Dyin’ Ain’t Much of a Livin’
It was February 18 when it started. It was cold, even by February’s
standards, and it had snowed for three days solid. At some point during
the previous night, temperatures had dropped severely, and the streets
were frozen under three inches of solid ice. The sky was as clear as the
air was cold, and stalactites hung like magic crystals from the
guttering of the house.
I remember it well because that was the day I died.
At precisely 9.57 a.m.
And believe me when I tell you, my death tested the very definition of
irony to its breaking point.
You see, there were a hundred different ways my life could have ended
that day. More than a hundred. Countless ordinary ways for an ordinary
girl to die. I could have slipped on the bar of soap John had carelessly
dropped on the floor of the shower. I could have been electrocuted
drying my hair. I could have suffered a broken neck while tripping over
the cat or falling down the stairs. I could have had a heart attack. It
happens, even at my age. I might even have choked on the smoothie my
beloved had made for me before dashing off to work. Or—and this might
be stretching it—he might have poisoned me by dropping weed killer in
the coffee pot. Husbands kill wives all the time, and vice versa, I’m
sure. Except we weren’t married yet and I wasn’t fabulously wealthy
enough for him to have a good enough reason to do it.
A head-on collision with another vehicle would have been easy enough to
arrange on a day like today. The roads were treacherous. I could have
been hit by an SUV while taking a right turn and talking to my mother on
my hands-free at the same time. I could even have been hit by a train
while driving over the crossing without checking the lights.
You see? So many ordinary, run-of-the-mill deaths could have befallen
me. Yes, an ordinary death for an ordinary girl, busy doing ordinary
Hey, who needs ordinary, anyway? I could have had an absolutely fabulous
death. I could have died a heroine, sacrificing myself for my fellow man
by throwing myself in front of a runaway train. Or—and this one’s my
personal favourite—how about being eaten alive while saving the world
from flesh-eating grannies who had picketed Tesco’s car park in
protest over the new five pence bag charge?
Yes, a fabulous death would have been the way to go. The possibilities
are as endless as your imagination.
But again, no. Not even that.
I can only conclude that Death has the wickedest sense of humor known to
man. Otherwise, why would he have chosen the ending he ultimately gave
You see, my death was not that ordinary at all. And it certainly
wasn’t fabulous. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll ever live it down.
I lay in bed, listening to John’s car start and him driving off, and
breathed a sigh of relief. I could get out of bed now and not have to
endure his cheerful chatter. The man woke up like a kid on Ritalin. Me?
I needed two coffees and half an hour of silence before I finally pulled
myself around. To say I wasn’t a morning person would be like saying
politicians bend the truth—the understatement of the century.
I had the day off work but wasn’t looking forward to the manic
run-around I had planned. My wedding was in precisely eight days and I
still hadn’t finalised the hymns with the vicar or sorted out the
favours. One hundred fiddly, little cream boxes filled with hand-made
chocolates and finished with duck-egg blue ribbons. Not exactly
original, I know, but I wasn’t particularly looking forward to my
wedding day anyway. Still, those little boxes weren’t going to pack
themselves. Then the rings needed to be picked up from the jewellers
and, after lunch, I’d promised mum I’d go with her to choose her
outfit. I say promised but insisted might be more accurate. I didn’t
want her turning up in her biker leathers, even if this wasn’t going
to be the perfect day every girl dreams of.
To top it off, I had to pick up John’s birthday present. His birthday
was two days away and I’d booked us a table at Jesmond Dene House, the
only restaurant in Newcastle with Michelin stars and definitely the
place to be seen for a budding politician. That’s John, by the way,
not me. Christ, I didn’t know one end of a statute from another. I’d
bought him a gold tie pin for his birthday—the cheapest one I could
find being the only one I could afford — but I still broke out in cold
sweats over the price tag, and that was with a staff discount courtesy
of my best friend, Janice.
I dragged myself out of bed and made my way to the bathroom, stripping
off my pyjamas as I went and letting them drop to the floor. I turned on
the shower and continued planning my day as I waited for the water to
warm up before stepping under the spray. I was so busy planning, I
almost stepped on a bar of soap John had thoughtlessly left on the floor
of the shower. Tutting, I picked it up and placed it back in its holder,
reaching for my gel as I did so. Who used solid soaps in this day and
age? Did I even know the man I was going to marry? Still, it was too
late to worry about it now. Besides, I wasn’t marrying him for his
personal hygiene habits. Truth be told, I wasn’t even marrying him for
love, although I did. Love him, that is. Just not in the way a woman
usually loves the man she is about to marry. No, I wasn’t marrying for
love—I was marrying him for his money. Shocking, I know, but don’t
judge me until you know the whole story.
Smelling lemon fresh, I stepped from the shower and wrapped myself into
a warm towel then padded back to the bedroom, leaving watery footprints
on the tiles. I plugged in my dryer and dragged it and the extension
cord into the bathroom so I could use the mirror. My face looked haggard
and my eyes held a sadness I didn’t want to acknowledge. I pulled a
face. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I had things to do.
I suddenly remembered I also had to confirm our choice of wedding cake
with the baker. John had wanted the hazelnut and almond with mocha
buttercream but I had a nut allergy so we’d decided to go with a
traditional fruitcake (minus the nuts, of course) and a nut-free
marzipan made with semolina. I dashed into the bedroom, almost tripping
over my shirt that was walking across the floor on the back of poor
Henry, my beloved cat, and pulled my red notebook from my bag. I turned
to the page for today’s jobs and added the cake to my list in neat,
I had my notebook clutched firmly in my hand as I stepped out into the
wintry morning and closed the door behind me. I turned to see that the
picture-perfect snow from the day before had become hardened ice. I
prayed the gritters had been out as I watched my breath turn to vapour
in front of my face. Pulling my coat around me, I tiptoed to my car,
trying my best to stay upright, and breathed a sigh of relief when I
eventually climbed into the driver’s seat without once landing on my
arse—a minor miracle in itself.
