On the Way To and Mostly After a Car Wreck by Marvin Shackelford

for R.

We left the harvest festival and drove up the highway toward Santa Fe to meet them at the car wreck. She told me we couldn’t miss it, the truck and the tree and the short line of traffic backed up and waiting for the state trooper to wave them on. I certainly didn’t miss the tree, she said, and she laughed. She said her parents weren’t coming. Everything was fine. I didn’t have to come if I didn’t want. A wrecker was on its way. We stopped for cigarettes, weren’t carded, and pressed on into twilight. “Interstate Love Song” played on the stereo as we drove out of town, but no one ever believes me about it. We found the roadside empty of all but her pickup and the cop’s flashing lights. I parked up the hill and walked back to the scene. She’d hit the curve and gone straight, plowed into a tall pine that looked none the worse for wear. Her truck was a goner, but I didn’t say so. She pulled open the collar of her shirt a little to show the mark, already a bruise, the seatbelt left. Otherwise nothing, she said. I wrapped my arms around her, and we shuddered. She said she was sorry, and I told her not to be. We could stay mostly dry beneath the trees but it wasn’t easy. My friend took her friend up to my car, and they sat smoking our cigarettes and making their own memories of the night. At some point the trooper suggested we climb into his cruiser. Watch your knees, he said. It’s supposed to be tight, keeps them from kicking around. You’ll have to knock if you want out. In a soft strobe of blue and burry drizzle drawing slow, aching rivulets down the windows we grew very warm again. The glass fogged, muffled the night. I told her what she’d missed: a couple carnival games, cakewalk, some gospel singing. A hayride that circled the church grounds and some old man’s neatly tended pastures. Did he have cows? she wanted to know, and I said there were cows, black-and-white Holsteins and a couple Jerseys and a bull with a ring in his nose who nearly dragged his head on the ground, turning to watch us pass on the wagon. We feared being charged, and we smiled and were disappointed when we weren’t. There hadn’t been any cattle at all, but she liked that. Really you didn’t miss anything, I promised. Without you it was nothing. We agreed it was okay, and we were happy. I kissed at her ear and we waited a while, waited until a new orange light flashed and flooded down the highway into us and the trooper opened the door. He said it was time. We never tapped on the glass, asked for our exit, made our escape. I couldn’t imagine an end to the evening.

Marvin Shackelford is author of the collections Endless Building and Tall Tales from the Ladies’ Auxiliary, forthcoming from Alternating Current. His work has, or soon will have, appeared in The Kenyon Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, Split Lip, and elsewhere. He resides in Southern Middle Tennessee, earning a living in agriculture.


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