by Eric Tackett
I followed the long scar of earth left by the now overturned SUV. Nearing the front of the vehicle, the sounds of crushed metal trying to flex back into appropriate shapes clashed with the slow trickle of raindrops passing through the surrounding trees. White light flooded the area as headlights reflected off the ground now too close. As I neared the driver side door, I could hear the buzz from the broken radio, scratching into spurts of lyrics before grating back to white noise. The smell of oil and burnt rubber singed my nose. I bent down, and I was surprised to see myself still seated; feet pinned into the crumpled floorboard and seat belt securely fastened in its proper place.
“I blame you for this,” I said peering into the car. “You’re right, this road is beautiful. It’s perfect for all those late-nights of deep thought and screaming into the windshield.” I sat down into the mud taking my hand from just inside the shattered window. “Did yelling really require both hands? Steering the vehicle is typically an important part of the process.” I ran my fingers across the cuts from the blown windshield before letting go causing it to fall back to the ceiling with a thud. Following the trail of injury up my arm, I counted the slits of red that peeked out, to my bruised face, and stopped at my abdomen where a small red circle appeared as it soaked through our shirt.
“He’s dying,” I yelled past the vehicle at the deer that laid perpendicular to it. The catalyst of our situation created an awkward contrast of cause and effect; hard and soft; winner and loser. “Well, honestly, we’re both dying,” my focus shifted from the deer to the view of dangling arms and that growing red spot. I wondered what shape it would take. As it elongated with gravity. How fast? I pictured the wayward piece of twisted metal plunged into our right flank. Hopefully, it missed my kidney.
“It makes sense. That a deer would decide when you end up overturned and bleeding to death. You’ve never made a decision that was just yours. Always motivated by someone else,” I lifted myself back to my feet and leaned into the driver side door with both palms flat on chilled metal. I listened to the car moan from its tortured position, small gasps of steam periodically released like dying breath, each sporadic burst a waning cry for survival.
“You hung on every word they said. Conversations about choices. Choices that weren’t yours.” Your purpose was preordained.
We were going to lift the family from its embarrassing existence of the middle class. A middle class that bordered too close to low and required too many off-brand canned goods to maintain. “Being you was supposed to get easier after college, but you got comfortable. Comfortable denying that you had once wanted something else and that their voices replaced yours,”
I could see the steep bank the car slid down, and the road barrier destroyed by our high-speed collision. Faintly, the sound of distant vehicles rushing down highway 12 carried across the wilderness, each car accelerated by as their GPS systems beeped for upcoming exits; all bypassing the scenic route of a two-lane twist and turn now littered with broken glass and tiny pieces of red and yellow headlights. Our haphazard mosaic.
Turning back at the metallic smell of blood, I returned to the window, kneeled down, and, this time, leaned in. “You did it all right. Finished school, got the job, and the girl,” I pressed my hand just past the door to balance; the glass pressed back, and I waited for a pain that never came. “But, how long did you think you could hide the unhappiness?” The red spot caught my attention again, it had doubled in size. It snaked its way down our shirt and swallowed every piece of pale fabric along the way.
“Sarah noticed. She was just too busy to mind as long as you continued to smile.”
Sarah fell in love with our smile, and she loved telling the story of how. She used every gathering to illustrate our first date. She’d recount every detail of the café on the corner with oversized bay windows. Each one allowing the sunlight to flood in revealing the imperfections in the tile floor. Tables made for two, walls of scattered paintings by local artists, and the constant sound of pressurized air filled the space.
“He was running late, so I found the perfect seat, a straight eye line from the door,” she would say leaning in with a smile to clarify her cleverness. She’d hold her breath, “The door was too small, creaky, and it would always get caught in the wind,” she breathed out with a playful eye roll, “then he came in, the breeze caught the door, like always, and he barely got in without falling.” She laughed and braced herself in a loose hug, “Our eyes met, and he smiled. I knew I loved him right then,” she would finish and turn slightly to give us a wink. To her, it was the perfect date crafted from all the classic ideas; even if it was a lie.
“This life isn’t yours. It all belongs to them, and they’ve taken enough of you,” I whispered. Blood covered our face. I realized I couldn’t recall the time. The smell of iron competed with fried electronics and stray gasoline that started to seep in.
The cab seemed larger, and I realized it encompassed me. Staring up at myself, I hear the radio began to play consistently and lyrics of familiar songs filled my mind. I murmured the words involuntarily, and suddenly, I’m eight years old in the park from my childhood.
“Feet on the ground,” I yell, but the words falter in my mouth. I’m tired of playing hide-n-seek. He always cheats and hides in the tree, so I go there first. I stand at the bottom and peer into the branches barely able to see through the dense brush. Grasping the bark with my right hand, I begin to climb by throwing my left hand to the nearest branch. I’m three branches up, and my red shirt catches on something. “Hey!” I yell into the darkness above me. My shirt is ripping, and I am singing my favorite song. My hand slips, and I lose my balance. I begin to fall as my shirt tears free.
“I want to go back. Just not like before. Not for them,” I cough into the words as they sputter from my mouth.
My right eye is matted shut, but the left is blinded by the sudden burst of the morning light. The slow beat of my heart pulses near my ears; quickening as I comprehend my inverted perspective. I hear muffled voices surrounding me as someone takes my hand before reaching across me.
“I want to get up now.”