The drive was on a slight incline and I decided, once I’d managed to
demist the windscreen, to test my brakes before making the journey to
the train station. Traffic would be a bitch today and parking at the
train station meant I’d avoid the worst of it. I released the hand
break and allowed the car to roll forward before pressing hard on the
brakes. The car slipped for a fraction of a second before coming to a
halt. Good enough, I thought, just as my mobile phone started blaring at
me. I flicked the switch on the steering wheel to kick into hands free
as I put the car into first gear and made my way out to the street.
“Tabitha? Are you there?” My mum’s voice echoed around the inside
of the car.
I rolled my eyes and hoped she’d remembered it was after lunch I’d
promised to pick her up. “Hi, Mum.”
“Tabitha? Is that you? You sound funny,” my mum replied.
“It’s hands free, Mum. I’m in the car.”
“Oh good, so you’re on your way? Could you stop by the corner shop
and buy me a pack of Golden Virginia? That bitch of a nurse has stolen
My hands clutched the steering wheel in frustration. It was going to be
a long day. “Mum, no one has stolen your tobacco. Have you looked in
“Don’t treat me like a child, Tabitha Jade Brownlee. You’re not
too big to go over my knee! Oh, and while you’re there, you might as
well pick up a bag of black bullets and a tin of tuna fish for Missy.
Not the cheap kind, mind you—John West. You know she’s a fussy
Missy, my mother’s cat, had died two years ago. It was going to be a
very long day.
“Mum, we can pick up everything you need from town. I’ve things to
do this morning, but I’ll be there to get you after lunch, okay? Look,
I’ve got to go, the roads are really bad and I need to concentrate.”
I flicked the switch to end the call before she could begin to protest
that she couldn’t last three hours without a cigarette. A part of me
was hoping she’d find them, even though I wanted her to quit, because
she’d be a bloody nightmare on nicotine withdrawal.
I eventually arrived at the Park and Ride without incident. The roads
had been gritted but the car park had not, so I carefully manoeuvred the
car into the first available bay I could find. I climbed out of the car
and cautiously made my way to the ticket machine. I was fishing in my
purse for a coin when a Ford Focus came skidding directly towards me.
Frozen to the spot, I watched in horror as the driver, an older
gentleman wearing a flat cap and a Newcastle United scarf, slammed on
the brakes and pulled his wheel to the left at the same time.
The car skidded just enough to whisper past the hem of my coat before
coming to a stop. The driver’s window rolled down and the flat cap
poked through. “Oh my Lord, are you ok?”
I looked down at myself, just to be sure. “I’m fine, you missed
me,” I said, and then smiled in relief, although my knees were
knocking together in fright and I was seriously worried I’d peed my
“These bloody roads are terrible. I’m so sorry if I scared you,”
he said, his face ashen.
He rolled up the window and continued on his way, inch by painful inch,
giving me a little wave through the rear windscreen. I dropped my purse
back in my bag and returned his wave. I was so busy waving that I
didn’t see the ice-cream van hurtling down the bank at break-neck
speed. I certainly didn’t see the faces of David Parker and Jonathan
O’Riley — the two fourteen-year-old boys who had stolen the vehicle
— peering out, panic stricken, I imagine, as they realised they were
going to collide with the Focus. But I did see David Parker’s arms as
he swung the wheel to the right, seconds before they impacted with the
right leg of a huge, overhead advertising bollard.
I watched in shock as the van smashed into the pole. As if in slow
motion, Jonathan O’Riley’s body was thrown through the windscreen of
the van. I recall with perfect clarity the trajectory of his body as
first his bloodied head, his blue hoodie, and then his denim-clad legs
appeared beneath the giant Mr. Whippy cone complete with pink sprinkles
and a flake that adorned the top of the van. I marvelled in abject
horror that a body could be thrown with such apparent ease as he all but
floated through the cold morning air. Time caught up with itself a
second before his head smashed against the icy road. His body collapsed
and bounced once before skidding a few yards, leaving a vivid bloody
snail-trail on the virgin ice to mark its path.
The sound of his head cracking against the ground catapulted me into
action. I ran. I managed to reach the boy without breaking my neck on
the ice and knelt down beside his still form, trying to assess the
damage. His face was peppered with tiny cuts, all oozing blood, and I
almost fainted dead away. I cut off the panic that was threatening to
overwhelm me and checked to see if he was breathing. His eye-lids
fluttered but I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or a bad one. A
scream came from somewhere and I realised it was his partner in crime,
who had climbed out of the dilapidated van and was standing looking at
his friend, in horror. Mr. Flat-Cap came up behind him and turned to
block his view, putting a kindly arm around his shoulders. I turned back
to the still form in front of me. He was still breathing, thank God, but
he was in a bad way. Blood was oozing from a head wound and I felt my
own rush through my veins as I fought not to pass out.
It was at this point, as I searched my brain for those three First Aid
lessons I’d had in my short stint as a girl guide, that the
advertisement being held up by the bollard and which was now leaning at
a very unfortunate angle, pulled free from the one remaining screw that
was holding it up. Luckily for the boy, I was crouched over him when it
came crashing down, and my head took the full force of the impact as it
landed and pinned me to the icy road. All eight feet long and sixty
pounds of it.
Of course, I never felt a thing as the blow killed me outright.
The irony? The advert was for Durex, the prophylactic of champions, and
the signage read: “The end of the world shouldn’t be the only thing
I kid you not. Google it.
I tended to agree.
Excerpted from "Accidents Happen" by Sharon Karaa. Copyright © 2017 by Sharon Karaa. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.