by Ladee Caid
In an instant, everything could change.
|Word Count: 1,983
Drizzle dampened the pavement. The cool, wet air kept my windows up and prevented me from enjoying the fresh, earthy-scented wind tossing my hair. I navigated the curvy, country road in the warmth of my new blue metallic BMW listening to the stereo. The guitar ripped notes through my speakers as New Noise by Refused began, and I accelerated. I’d had an intense work week and just wanted to get to Mia’s
I met Mia on one rare occasion that I had taken a drive out of the bustling city. My car choked for a drink of petrol, so I pulled into a small gas station in the middle of nowhere. As I walked into the postage stamp building to pay for my gas, a beautiful woman with tight, faded jeans, dusty boots, and a flannel shirt pushed her way out of the door. I stood like a fool gawking. I think I’d even stopped breathing. Her long red tresses and green eyes pinned me where I stood. I stammered to say, “Hello,” and she smiled. When the corners of her mouth lifted and her eyes sparkled, my knees felt like jelly. I felt as if in the presence of a goddess.
As I turned the steering wheel to follow a curve, I thought about the time Mia hinted about getting married. She’d shown me magazine photos of models in white dresses. None of the woman on the pages stood a candle to Mia, and I told her so. Then, it dawned on me as she dragged her slender finger down the skirt of one of the dresses; she wasn’t insecure about her looks. Mia was picturing herself in that dress. I loved her, and I knew she loved me, so why ruin that with a piece of paper. Most everyone I knew from my law firm to my brother acted like high schoolers until the bells rang and the rice flew. It only took about a month before they started complaining. Nope, marriage wasn’t for me. I was content the way things were. The cool thing about Mia was when I’d gotten the inclination she wanted to wed, I explained how I felt, and she told me she was in love and would take me however she could have me. She never brought anything marriage up again.
The road sign suggested that drivers take the turn I was going into at 20 mph, but I could handle 30. I don’t think it would have mattered if I’d been doing the speed limit because on the other side of the bend a tree had fallen. Black bark littered the highway. I gripped the steering wheel and cut hard. The side of my car slammed into the tree, and my head hit the window as the Refused singer screamed. “The new beat; the new beat; the new beat…."
My eyes fluttered open. I didn’t know where I was. The silence was deafening. Even when there is no sound there is something, a ringing in your ears, something. There was nothing. Ahead of me on the other side of the shattered glass that somehow stayed intact, steam billowed. The steering wheel faced the passenger’s seat, and I realized I was in my car. My door was caved and had me crammed into the seat. Glass pooled in my lap, sprinkled across my briefcase, and wedged into the grooves of my umbrella.
Oh yeah, the tree. I smacked into the tree.
I sat for a few moments wondering if anyone would find me. The road wasn’t well traveled since the by-pass had been built. I decided I should try to get out. To my surprise, I slipped from beneath the door and climbed to the passenger’s side with ease. I figured I would feel pain, or stiff at the very least, but no sensation hindered me. Physically, I felt great. However, my emotions were rattled. The gorgeous car I wasn’t finished paying for was mangled, and my insurance…I didn’t even want to think about it.
As soon as I opened the door, I knew I would hear the hissing from under the hood. I don’t know why I thought that when I couldn’t hear it from the broken car door, but I did; and, I could. The noise consumed me. Steam billowed and created a fog in the woods and road, like a swamp in the morning. The hood had buckled, and the grill molded itself around an oak.
I plucked my iPhone from the passenger’s floorboard to dial Mia. She needed to know of my accident. I tapped the screen several times before the phone sluggishly came to life. I dialed Mia’s number, but nothing happened. No matter where I stood, the reception failed.
“You’ve got to be shitting me. Cell towers everywhere, but not here? I’ve found the one spot on the whole damn planet where there is no service.”
I climbed the ditch and walked back toward the city. I strolled along the graveled berm apprehensive a vehicle might barrel down the pavement and not see me through the thick gray gloom. I followed the edge and let my mind wander. I thought about what I would say to my girl, about the damage that had been done, that I should probably have a sheriff come out, about the case we were toiling over at work. I thought about anything that would occupy my mind during the long walk. I looked at my dusty shoes that had been shiny this morning and listened to my steps crush the grit beneath.
My surroundings were odd. I’d been traveling for some time, but the murk never lifted. The haze couldn’t be caused by my car, could it? For as long as I’d walked, I felt as though I should be able to see the tallest of the city’s buildings by now. With that thought, pillars appeared in the distance. I shivered. It seemed strange that my body reacted in such a way, but I shivered again. The cold had gone. I wasn’t chilled. Why did I shudder?
Has the temperature dropped, and I don’t think I feel it because I hit my head? What had the weather report said? Oh yeah, the temperature was supposed to drop and have evening flurries. I hope it doesn’t start snowing. That doesn’t happen during fog, does it?
I looked into the sky, and a snowflake landed just below my lashes.
“You’ve got to be shitting me.”
