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August 1, 2007 | Fiction

Collision

Kathleen Lindstrom

Collision photo

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. I'm 43. I'm sure."

"It's a big decision. It's a life."

"Don't you think I know that? I'm Catholic. I know what a life is."

"I should have worn protection."

"Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It's a little late for that, don't you think? I should have said no when you called. But I didn't. We didn't."

"God, what a mess."

"Stop it! It's done. I've made the right decision."

"You're so sure. That's what amazes me."

"I have to be. It's my body. I'm the one who carries it around for nine months."

"You're right. You're right."

"Brian's in college. Your girls are married. We've raised our kids. My God! I can't do it again. I won't. I have a good life now. Finally."

He pulls down the visor to block the direct hit of the morning sun. His car, mired in traffic, hiccups forward a few feet at a time, which irritates him. He doesn't like being held back.

"My wife will kill me if she ever finds out."

"Well, that's another reason."

"And you'd lose your job."

"Yeah, parochial schools would take a dim view, wouldn't they!"

"You're a good teacher. Those kids need you."

"I need them more."

"You're either very courageous or very blase about this whole thing. I'm not sure which."

"Let's not start this again. We'll just fight."

"We don't have to end it this way."

"Yes. Yes we do."

"I do love you, you know."

"Oh please. Please! You tell that to all your girlfriends! I know you do."

"What was it then? Why did you keep meeting me?"

"To feel alive, I think. To find something I'd lost. Passion. Excitement. Spontaneity. Things that would keep me going for awhile."

"And did you find it? Did I give you these things?"

"Don't know yet."

She turns away to watch the city slip by. She sees people at bus stops looking tired, sipping coffee, reading papers, standing like stones absorbing the sun. She watches moms drag their kids down the block, heading for school or day care or maybe grandma's house. Their faces are scrunched up in worry, she thinks, or anger or fear or frustration—one fist away from applying some discipline.

"Will you be okay? Do you know what they'll do?"

"I asked for vacuum aspiration. It takes only five or ten minutes; and I don't have to go back."

"Painful?"

"They'll give me some kind of anesthesia."

"I'm so sorry. I really am."

"I know. I know you think you are."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means you think you're sorry. You'd like to feel sorry. You'd like to feel something. But you don't. You can't."

He shakes his head, refusing to engage.

"I can't stay with you; you know that don't you?"

She doesn't answer.

"I have to get back to work. My department meets at 10. I have to be there."

"Don't worry about it. I'll call a cab."

"Do they ask for the father's name?"

"No. They won't ask for your name. And I'd never tell them if they did. I won't tell anyone. You're in the clear. Your reputation will remain intact."

"You don't have to be so sar..."

But suddenly he is smashed into the steering column. He hears the thud of her body as it flies into the dashboard. It's when the engine kills that he mutters "fuck." Then he looks into the rear view mirror and sees a young man getting out of a car, hurrying toward him. The man has matte-black hair, nose piercings and tattoos covering his forearms. The man opens the door and helps him out.

"Are you both okay?"

"What the fu..."

"I'm so sorry about this. I didn't think you'd stop for the light. But everything's okay. Come and see. There's no damage."

They walk to the back of the car searching for dents. But they can't even find a scratch. The driver is relieved. His Lexus is less than a year old. He wonders how something that felt so forceful could leave no mark.

"Okay. It looks okay, but wait. I want to make sure it starts."

He gets his car going just as the light turns green and the drivers behind him start honking their horns. So he gives the young man a thumbs-up and takes off. The clinic is still 10 minutes away; and he doesn't want to miss his meeting.

"Just what we need," he says, "getting rear-ended in rush-hour traffic."

"Yeah, I'm okay, too; thanks for asking."

"He was following too damn close. That's the problem."

"It could've been worse."

"But the car is fine."

"Oh good. I'm so happy for you." Minutes later, she says, "He seemed like a nice kid."

"Too nice, if you ask me. Probably stoned out of his mind."

Suddenly, the nice kid pulls up along her side of the car. He rolls down his window and yells, "Areyou okay?"

She nods yes and, still shaken, tries to smile.

He mouths back, "I'm so sorry," and, looking somber, eases ahead of them into traffic.

That's when she feels the cramps -- like some core muscle twisting itself into an unnatural shape; and then comes the blood, a slow, steady leak that will stain the seat of his car, reminding him of a minor collision that left neither dent nor bruise.

image: Sean Carman


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