn't know if Susan smoked.  She went in instead.
Look around, look around, try not to look around too fast, mustn't seem desperate.  Or lost.  Lost might be worse.  Oh look, they have a pool table, don't play pool with her.  You hate losing, they hate it when you keep winning.  Ah, there, at a table near the bar.  Oh!  She's drinking a cocktail.  Damn, I wasn't expecting her to be so sophisticated.
"Hi, you must be Susan!  I'm Daphne."  Smile, shake hands, lean in for a little kiss on the cheek.  Hmm, she smells nice, and I think that's shampoo and not perfume.  That's bold, leaving off the perfume!  I wish I was that capable.
Crap, did I overdo the perfume?
Crap, I know I overdid the perfume.
Make an excuse, get to the bathroom and wash some of it off, before she realises that you're drowing in the stuff.
Oh holy crap, why did I run straight off to the bathroom without even getting a drink?  What's she going to think of me?
Oh my god, the taps aren't working!  There's no water!  What the hell do I do now?
Wait, there's more bars across the street.  Climb out of the window, it's not really that small – where did that shoe go?  Oh hell, could this evening go any more wrong?  Get to a bar across the road, wash off the perfume and –
Susan slipped the disc out of the black box recorder and looked over at the ambulance.  They were almost done loading her into the back of it.  She straightened up, smoothed down her skirt and made her decision.

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