By Steven Flores
The car crossed over the median and crashed, head-on, into the passenger van–empty, you find out later, of its typical brood of children, who were spending that evening at a soccer tournament.
The thunderous crash, a deafening concussion of metal, was worse than you could have imagined, and then you saw it–Was it? Yes. It was–A man. You saw a man flying through the air and for a second, maybe, you hoped he would float smoothly away with the flock of birds spraying from the wild roadside brush.
Still somehow driving, you pretend the man is something you saw under the big top with your father when you were six years old. A man given ephemeral flight; propelled upward into the sky to arrive safely at his net.
What a lark! What a plunge! you think, and you hate the inner workings of your goddamned mind, this constant sink of literature, this frenzied need to live like a book, and you watch this man, car-crash acrobat, hurtling through the air. You realize, later, that even then, with a man dying, you felt sorry for yourself! You thought back to your childhood, to that moment at the circus when you learned to identify with fictions. On the ride home that night, you’d suddenly imagined yourself propelled through the air, flying, like the man shot out of the cannon.
You wish you could just fly away. It is only hours since you were handed a heavy stack of papers–part of the procedure following sexual contact between student and professor. Your wife will soon know about the suspension without pay. The children you never wanted, never expected to have, will hate you forever.
And like them, you hate your father. In this instant, you hate your father. You hate him because, as you gape at the man flying through the air, you think back again, to that car ride in your childhood, staring at the stars, and telling your father that you, too, will one day fly like the man in the circus. And your father–this man who had seen men exploded out of trenches and left rotting on foreign soils–still had the love and selflessness to indulge in his son’s caprice, to encourage his dreams. Maybe someday you will, he said.
You wish he would have scolded you, would have taken you down a few pegs, so that one morning, at 32, you wouldn’t have to look in the mirror and confront this single, unsettling fact: You are a nub of a man. You are namby-pamby impotent man. To think, your father: Black lungs. Coal mines grown inside and metastasized. And you: wasting time with “the world of ideas,” the “life of the mind.” What an idiot you were, pretending books could take you on flights to greener pastures. You thought that recklessness was a thrill, that it was pure fiction. You were wrong.
Your father would have never done what you did. Your father had nothing to prove. You realize you don’t hate your father. You wish you were more like him. It is yourself you hate.
You want to go after the man. For a split second–is it disgrace? Atonement?–you want to cross the median as well, propel yourself through the air at astonishing speeds in the hope that, with this final gesture, you will fly gracefully through the shit of this world and land gently in another fiction. Then, you snap out of it. You realize instead that you want to shake the car-crash acrobat, dead-on-impact man, and tell him what a fool he’s been. There is no greener pasture. This is the only life there is.
You forget about the man. You exit the road, pulling calmly onto the shoulder. Later on, you will shudder at the carnage, and at that odd ability of yours to remain calm, to pull a body from a vehicle on fire. You will never admit it–because you refuse to even talk about it–but you will be shocked that you remembered everything–everything–you learned from your brother, the first responder, as first you pull from his burning van this other, unsuspecting father, and then incredibly, miraculously, keep him alive.
Your story will be printed on the front page of the paper. You will be called a hero. Your wife, too shocked by the news of that day, will refuse to comment, will be unable to comment. Then, in the next paper, on page three, will be the other lurid story–hushed-up, but there in full nonetheless. You will live some time in semi-public disgrace and adulation. But that is later.
For now, you decide, I will help.