(after Ben Quilty’s Pig 2011)

Flying. That’s the word he used. Actually it was Absolutely flying – as in: Must’ve been absolutely flying! Which was fitting because it was clear the car had, at some point, been airborne. I could hear but couldn’t see him on account of the huge floodlight at the rear of his tow truck, which hypnotised me like the beam from an alien spacecraft. He was using the winch to get the car – what was left of it – the right way up. And so he was shouting over the whirring: Must’ve been abso-lutely fl-eye-ING! If there was a gleam to the car’s crushed bodywork, there was also a gleam in the voice of the tow truck driver, as though relishing a scene that was out of the ordinary; at last, something other than fender benders and blown head gaskets. Stand back, boy! he hollered as the car, still leaking petrol and coolant into the soil, teetered on the brink. I stumbled and fell backwards on the lumpy ground as, at the same moment, the car crunched down like a chest of drawers tossed from a roof. Bingo! he said and clapped his hands together as though the mangled wreck was his gymnastics student. Stepping between me and the blazing floodlight, I saw him in silhouette; he was tall and very skinny and walked with a primitive stoop that elongated his arms. That’s phase one, he shouted to me or some imaginary auditor, and as I picked myself up and dusted myself off he started climbing around the wreck like a spider in reverse, untangling the line and freeing its prey. Despite his ungainly dimensions he was surprisingly nimble. Without the groan of the winch, I could hear the chatter on his CB radio reverberating into the largely uninhabited, farmland night, a crackle of AM voices rattling off details of bingles around the city: Two cars together, intersection of Brisbane and South Station roads. Single vehicle into a tree, Cunningham Highway – bloody mess. Rollover on Ipswich Road westbound near the Wacol prison. Uncoupling the winch from the twisted bodywork, he looked up at me and smiled; he had the face of a happy butcher, friendly and content in his work, unshaven and gentle about the eyes. Busy night? said I. Busier than a fly on shit, he replied. Friday night and a full moon – brings out the idiots. Done three already and it’s not even 12. Again, the shattered-glass sparkle in his voice; business was booming. Gotta get this one back then head on down to Goodna, Spaghetti Corner. Bound to be more action yet. Boys, he said then. Always young bloody boys getting ’emselves in trouble. Said I: Need a hand? Tell you what, he said, we gotta hook this fella up and drag him down onto the road before loading it onto the tray. Keep an eye out for trees and rocks. Must’ve been bloody fl-eye-ing! The car had come to grief after kissing the barrier of a narrow bridge some hundred or so metres away, which spat it into a graduated embankment and launched it into the air, through a barbed-wire fence and over and over many times until it came to rest here, well inside a paddock from which the resident horses had already escaped. The bridge was at the end of a long stretch of sealed country road which served, more weekends than not, as an out-of-town drag strip for souped-up racers. By now the police and ambulance had left the scene. Here we go! he said as he revved the engine and started off, the car lurching behind like some sort of glowing, metallic creature of the deep. Soon we had it by the roadside and were standing near the truck. Perhaps sensing my queasiness, and speaking again over the grinding winch and the horrorshow scream of metal on metal, he said, Funny thing. There was no body, and nodded at the car. Are you pulling my leg? said I. Happens from time to time, he said. Driver cops a bump on the head, climbs out disoriented and wanders off. Either that or he’s lying dead somewhere in the paddock. But the coppers looked everywhere, even in the creek under the bridge. They’re doorknocking the surrounding farms as we speak. I said again: You’re pulling my leg. Or he was abducted by aliens, said he earnestly looking up at the night sky. Flying saucers. You sometimes see lights, especially out here in the bush. You see all sorts of things driving tow trucks, boy. Nothing’d surprise me anymore! Not even how far this car travelled after leaving the road. Silly boy. Must’ve been abso-lutely flying! Again, he was enshrouded in the floodlight, a man-shaped island of darkness as though he’d slid temporarily into another dimension. Despite his roughness, there was a tender, moonlit consolation to his voice, a tacit understanding, an “I-won’t-tell-if-you-don’t” conspiracy that transported an access of wisdom. Was it any wonder that he’d seen me when no one else could? For a moment I felt recalled.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 22, 2022 as "Flying".

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