There was a moment ten seconds after the car hit the pole when they stared at one another through the tangled wires of the rear-seat DVD system, their eyes glassy and watering from the shock of the collision.  The steering wheel lay open on his lap, the limp airbag spilling from it like the spewed stomach of a dying fish.  On top of the wheel, on his chest and in her lap, strewn across the dash and crushed console, even out over the pavement, were pieces of pine shingle, freed violently from their boxes in the backseat the instant the car hit.

“There was a pole,” he said to her.

“A car,” she replied, “on the other side.”

They remembered opening their eyes after the crash: images of chipped glass on the pavement and over the dashboard, the satellite radio’s sudden silence, oil pooling beneath the driver’s side front tire and bleeding slowly away into a storm drain.  Memories marched backward like a film in rewind.  The pool of oil retreated from the storm drain and pulled back into the pan.  A plume of steam from the cracked radiator paused and reversed, hissing back into the engine.  The nest of wires above them began to fold in on itself, returning neatly to its cavity in the roof of the car.

He felt the pressure on his back lift as the rear seat twisted back into position, watched the snapped gearshift lift upright and stand solidly against the console. 

Their bodies flung forward.  She felt again the compression of the seatbelt hugging her chest as her wrist flung forward into the radio.  His chin was suddenly stabbing at his chest.  Then her hand flew back toward her with the pain from the radio dial gone; his chin came up and he found the pain in his head was gone.  He felt the wheel complete and solid again in his hands. 

The car backed slowly away from the pole, its jackknifed hood straightening as it went.  The ripples of steel on either side of the car pulled out flat like the creases in a hose when water runs through it.  From a pile of wood splinters near the grill the hood ornament sprung back into position.  Glass chips from the windshield and driver’s side window rose up like petals on a breeze, fitting together in the air to repair their unbroken sheets. 

Then it was zero to sixty in a heartbeat.  They took off in reverse down Washington Avenue as the tilted pole rose upright and a group of kids in an open jeep swerved backward and away from it as their heads came up from their chests and their frightened expressions smoothed away into laughter.  Backward, past the liquor store on the corner where her hand shot to the wheel, turned it up straight and let go. 

“There’s a – ” he cried, and she cried “Jim!”  But then her hands were in her lap and his lightly gripping the wheel as they continued straight back past the grocery and car wash to the corner of Washington and Main.  He spun the wheel and the car whipped back and to the left, reversing to a sudden stop at the slope of their drive before moving more slowly up it.  He saw the garage door open in his mirror.  The car slid past and it closed before them like the mouth of a giant fish.

Before the crash they had sat together here; before she saw the laughing kids in their jeep and before he drove into the pole on the corner. 

She had said, “I love that smell.  It reminds me of camping at Lake George.”

“What smell?”

“It smells like wet pine.”

“Probably the new shingles.”  They were still boxed up in the rear seat.  He hadn’t yet found time to unload

“Ugh.  Half a forest gone so we can have a roof over our heads.”

“I don’t think there are any renewable options for shingles.”

“Well, someone should do something about that.”

She had reached for the radio dial and there was the sudden hum and rise of the station signal: ‘Highway 61’ into a commercial for home decorating.  She pulled a disgusted sneer.  “Ugh.  Who needs that shit?”

“Like you don’t have anything you don’t need.”

“Well, I wish I didn’t.”

His laugh had made them both uncomfortable.  It was like the wheeze of an old man tired of life.

“Better go,” he had said.  “Before we get carbon monoxide poisoning.”

She sang softly, “’I think it can be very easily done…’”

Ten seconds after the car hit the pole they stared at one another through the tangled wires of the rear-seat DVD player.   “There was a pole,” he said.

“There was also a car,” she replied.  They turned stiffly away from each other to stare out the crushed windows, to watch the oil sluicing off into the storm drain and the steam hissing monotonously from the radiator, and wait.

Ryan Burden is computer security analyst in Charleston, South Carolina.  He spends most of his time at work surreptitiously writing, and is annoyed when people ask him what his hobbies are.  He has work currently online at the Quills Quarterly, Wilde Oats, and Writers' Bloc Magazine.

With very few exceptions, I think flash fiction is the writer's equivalent of a trade magazine.  The short form leaves a lot of room for experimentation, and gives us a chance to benefit from each others' successes and mistakes.  From a narrative perspective, I think the crash is a metaphor for the characters' relationship, or their love for/fear of the modern world, or something like that.  In the end it was just an excuse to try reverse action in print.  



Copyright 2009