I thought about my umbrella laying on the car seat covered in glass back at the accident then realized my hand held the u-shaped handle. My briefcase was in my other hand. I didn’t remember picking up either of them. I looked at the objects as if they were intruders.
I must have hit my head harder than I thought. I hadn’t come out of this unscathed after all.
With a thwack, I opened the umbrella.
Now, I had something new to worry about. The roads would get icy. I looked down to step further from the blacktop, but the terrain beneath me had changed. It was slick and smooth like smoky glass. The road had turned into what looked like a metal ribbon with grooves and seams, like guides for a trolley or some space-age train. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen.
What is going on?
I looked ahead of me, and the city still loomed. It gave me comfort. I shuttered.
This shivering has got to be a neurological thing. I think I’ve damaged my brain. As soon as I’m done dealing with the car, I’m going to the hospital.
“Hey. You there.”
A female voice called, and I looked around. A pale figure trotted toward me. She wore a plain summer dress that clung to her, her feet were bare, and her long, dark, stringy hair pasted to her cheeks. She looked as though she’d been dipped in a pool or got caught in a rainstorm.
“Oh my gosh, another human being. Do you know how nice it is to see another person? You're real aren’t you? I’m not making you up?”
My brow furrowed.
“Of course I’m real.”
I searched her face as if I could figure out the meaning of her words there. She stared at me and smiled as if she were in love with me. She clasped her hands, shrugged her shoulders, and sighed. Why was she looking at me like that?
“Why are you wet? Aren’t you cold?”
She shook her head.
“I’m not cold. It’s summer for me.”
Why, this girl is delirious. And I thought I had problems.
“I’m headed for the city. Come with me.”
“Oh, neat-o. You’re going to a city.”
“I’m not going to a city. I’m going to that city.”
I jabbed my hand toward the horizon. She didn’t even look. She just smiled.
“Okay, I’ll walk with you. It’s been so long since I’ve seen another person; I’m ecstatic.”
I guess I’m going to the hospital first.
We started walking. I moved the umbrella to my other hand, so it would cover her too.
“Wait, take my jacket. It’s chilly, I think, and you are wet.”
“You're such a gentleman.”
She shrugged again.
“I don’t want your jacket though.”
“Are you sure? It’s snowing.”
It was the first time I’d seen her without that silly smile plastered on her face.
“I said I don’t. Quit trying to make your reality mine.”
I pulled my jacket back over my shoulders.
“Okay, I’m sorry.”
The smile returned. We walked in silence for a bit.
“You didn’t tell me. Why are you wet?
She lost her smile again and looked to the glass beneath us. I shivered.
“I don’t want to forget, so I stay wet.”
What sense did that make? I waited for her to continue. I needed to hear the logic of it.
“I thought my life sucked, so I took it away from me. I would give anything to have it back. It wasn’t so bad after all.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying the man that I loved the most left me because I slept with his best friend…and his brother. I treated him horribly, and all he ever wanted to do was make me happy. He left, and he wouldn’t come back. I begged, but he didn’t love me anymore. Then, he married another girl. They were so happy. I saw them being happy, and it made me feel sorry for myself. So, I jumped off of the bridge into the Chicago River. I thought I hadn’t accomplished what I’d set out to do because, well, here I am.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m saying I eventually figured out I was dead.”
Oh wow, she really is gone.
“And, so are you.”
I jerked my umbrella from over her and took a step away.
“What? I’m not dead.”
“Oh, you haven’t figured it out yet.”
How dare she try to imprint her delusion onto me.
“I’m not dead.”
I realized I was yelling.
“Haven’t you noticed that if you expect something to happen it does?”
“No. I haven’t.”
I’d had enough. She could be crazy all by herself. I started to walk away.
“What do you hear?” she asked.
I kept walking, but I listened. I didn’t hear anything.
“Hear the sparrows chirping?”
And, then I did. I heard them chattering to each other in their playful way. I stopped and shuttered.
“The way I figure it,” she said, “is, we are in limbo. For some reason, we are stuck here.”
I shivered again, and couldn’t stop. I started vibrating like I was undulating. It was the weirdest sensation I’d ever had. Everything around me disappeared, then turned black. My head began to hurt. At first, I felt a dull ache that turned into a throb. My body felt battered, damaged, and heavy. So very heavy. I heard rhythmic beeping and air compression. I moaned. Then, I heard the most beautiful sound ever.
“He’s awake. Nurse, he’s awake. Nurse?” Mia said.
The scuffle of soft soled shoes.
The warm hand on my cheek felt like heaven.
“Oh, Matthew. I missed you.”
A tear fell on my forehead, and I knew Mia was crying. I didn’t want her to cry. I wanted her only to forever be happy. I loved her more than life itself. Nothing mattered anymore but her. Not my car, not my wrecked body, not even a piece of paper. It took me a moment to croak out what I had to say.
“Will you marry me?”
There was silence. I wondered if she was there until she started sobbing.
“Yes. Oh yes. Yes, I’ll marry you.”
I slipped back into darkness for a little nap. I didn’t know how long it would take for me to heal, but it wasn’t important. What mattered was Mia.