By definition, an accident is a thing unplanned. Unintentional. Unprepared for. Most often resulting in injury or harm, loss or damage. This one was no different — whether deer in the road; patch of gravel; or a gradual drift from within those lines painted on pavement, that passive suggestion to maintain double yellow to left and white to right. The cause is now lost — leapt away into darkness, perhaps, or sprayed out beneath skidding tires, or unconsciously crossed. But an accident, by all definitions, it was.
Where, a moment before, all had been a chaos of noise and motion, all has suddenly jarred to a stop — except for the aged vehicle, which coughs and wheezes, its engine a hymn of syncopated pings. A miracle that the three within remain whole — limbs properly jointed, tendons and muscles snugged over unbroken bones. Bruises, yes — about hips and torsos and shoulders where seatbelts gripped and hugged and held.
Shaken, they slowly exit the vehicle. Cool night awaits. Latticework of grasses. Cloudless indigo sky. Only stars to observe and wink in silent testimony. A boy, roughly ten years old, slips from the back seat. Standing aside, he leaves the back door flung wide and watches as the man pries his grip from the steering wheel to emerge from the driver’s seat. The boy’s gaze remains fixed on the man, who staggers breathless around the door’s extended wing to stoop and bend and reach. Attention unflagging, the boy notes the man’s trembling efforts to reach into the back seat, to lift the infant from her car seat, to settle her — a pink confection — protectively against his shoulder.
But he does not merely observe — the boy listens, body taut, straining. He listens to the disjointed thread of words tripping like guilt from the man’s tongue…the desire to go back, back in time, to avoid this fact, this truth, this stark reality that leaves him, them, frightened, trembling in a dark and weedy roadside strewn with shattered glass, and grateful to be so. To go back and change the course of events. To avoid the accident entirely. But — the boy hears the stream of words catch and falter, change direction — to do so, to go back, to change the delicate time line might mean to go back too far, before she, the infant that even now rests contentedly within the slope of his neck and shoulder, is even born…
All of this, the boy hears and digests. Minute expressions flit over his features, fleet as thought and stars’ chill and distant light. He has heard his father’s fears and grief and desire. For a moment, the boy had steeled himself to try again, to attempt to open another fissure — but upon hearing the completion of his father’s spinning thoughts, he puts such tasks aside. Once was enough. It brought them here, to this place, where they are all together. Each of them whole. None of them lost. Unlike that other stream of time, the one that he had just bent and wrinkled and frayed to extract them all and bring them safely here. His father does not need to know. And, though it does not show — in countenance or posture — the boy is relieved.