by Terry DeHart

He’s driving in the Sierra Nevada with his wife and their small daughters and the kids are fighting and he can’t take much more of it. He’s tired of everything, really, but then he forgets about the rote of fighting children and harried wife and underpaid work and his occasional excuses for laughter. He escapes from his messy, loud days, but not because of any wonderful thing he didn’t expect to happen—but by the opposite. Tragedy and dread have brought him here, though he hasn’t gone anywhere since the accident occurred. It hasn’t happened all that long ago. In fact, he’s still in the loud, hot crashing of it, and only now seeing how things will end up.

The car has gone through the guardrail and they’re falling. They have no choice now, but to roll and bounce and shred. He’s a high school physics teacher, and so he understands these things. Microseconds turn to years and the violence doesn’t reach him because he’s protected by the car’s seatbelt and safety cage, but he can see it’s not going well for his wife and their small daughters. He tries to will the damage upon himself, but all he can do is watch as the forces of nature tear his family apart. He’s horrified by the cruelty of the equations he’d written on chalkboards. All thoughts of bodily needs and monetary expenditures and his longing for peace and quiet are gone. He wants to go back to the time of squalling children and short-tempered wife. He wants to revel in the sounds of anger and concern, and if that isn’t possible, he wants the accident to continue for all eternity so that at least they can be together. The car is still shredding itself against the stony precipice and his loves are gone now, he can feel it, and he’s never heard such quiet in all his life.

The tumbling continues and he knows he’s alone and that the violence won’t come for him unbidden, and so between impacts he opens the car door and unbuckles his seatbelt and the jaws of nature clamp down on him and pull him out into the maelstrom. He tastes rock and dust and the steely gush of blood, and then suddenly he’s back in the car, driving the winding mountain road, the sky going yellow and silhouetting the pines and the guardrails and the rocky ridgelines, so that everything seems to be tall and two-dimensional and lovely. He wipes the tears from his cheeks and sits up straight and drives carefully. His young daughters are fighting over the last bag of potato chips and his wife is shouting at them to behave themselves, to please, please, please at least try to pretend they are civilized human beings, and there are tears and wails and accusations and all the usual racket of life, and he’s the happiest man who ever lived, to hear it.

Terry DeHart lives in California with his wife and two daughters. He works as a technical writer at NASA/Ames Research Center and helps his father-in-law produce a fine cabernet. Two of his stories were published in bananafish  in 1998, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.