The Snowball Effect
I’m sat next to my brief. My shirt’s the same one I had on yesterday but I’m sure no-one notices. I have the same, now well-rumpled suit I’ve been wearing throughout my trial; well, they’re not exactly going to let me out shopping at Armani for the day are they? My shoes are pretty clean though, which is more than I can say for my defence.
The jury has retired for verdict. My heart is pumping blood at a normal rate around my body. I’m calm. What else can I be? I just look ahead. I don’t want to see anyone.
They think I killed them all. Sometimes I think I killed them all. Sometimes however I believe I only actually killed just one person that day. For his death they just need to decide whether it was premeditated. How do you define premeditated? How long does an action have to be considered and thought-out before becoming premeditated? 5 minutes? An hour? A day? I know I didn’t leave the house that morning to walk the dog through the woods, which are separated by a noisy motorway, with the intention to kill someone. By the time I came home however I was a guilty man.
The prosecution have made a meal out of the fact that I’ve shown no remorse. I’m not an actor; I can’t show what I don’t have. Anyway, what came after was an accident, with no intention whatsoever. However, they don’t see it like that. They don’t seem to understand the metaphorical snowball effect and all that. If I hadn’t have rolled that little snowball from the top of the mountain, there wouldn’t have been an avalanche in the valley below, so to speak. I can sort of see their point, the trouble is they can’t see mine.
Memory can be a bastard. Why can’t I remember someone’s name from one day to the next yet the filing cabinet of the mind throws out memories from years ago without warning and just at the wrong moment, like when I saw the kid on the bridge. Some of you might remember this. I do. I was a teenager during the miner’s strike back in ‘84 but I still clearly remember how shocked I was when some miners dropped a kerbstone from a bridge at a passing taxi taking a scab to work. It left me cold then and leaves me cold now. What a horrible way to die.
So when I saw that kid hoist up to his waist a broken lump of wall, I flipped. He was so intent on choosing his target that he didn’t see me come down the footpath, pick up a fist-sized flint and step on the bridge. The block was resting on the handrail of the bridge, against his stomach while he chose his victim. Then I saw what he was waiting for; an Esso petrol tanker was making its way down the slow lane. I had to stop him. I threw the stone.
I guess the truck driver saw the kid’s intention as I heard the air horn blare below me. Too late. The stone hit the lad in the head. The lad’s legs gave way as blood poured from his temple. The brickwork tipped forward with the momentum, his grip didn’t loosen. Both concrete and kid were gone in a second. I heard the truck’s brakes howl. Have you ever noticed how a car’s brakes will squeal in an emergency stop? A 38 tonne truck’s howl and what a God-awful noise it is, I can still hear it in the long nights in my cell, when sleep evades me.
I felt, rather than saw, the movement of the jack-knifed trailer as it separated from the cab and passed at speed under the bridge, swatting cars like summer flies. It then hit the central reservation, flip on its end and over, and explode into the oncoming traffic. The force of the blast rocked the bridge and knocked me to the ground. The dog came off worse. She scarpered into the trees from where we’d come from but when I finally found her she was dead. Internal injuries I suppose. I cried then. I showed emotion then. The families of the 14 that never made it back home that night wouldn’t give a toss about that but then again, why would they?
The jury’s back. You 9 men and 3 women: penny for your thoughts? Why am I asking? It’s the judge that wants to know if they’ve reached a verdict. They have. He nods his head slowly. Putting on his small, wireframe glasses he tells me to stand.
My lifetime freedom for an accident. I guess the 3 seconds it took me to pick up that stone counts as premeditated.