Road kill is an unavoidable part of country driving. But its frequency makes it no less upsetting when you cause it. And as with all noteworthy happenings, you remember your first. Thus I will never forget the time I first hit and killed a kangaroo in my car.
It was a new start. I was driving from Perth to Melbourne in a red hand-me-down Mazda. At high speeds its panels rattled and the engine complained like a cat swung in a sock filled with loose change. At low speeds it just stopped. The radio chimed through the back left speaker only and the bass had died at the same time as the muffler. As a result, every song sounded like Neil Young ordering at a drive through during an air raid.
I was two days into my drive, somewhere along the Nullarbor, when it happened.
The speedometer had just nudged 120kmph as the doomed kangaroo caught my eye. He was reaching with his dirty paws for yet another handful of my corn chips. Not that a full mouth ever stopped the opinions that spewed forth from my marsupial hitchhiker. For the four hours since I picked him up, the big red had gorged and chain smoked while he spouted insidious views from the passenger seat: relaxed immigration would swamp his habitat, an end to government support for vulnerable creatures so “nature could run its course”. He really had it in for Wallabies as well – proper racist stuff. For hours I said nothing while he opined and occasionally groomed me (a sign of aggression, I read later). Then, with the mercury topping 50 degrees, it became too much. The engine roared. I snapped. My elbow flew back and caught the roo under the chin, mid-sentence. In a second I had unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the door and pushed him clear. At this speed the result was beyond doubt: Road kill.
The engine roared.
It was only then that I turned to face the wombat sitting in the back seat. He hadn’t spoken a word since I picked him up near Eucla. The wombat raised his Coke to his lips.
“You saw nothing,” I said. Although I intended my words to quell the wombat’s anxiety and invoke a feeling of collaboration, I was shocked by my shrill tone. He nodded slowly. I winked, which was probably confusing more than anything. Then making sure to check the blind spot and cry audibly I turned the car back to find the carcass.
Without a word, the wombat and I dragged the roo into the scrub and buried the corpse. It took, like, forever.
“Thank god wombats are natural diggers,” I said finally. This amused me and I fell around in the dirt laughing. The wombat shot me a look that said “pull yourself together” but sunstroke and dehydration were in charge and I unbuttoned my shirt and threw it away.
Relieved it was over I trilled “we are just like Thelma and Louise,” and patted him. He withdrew from my touch, lit a cigarette and indicated he would prefer to go it alone. Stressed, I ranted and raved about cowardice, which really seemed to upset him. We stood in silence before I apologised. I hugged him, but the wombat bristled, keen for me to put my shirt back on. Then we said goodbye and I suggested we never call or contact each other again “unless the cops got wise, man”. He lumbered off without a word.
Then I awoke. The car had rolled to a stop 10m clear of the road. There a low branch had smashed the passenger window, releasing the carbon monoxide which had been flooding the car. But the roo? All a dream. I steered the car east with all windows down. Troubled but relieved. In two days Melbourne loomed bright. My future. My forgetting.
It was three months later when I noticed it. As I cleaned the car for a quick sale my hand glanced against a tuft of fur meshed together with stale corn chips. I looked further and discovered a tooth. Then my phone rang – it was the wombat.