Accidents will happen. (Well, that was a freebie.)

We took a left out of the Applebee’s parking lot. “Soon” had looped back around to “Only Shallow” on the stereo, and as we came to a red light, I ejected Loveless, pulled a random disc from the console and pushed it in the slot. The dash gears whirred and Laura said, “I like the way the cds go in.” I looked down to see what she was talking about - the gentle slant in the instrument panel that pulls cds in at an upward angle - as the first song started.

As it turned out, I hit the SUV in front of us to the tune of “Little Discourage” by Idlewild.

She took off through the intersection at a good clip, and I followed. I couldn’t see that the traffic light was red over the roof of the Bravada. She hard-stopped in the seconds it took me to glance from the road to the blue-lit dashboard. I looked up in time to see fifteen feet melt into ten feet before my foot found the brake, ten feet bleed into six feet before the ABS shuddered and yanked the car right and then left, six feet shiver into two feet before the inevitability set in. “I am going to hit this Oldsmobile SUV.”


A tiny earthquake of pumping struts and cracking plastic. The aquiline fender of my Civic tucked under the Bravada’s back bumper. A fanciful vignette played in time lapse: a fist-fight, a lawsuit, prison issue oranges, a million dollars in debt. Eventually, I clicked the shifter up three notches to park, and down another notch to reverse. Backed up two feet. Stopped, still ten feet into the intersection. All around a creepy calm. No rubberneckers, ambulance chasers, paddy wagons, death moths. I said, “I should probably back up farther,” but then the driver door of the Bravada swung open, and a beautiful essence-of-Iowa whitegirl, impeccably dress-casual, stepped out onto the pavement. I opened my door and climbed halfway out.

“Where do you want to go?” she shouted.

“What?” Me, not understanding the gist.

“Where do you want to go?” Her, approaching me now.

I pointed to a parking lot. “Over there,” I yelled back.

“Ok.” Very pretty girl I just hit with my car.

She stepped onto the running board and back into the cab and shot off past the light, which had turned green in the hullabaloo. Nearing the lot entrance, she turned on her left blinker, and I said to Laura, “Wouldn’t it be great if I just kept going?” I thought about just going, flooring it. But I turned in after her, meek as a lamb.

We pulled neatly into spaces in the middle of the largely empty complex. She was already out, crouched under her car’s tail. I reached into the glove box for the insurance card that my mom had thoughtfully coated with contact paper. I went around the back of my car and said, “I’m not going to lie, that was really embarrassing.”

She laughed. “It really doesn’t look that bad,” she said.

Her passenger, a frumpier, beglassed girl, swooped around to the hood of my car. “It really doesn’t look that bad,” she said.

“Well, here’s my information,” I said, waving the shiny white card at them.

“You know what,” said the driver, “I think we can just let you go. Unless you want my information for something.”

“It really doesn't look that bad,” her friend offered, running her hand over the hood of my car.

I crouched under the Olds next to her, posed to inspect but not processing anything, heart ballooning with adrenaline. “Why would I want your information?”

“Well, I was the one who went through the red light.”

“But… I hit you.”

“I think I could just let you go.”


It’s hard to remember, but I think she clapped me on the shoulder. A solicitous, familial pat. I must have looked very guilty. She smiled.

I walked back to my car and sat down, heavy. “I don’t know if I should wait for them to go first, or if I should go first, or what,” I said. I looked over at their car, and both of the girls’ faces blazed blue from cell phone LCDs.

I drove away.

Don’t cross the road,
You’re under a spell –
A broken violin.
Don’t cross the road,
You’re under a spell
Of broken violence.
~Idlewild, “Little Discourage”

1 comment:

arstreeter said...

Insurance companies almost without exception assign fault to the rearender regardless of what the rearendee did to further the situation. The logic is that you should be following at a safe enough distance to stop regardless of whatever ridiculous maneuvers are being made in front of you.

You have just been informed against your will. And you are welcome.