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Human Collisions

The policeman swings his gaze over the railings into the grey river. Beside him, a mother crouches in a paramedic’s arms, a large pram rests on its side. Its contents are sprawled across the footpath; spare nappies, a bottle, a fleece blanket, a soft little giraffe. All except the baby. The river is murky with silt and city pollution; the policeman searches for the pale body and the red jumpsuit that hugs it. “Size 000…he’s wearing a red jumpsuit…size 000 from my Aunt,” the mother repeats.

The bridge is made of unforgiving asphalt and steel. A greying woman sits in an ambulance and through the open doors, the policeman can see her fuchsia dress, grazed arm and Southeast Asian heritage. Her basket trolley leans against the bridge railing, full of bruised groceries.

The policeman’s phone emits a small ding and vibrates in his pocket. “Hey, Jason, Oliver, take their statements, yeah? I’m heading back to the HCU.”

On the banks of the river, the policeman can see them searching for the red jumpsuit. The policeman is returning to the Human Collisions Unit. The river flows fast and cold.

As the policeman enters the office, he is greeted by his friend, Mary, “Morning, Andy! How’d you go with the incident on Princes Bridge? Looked pretty grim. Wasn’t the millennial the one speeding?”

“Yeah, but as always, both of them are to blame here. Grim is the right word for it. I doubt they’ll even find a body.”

“God, that’s tragic.”

The policeman’s stomach tightens. It was rare to hear that word from Mary. He shrugs off his damp jacket and hooks it on the back of his chair.

A small interrupting ding sounds from his pocket.

“This one reminds me of the first case. Just four years and a media circus apart.” The policeman settles at his desk and his computer whirrs white, “The speed recommendations aren’t working and this has gone beyond broken arms and the occasional freak accident.”

“We’ll see, Andy. No one ever looks up.”

Ding.

The policeman spends a few hours filling paperwork on the Princes Bridge incident. He finishes at exactly five o’clock. “I’m off!” He grins to Mary on his way out.

In the lift, the policeman finally pulls his phone from his pocket as it erupts in a flurry of dings. It unlocks at his touch and notifications flood his screen. The usual emails, an ad for the new album by his favourite band, ‘We Were Hipsters Once’, an automated fastest tram route home…and fifty-four Facebook notifications. “Ah, so you’re the culprit!” He mutters triumphantly before tapping open the app.

It’s a photo of his sister, her arm around him, in their childhood backyard with overgrown lawn and a springy trampoline in the corner. The policeman chuckles. They’re maybe eight and seven respectively. He remembers seeing the photo once before in his mother’s photo album. Only then it was overexposed in places and tainted with mould in others. Now, a perfectly lit, focused and framed photo devours his screen. His eyes were never quite that blue.

More dings. The photo has been captioned with a long gushing note that ends with, ‘You’re my partner in crime forever and ever! I love you, little bro!’ As the policeman watches, ninety-nine likes becomes one hundred and tiny helium balloons and confetti float across the screen. He shoos them away with his thumb before scrolling down to read some of the comments. They vary between exclamations of ‘cute!’, vague promises of brunch plans, to the poorly punctuated messages from older relatives. Everyone loves the photo.

Before he can reach the bottom of the comments, the lift doors open. The policeman catches himself still scrolling as he walks across the lobby. He dutifully pockets the phone and steels himself for the grey rain outside.

The already delayed tram rattles to a halt halfway to the station. The contents of the tram spill across the road and nearby pavement. The policeman disappears in the grey tide of commuters. Ever-growing tides of commuters are drifting in and pooling on the edges of walkways and buildings; they were dripping out of office buildings and shops; they were heading home.

The policeman shifts his key in the lock, once, twice, and finally the door clicks open. His first steps leave dirt-speckled puddles at the doorway. He fumbles with the grey laces before cradling the shoes in his arms and jogging swiftly through to the laundry sink. The small enclosure of the laundry is dry and cosy with drooping sheets on the line above his head. He pulls off the sopping jacket and pants and a woman appears at the doorway, a bundle of soft clothes in her arms. He pulls her to him and her hands are warm as they run over his numbed back. “Oh, Andrew, you’ve got goose-bumps!”

“Yes, it’s pretty wintery out there.”

They embrace, cocooned in the dry cream sheets. He squeezes her slightly, “We need to get that lock fixed. How’d you go today?”

“Oh, alright, rough morning, of course.”

He can smell bathroom cleaner on her, “So, morning sickness still bad?”

“For the moment. It’s a little reminder that it’s all happening, I suppose.”

He begins to pull the dry clothes on. “Any word on the maternity leave?”

“Yeah, they approved it. Only thing is, they are essentially going to redistribute all my clients and projects when the time comes.”

“Ok…but that’s to be expected.”

“No – they’re going to redistribute them permanently. When I go back, they’re making me start from scratch.”

“Fuck! Can they do that? Lauren, you’ve just really established yourself.”

The woman leads him out of the laundry into the kitchen where she stirs a pot of spaghetti sauce. “I don’t know, Andrew. We’ve got a couple more weeks to think about this.”

The policeman wipes down the bench with a damp sponge, “The timing is a bit off, that’s for sure.”

“Not to mention, the place…I read an article about what happened on Princes Bridge today, figured you were there.”

The policeman sighs and runs the warm tap over his fingers. He watches the water run over them, pool in his upturned palm and cascade into the plughole below. “How old is size 000?”

“About…3 months, I think.”

Ding.

The woman is watching him and her disappointment curls tightly in the interstice, heaving and billowing out because she can’t help but hate these people who are colliding again and again. The policeman knows that he is becoming part of it.

“Let’s eat.”

In the enveloping darkness of their bedroom, the policeman sees the glitter of the woman’s open eyes. He is tired but he asks, “What are you thinking about?”

“People are disappearing.”

“What?”

“Off social media. It’s very strange, people I knew from school, uni, even family.”

“I don’t understand.”

Her voice is racing, but she whispers, “One day they’re posting as usual and the next, they’re gone! Not on my friend list, nothing. I think it’s some kind of social phenomenon. But for the first time in years, I can’t be sure because no one is talking about it. That’s the strangest part. No one is talking.”

Ding.

“Are you sure?”

In the grey light he can just make out the edges of her face, “Yes, I’m certain.”

The policeman stretches his arms above his head. Beside him, Mary is typing furiously, her headphones are on and her eyes are darting between her two screens and the papers before her. The policeman shrugs his jacket on as he wanders out of the office. At the coffee shop in the lobby, he sips from a disposable cup and unlocks his phone.

He opens his messages and blinks. He scrolls down, then up, closes and reopens the app. He types her name into the search bar. No results. Nothing. His palms are clammy, his fingers slippery on the touch screen.

Up at his desk, he tries again on his computer. No results. “Fuck.”

He stands and taps Mary’s shoulder, his voice wavers, “I’m off.”

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just picking something up from the chemist.”

As the policeman reaches the lobby, he begins to jog. The streets are crowded and the tram is slow. At his street, there is a large family of tourists bunched around the doors. He squeezes through the commotion. He’s sprinting as he reaches his front yard, almost losing his balance on the walkway, he stops short as he almost collides with the front door. It sways on its hinges, the hallway is still and dark. The policeman steps inside. There is a soft light fanning out from the laundry and the woman is humming.

Shona Louis

The author Shona Louis

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