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Accident

By John Calderazzo

Not really looking as I crank the engine and start downhill for town, I tilt my head out my window in a rush of wind to take in winter stars and sweep away the fumes from a petty argument at home.  My escape velocity: not fast enough, but faster than I should be going.

Right away I pass a pickup and a jeep parked oddly on the road.  My headlights wash over a car upturned in a field and people trotting towards it.

I pull over on stiff grass.
In a wavering of flashlights: no dents or shattered glass. But hurrying through mashed down weeds and settling dust, I see the car bottom up, naked in the glare of strangers and the Milky Way, a flipped turtle, legs flailing.  In the passenger seat a woman hangs upside-down.

She pounds the dash with a fist and wails at the dumbstruck sky, “What have you DONE to me?”
She’s unbuckled, lowered, and pulled out, crying.  Then a man crawls from the driver’s side, his left hand bleeding, his right holding a bottle sloshing with something clear, vodka or gin.  He stands and slings it into the dark.  A far off thump.

“You tried to KILL me!” she yells from where she’s sitting now, a jacket heaped over her, then a child’s comforter.

Hot metal ticks.

I smell dripping gasoline and duck fast to check the back seat.  “IS THERE ANYONE ELSE?” I call out.

“NO,” she calls back.  “But where’s my shoe?  I’m COLD.”

The stunned man is suddenly mumbling at my side, “Gotta get that shoe . . . .”  Then lurching towards the car he tries to light a cigarette.

“HEY DON’T!” I shout and dive away, rolling.

In my mind’s eye: WOOF!  A pillow of orange heat blowing him back.

Soon enough he staggers up and starts to wander in a circle.  “That shoe . . . .”

We stand around and watch.  I think about an eyebrow I might no longer quite feel, the woman’s face shining wet in flickering firelight.

Finally, sirens in the distance.

From just uphill I hear our two dachshunds, bodies tensed at the backyard fence,
snouts lifted straight up, sky howling, as they tend to with coyotes and every ambulance that sprints out from town.  I imagine my wife coming out to stand beside them, then looking down at all the lights and thinking, OH JESUS IT’S HIM.

So I take my leave.  Driving home, I tilt my head into cool night air and wonder if that upturned woman, as she hung briefly in the dark, noticed how much space there is between the stars and how quietly they burn.


John Calderazzo teaches creative nonfiction writing at Colorado State University, where he has created and helps direct a teaching climate change across the university curriculum program.  His work has been cited in Best American Stories and Best American Essays and has appeared in many magazines, including Audubon, Georgia Review, Orion, and Witness.  His most recent book is Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives.  His next will be a book of poetry, At the Night Window.

 

photo by Dinty W. Moore