Sixty Over, Easy
We didn’t intend to hurt anybody. We were kids in chariots, carving country roads like our private coliseum. I hadn’t even entertained the possibility of danger until I saw them, an old man and his dog, along for a morning stroll, popping into view at the tip of the bend. We were side-by-side as we approached and going forty over, maybe fifty. If a classmate asked, I hoped to have the courage to say that it was sixty over, easy, recited as casually as what I had for breakfast.
I’d later claim that, no, we weren’t racing—why would we be in a hurry to get to school? It was for the unspoken thrill of that moment: locked eyes in a rear-view mirror, one accelerated first, then the other. Screaming onward, chasing squirrels from bushes and shaking birds out of trees. Passing back-and-forth like it were legal. Laughing and carefree until that man and his dog popped up from the landscape like a whack-a-mole. Laughing, probably, until one of us hit the brakes while the other turned their wheel.
This is how I learned what eighty miles per hour looks like when distilled into a slideshow of how many things the brain can fear per second.¹
Our gym teacher once told us the story of how, when he himself was a teen, he lifted a vehicle off of a loved one, the cocktail of fear and adrenaline granting him impossible strength. When the first responders arrive, they tend to one driver and question the other. The latter is not even strong enough to lift his head. His father, among the EMTs, would later say, “When I got the call, I was praying it wasn’t you.”
The audience of three—the man, his dog, and I—have separate accounts of the scene.
“I saw them from across the street,” the man says, pointing. “They were racing.”
His dog has no further input.
I want to argue, to pound my fists like the stubborn teen I was, to turn to Mark so he could clarify with me that, no, we weren’t racing—why would we be in a hurry to get to school? But Mark couldn’t hear us. You can’t hear much when inside an ambulance.
When I finally testify, it comes out as a whisper: I didn’t intend to hurt anybody.
¹ One car slows, falls to the back. Its driver watches as the other vehicle fishtails, turns the wrong way, evens out, skids with no sound. For a single frame, the picture looks fine. It’s not even long enough to warrant hope. The car catches the edge of the pavement and releases, launching in a direction cars aren’t designed to travel. Airborne for impossibly long. The other vehicle has already pulled over. Sound returns and one name is being repeated over and over. He is bleeding but breathing, and manages to pull himself out from the overturned car. It had spiraled in the air, unearthed a garden when it crashed, and rolled once more on the ground, sliding until it stopped only a few feet away from clawing a new opening into someone’s home. It is quieter now than it has ever been.
Short piece this week and, to varying degrees of success, I tried a few different (for me) things with it. For one, it’s nonfiction instead of fiction. I find it more difficult to evaluate stories of nonfiction from a literary standpoint, often wondering if I think the piece is “good” simply due to my personal closeness to the event(s). Hopefully, as readers, you are able to glean something from my work. This is also the first piece I’ve done where I intentionally change tense midway through, as well as the first where I’ve employed footnotes. I’m still split on both of those decisions, although I think the footnotes were a more interesting choice than using italics, which is how I wrote it originally.
Other than that, it’s been a busy week here. Wrote an additional two short stories, one of which needs further revision before I’ll be satisfied, while the other rests in an inbox and awaits the mercy of an editor. The story that I mention last week, “Bumper History,” has been published online over at Longshot Island and can be read here.
Once again, thank you for reading. Hope all is well, and don’t be afraid to chime in and say hello. Fifty stories to go.