Kiwi Strong by Rosalind James


When Life Curves


They say that the person you are is all about the person you’ve been. In my case, they’re probably right, because when my life shifted in an instant from “Going to Mount Zion to rescue my sisters” to “I’m in a submerged car,” I didn’t die.

If I’d still been in the cult, I might have thought it was God’s will and drowned. Or, of course, I might just have panicked whilst trying to escape and then drowned. But then, if I’d still been in the cult, I wouldn’t have been driving a car at all. Also, I was too stubborn to give up that easily. That was why I wasn’t still in the cult.

Obedient submission is a thing at Mount Zion. For women, that is. It isn’t a thing I have, fortunately.

There was the man, too. I could have sat back and waited for him to rescue me, I guess. Maybe he would have. You’re better off rescuing yourself, though, in my experience.

I was just south of Cromwell at the time. After midnight on a late-October Saturday, to be exact, after a full nursing shift in the Emergency Department. You could think it happened because I was tired, but I wasn’t, not really. I was used to hard work. I’d been working hard since I was six years old.

The fog had started some kilometers back, drifting over the low ground beside the Clutha River like a fluffy throw. Now, it was more like a smothering wool blanket, and I’d slowed to a crawl, my fingers tight on the steering wheel, my headlights showing me the white stripe to my left that was the only thing keeping me on the road.

Where was a handy truck when you needed one? Somebody whose reassuring red taillights you could follow?

I’d been keyed up already. Now, I had to remind myself to breathe, to shift myself into the emergency-nurse head space. I wasn’t a frightened teenager anymore. I was a competent, independent woman with my own money and my own job and my own car. I was that worst of all things, in fact—a woman in trousers. The Whore of Babylon.

Born to be bad. It was a cheering thought. I turned up the music and sang along. A strong woman belting out a song that sounded like empowerment. No, two strong women, because we were both singing. Yay.

I’d made this drive through central Otago, from coastal Dunedin to the Southern Alps, a dozen times in the past couple of years, and not one time before that, not since I’d left Mount Zion twelve years ago with my twin brother. Sixteen years old, under cover of darkness, with five dollars in the pocket of my ugly brown dress. I’d thought I’d surely come back soon, because I hadn’t believed I could really survive life Outside, where the Devil reigned. I’d also thought I’d never come back.

Neither thing had turned out to be true, which makes you wonder: how much of life do we spend pre-living things that never happen instead of living what’s in front of us?

Not a minute more than I could help, that was how much. Not anymore.

I was thinking that, dimly aware of the headlights coming up behind me but with every other bit of my attention glued to that white line, when my lights picked up a dark shape bursting out of the night and leaping across the road. My entire body jerked, my hands yanked at the steering wheel, and my foot slammed the brake pedal to the floor as whatever it was passed practically under my tires.

No impact, though. I’d missed it. I started to sigh with relief.

The sigh caught in my throat.

When your car’s hit from behind, you don’t always register yourself going forward. You notice yourself going backward afterwards. That was what I felt. My head and back slammed against the seat, and the car spun around to the left.

He hadn’t hit me straight on. He’d tried to go right, maybe. To go around me, but I’d swerved the same way myself. I knew that, because it was my job and my nature to notice things and break them down. That was how you figured out your next step.

The car spun even as I tried to turn the wheel, and I felt the juddering, spongy movement under my right foot that was the antilock brakes engaging. Time passed, tick by tick, in dreamy nanoseconds as I spun like I was on a carousel, my headlights sweeping across a wall of thick gray. I felt the impact when the car’s wheels left the smooth tarmac and bumped over the grass, though. And I felt the change when the car began to slide backward as if the wheels were greased.

Wet grass. Downhill. No traction.

My foot was still on the brake. Over the speakers, the song had reached a climax, and the singer was belting it out, the noise filling my head. And I was sliding. Sliding. Leveling out, and … bouncing. Against something that gave under me.