Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Stranger than fiction.

I've been a bit quiet of late. There's a few reasons why, but I'm not going to go into that. Suffice to say, it's left me with a kind of writer's block. I did wonder if it was because I'd not had any adventures recently, but then I realised that Life is an adventure, so that couldn't be it.

Step in my old friend Facebook. When I first started writing my blog, way back when, a lot of my posts were inspired by pictures or sayings that friends were posting. Quite often I'd look at one of them and it would inspire me to write about it. A few days ago, another aspiring author, who unlike myself, is seriously working on her book at the moment, posted a link to her blog to a post that was a short story about an Amazon green parrot called Myrtyle. I absolutely loved it and when I commented as much to my friend, I found out that it was based on a true story.

Now this got me thinking. I thought about how sometimes life can be stranger than fiction, and reminded me of an incident that happened about 10 years ago. So I decided that I'd write about it.

The story is a bit longer than my usual blog posts, but I hope you enjoy it.

Stranger Than Fiction

One Saturday morning, my husband decided that he needed to go to B&Q, a local DIY superstore. As this seemed to be his second home at the time, I decided to go with him so we could spend some time together. Just as we stepped out the front door, he decided that he needed his measuring tape and disappeared back into the house.
 As I waited for him, I heard a faint sound. At first I thought it was a baby crying, but as I looked along the road, I couldn’t see anyone at all, let alone someone with a child. Both of my neighbours were elderly, so I knew it couldn’t be coming from either of their houses.
I strained my ears and realised that it was the mewing sound of a cat and it seemed to be coming from one of the trees that lined the opposite side of the road. Curious, I crossed the road and as I did so the mewing became louder. After a few minutes of straining both my eyes and my neck, I spotted a tiny black kitten quite high up in the branches of a plum tree. Although the tree wasn’t very tall, the poor little kitten was a bit too high up for me to reach, and anyway, my days of climbing trees were long gone.

As I stood there, wondering what to do, my husband emerged from the house.
‘There’s a kitten stuck up the tree.’ I called to him.
He crossed the road and started to climb the tree in the direction that I was pointing. But, the higher up the tree he climbed, the further up the tree the kitten retreated.
‘This is hopeless. I’ll need a ladder.’ He said, ‘you stay here and watch.’
Watch! Watch why? I wasn’t exactly sure what I could do, short of trying to catch it if it decided to jump.
While I stood there, still straining my neck, a woman stopped and lifted her eyes in the direction of mine.
‘There’s a little black kitten stuck up the tree.’ I said, not wanting her to think that I was just some crazy tree lover.
‘I can hear it. Has it been there long?’ she replied.
‘I’m not sure. But my husband has gone to fetch a ladder.’
We continued to stand, both with our eyes fixed on the little ball of fluff in the tree, willing it to not do anything until my husband came back with the ladder. As we stood there we talked about what a dangerous road this was for cats. I’d lost one black and white cat already, and as we waited, I told her about the night it happened.

My husband and I were sitting watching television late one Saturday night, when the phone rang. Our eldest son was out with his friends, and his younger brother was tucked up in bed. My husband answered the phone, and as I listened I realised that there had been some sort of accident. I immediately thought it was my son and when I heard my husband ask if he was breathing, my heart froze.
My husband hung up after telling the person on the other end that he would be right there. I demanded to know what had happened and asked if my son was OK. My husband took me by the hand and gently explained that it wasn’t anything to do with our son, but that our cat had been hit by a car. Unfortunately the cat hadn’t made it, but I was so relieved that it hadn’t been my son.

As I finished telling the woman this story, my husband returned with a ladder. But as he placed the ladder under the tree, the little kitten jumped down and ran away. We all laughed and joked about cats and their nine lives. Then the woman went on her way and my husband and I got into his car and set off for B&Q.

Well as interesting as this might be, you may well be thinking that this isn’t really that strange, and you’d be right.

Earlier that same morning, we had given our youngest son his first mobile phone. He was about 15 at the time, but unlike most kids his age, he hadn’t really wanted one. But we insisted that he had one in case of an emergency. I’d inputted both mine and my husband’s mobile numbers and left him in his room while we went off to B&Q.
I can’t even remember what it was we had gone there for. But eventually we paid for our purchases and headed home.

Meanwhile, our son had phoned one of his friends and arranged to meet him in town. To get there, he had to walk across a common, crossing two small bridges. Then turn right and follow the river before coming to a zebra crossing which crossed the road and took him into one of the town’s main car parks. A journey he’d done many times before.

By this time we were about halfway home and as we approached a mini roundabout, my mobile started ringing in my handbag. I picked it up and saw that it was my son calling. I smiled and made some remark to my husband about how it hadn’t taken him long to use it. But as I listened to the call, my heart, just as on the night our cat was hit by a car, froze. Instead of my son’s voice, I heard a man telling me that he was a policeman and that I wasn’t to panic, but my son had been hit by a car. I couldn’t believe it. We weren’t very far from where it had happened, so turning right instead of left we were soon there. It must have taken us about 3 minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. All we could both think about was that we couldn’t lose him.

As we arrived at the zebra crossing where it had happened, we could see 2 police cars, stopping the traffic, 2 ambulances and a paramedic’s motorbike. A small, green car, its window screen shattered, lay abandoned, its front doors lying wide open. A woman was being comforted on the pavement, her eyes red from crying. But the most vivid memory of it all is of my son lying on the ground, an oxygen mask on his face. But he was conscious. A couple pf paramedics were attending to him and as I rushed over to him, having barely waited for the car to stop before jumping out of it, they very firmly, but gently, asked me to step back and let them attend to him. I stood on the pavement watching helplessly as they placed him on a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance.

Fortunately I was able to ride with him in the ambulance, my husband following on in the car. Despite having been thrown about 16 feet, he only had a few scrapes and bruises. He’d had his headphones on and had been listening to music and hadn’t heard the car approaching. As a result he hadn’t tensed before the impact and apparently that had saved him from more serious damage.

We were so relieved. But we just couldn’t believe it. Only about an hour after I’d told this woman about the night we received a phone when I thought it was my son that had been hit by a car, but it turned out to be the cat, I got a phone call telling me my other son had been hit by a car. Not only that, but our son had only just been given a mobile phone in case of emergency.

We can laugh about it now, but at the time it wasn’t so funny. Although there was the incident 3 days later when in our local Blockbusters I was asked if I had heard about the accident on the zebra crossing. I was told that the person had died, that someone they knew had seen the body being placed in the ambulance. I was able to assure them that this wasn’t the case as it had been my son and that he was alive and well and playing with his games console back home. Chinese whispers at their best.

He was very lucky. But even now, 10 years on, my heart still does a flip whenever I have to use that zebra crossing. I don’t know about you, but I think this might well qualify as an instance where fact was stranger than fiction. At the very least I think it was a very strange set of coincidences.

Isabel Johnstone 2016 ©

p.s. here's the link to my friend's story about Myrtyle the Amazon green parrot.


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