Jane was wearing her worst pair of underwear, so she was not going to die.
No. That was not how these things went. She had on her beige-est, highest-waisted pair of seamless control knickers and mismatched orange bra. No perverted coroner was going to cut off her jeans and her tank top to see them, not if she had anything to do with it.
The thought was oddly comforting to her: she would not die, not here, not in that underwear. That was certain. Nevertheless, she had to accept the material facts of the situation.
Jane lay with her belly against the powdery, burnt orange soil. To her right, and a little further down the hill, she could see her blue Toyota Yaris crumpled like a wad of aluminium foil, the bonnet folded around the trunk of a eucalyptus tree. Her head hurt. Her mouth tasted metallic. With her tongue, she could feel where she had bitten down on impact, taking a chunk of flesh out of the inside of her cheek. Jane had never broken a bone before, but she would bet good money that her left leg was broken: it was splayed out beside her at an odd angle, beginning to take on an acrid smell in the midday sun. Jane’s scalp itched, she supposed that there might be tiny shards of glass caught in her hair. Under her chest was warm and wet: a deep gash that began at her collarbone and trailed as far down as she could see.
It was quiet, a country road too indirect for most truckers, and there were no sounds coming from the bush behind her, save for the occasional rustling of gum leaves. No cicadas or footsteps. It was a dead place: stagnant and lonely.
Jane could hear the wheeze of her breath as she exhaled, watching it displace the dirt below her nose. She couldn’t even remember what she had done wrong, that was perhaps the most disturbing part, because she must have done something. The memory was fractured: she had been driving down the highway, and then there was the crunch of her car smacking head-on into the tree. Then, pumped full of adrenaline to the point where her body trembled uncontrollably, Jane had unbuckled her seatbelt and rolled out of the car, crawling away from the wreckage. Then, she supposed, she must have slept for a few minutes. There was more blood beneath her now than she seemed to remember.
Jane was a data analyst, a good one, too — firm in her belief that the answer was usually embedded somewhere within the problem itself. But her thoughts felt thick and slow, and her problems too large for someone so tired. It was as if she was breathing in jelly, the air was thick too. She closed her eyes, focused on the dull roar of the trees as a breeze passed through her, the warmth of the blood drenched soil beneath her, the pressure against her forehead — Jane returned to consciousness with a jolt. No. She was not going to die.
Jane raised her head a little to stare up the hill in front of her. It was not too high, and covered in the same dusty, orange soil as the ground beneath her. There were small shrubs too, tufts of long, native grasses, that gave it a balding look. By her estimates, she was no more than fifty metres from the side of the highway. She could see the top of an electricity pole to her left. On an ordinary day, that walk might have taken her around two minutes. Now, she supposed it would be an hour or more.
Jane groped forward with her right hand, flattening her palm onto the dirt in front of her. With curiosity, she noticed several pieces of broken glass sticking out of her forearm. Each piece was alien, jutting out at strange angles and refracting light into dimpled shadows. It was almost as if it wasn’t her arm, but some sort of macabre performance art: It didn’t hurt, at least not more than anything else.
Tentatively, Jane pulled herself a few centimetres forward. The pain was immediate, agonising. Jane cried out involuntarily, the sound escaping in a kind of howl. That was good, she thought, the pain was good: it would keep her conscious.
Jane thought of her underwear again. That was one thing keeping her going, the chance to never live another day like it was a beige, control top kind of morning.
There were, of course, other things. There were her two sisters —she wasn’t close with her younger brother— and their children.
And then there was Mark, who she’d had sex with on the night of the office Christmas party. Mark was tall and thin, with big hands and a slightly hooked nose. It hadn’t been especially good —they were drunk, and his sheets had smelled stale, but it had been tender, and they’d laughed about it over coffee and cornflakes in the morning.
It was embarrassing to be thinking of Mark, really, as she clawed her way up the hill towards the highway. She’d have to take time off work to recover, and he might not even call to ask how she was. But there weren’t any other great loves to think about. There had been boyfriends, all nice enough, each who had seemed to live in his own, private world that they would not allow her access to. She probably looked like something out of a horror movie, dragging herself up that hill with a wet trail of blood behind her. It was amusing, Jane thought, how loyal she’d been to her thirty nine dollar bottles of moisturiser and their promises of endless youth. She might never get a boyfriend again, they’d always liked how she had good skin. Still, she could almost taste the sparkling wine and cheap cologne.
Jane dragged herself on. She wondered what it felt like to bleed internally, wondered if she would notice, if she should care — the external bleeding was probably more pressing.
It simply didn’t make sense for it to end like this, Jane thought. Middle children with nice families, two bedroom flats and dull, well intentioned coworkers they occasionally fucked weren’t meant to die so unceremoniously. She hadn’t done enough, hadn’t felt enough for it to be time. She hadn’t even worn some decent underwear.
No. She was not losing blood. She wouldn’t think like that. Not when she still had that two hundred dollar dress hanging in her wardrobe unworn. Not with three frozen meals in her freezer and twenty four thousand dollars in her savings account. She supposed that things never really felt finished to dying people, but her case seemed particularly egregious. She was not losing blood, at least not at a rate faster than it would take to drag herself the last few metres she needed.
Jane’s body began to feel even heavier as she clawed her way forward. She could see the road now. She drew her arms in front of her again, gritting her teeth and bracing for the agony of flexing the mangled muscles in her arms and stomach. Jane screamed: a hoarse, guttural moan as pain came shooting up her broken leg. It was caught on a small shrub, bent backwards at the knee.
Jane screamed again, and again, scratching wildly at the ground in front of her and sending a small cloud of orange dust into the air. Then, for a moment, she cried —tasting sweat and blood and phlegm. It wasn’t fair. Jane had always heard that dying was difficult, that’s why people so often failed their suicide attempts, that dying took some kind of gumption and grit. To Jane, there seemed to be nothing easier than refusing to move another muscle, to suffer any more than the few minutes it would take.
It wasn’t fair to want to live, or to have the nagging thought that it was just so embarrassing to die simply because you were suffering. It certainly wasn’t fair to know she was so close, far too close to give up.
Jane screamed again. Then, with her jaw clenched, anchored her elbows in the soil and heaved herself forward – hearing the crunch of bone as her leg was freed from the shrub. For another five minutes, she grunted as she lurched forward, little by little, to the top of the hill.
Jane felt the sting of hot asphalt on her hands, then her cheek.
She laughed in disbelief. There were worse things to look at now than her underwear, she thought, and laughed again. Her head felt a little better.
She was on the road now, someone would find her. She could relax. Jane closed her eyes: she would hear the rumble of gravel when somebody was nearby. She was tired.
This piece was an entry in the 2022 Honi Soit Writing Competition.