He left the house on muscle memory, keys in hand, the steps to the convertible measured out perfectly thanks to repetition. Firing the engine, backing out of the driveway, even the first several turns were accomplished involuntarily, without the meticulous preflight checks that were his habit. It was a beautiful spring day and the breeze swirled inside the car as though nothing in the world was wrong.
He recovered his senses before the light at Haystack Valley Road and sat idling, the clutch in and the car in first. Waiting in neutral would have been an extra effort, and his feelings were beginning to move beyond neutral. At the green he popped the clutch out too fast and stalled the car, encouraging shouts and horns from onlookers not so much inconvenienced as amused by the Man in the Fancy Red Car. He quickly restarted and slammed through three gears in quick succession, just to show them. He was still in the game, still in control, and fully capable of figuring this out.
The giant interchange to the freeway was smooth and new; everyone had been dealing with detours and workarounds for months. Soaring arcs of concrete tied four elevated roads to each other and the ramps below, and in the middle of the day the action was all high above. The locals weren’t yet accustomed to the new order and were only starting to explore the maze. He spotted the turn for his choice and snapped the wheel hard left to get the jump on the oncoming line of cars. He was confident that the car could handle the physics of it, and near the completion of the arc he laid into the gas pedal.
Perhaps because of the slight downgrade, the back end lost traction. He heard the RPMs go higher and saw the concrete abutments ahead start sliding to the right. Everything began to slow down.
His foot came off the gas, but he did not brake. His mind surrendered the car to his body, which felt the spin, felt the momentum, dissipated the panic. How could this have happened? He was such a cautious man, at least when it came to this sort of thing. The steering wheel vibrated in his hands as if
demanding his attention. Wasn’t there something in some book, about turning into the skid? The gear shift shuddered and he slapped it into neutral, letting his foot come off the clutch. He was fairly sure the convertible wouldn’t roll, wouldn’t let the ground snap his neck. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, this turn of events. He’d been dealt a bad hand or two before; sometimes you had to man up, double down. The important thing was to take control. The steering wheel fought him as he leaned left and
One hundred sixty-five.
he became aware of the sound, as if it had always been there but he was only just now noticing it, the way a television can be in the background until the newscaster mentions a tragedy and names your block, and then you wondered what you missed. The sound of squealing tires that makes everyone tense for the crushing sound that might be delayed but which always comes.
Two hundred twenty.
The ballet continued and he lost sight of the road. Only briefly. Just for a moment. It was the pressure, the physics, the physical; the separation of body and mind. He could see where he’d been, up on the rise, the downward angle of the ramp, how he’d misjudged. He remembered the long sloping curve and how he’d realized too late what had gone wrong.
And she had been stronger. She had been the one to face it, to face him, to take control and man up. To make him realize at once why he loved her and why he feared her: she would always get what she wanted.
Three hundred sixty.
Turning into the skid was only sending him deeper into the spin. He had to get it back. The road was showing itself again, the lazy turn to the left. She had made the decision and he’d agreed to it, though he knew his input wasn’t particularly relevant. He slowly turned the wheel to the right, punched the clutch,
Three hundred eighty-five.
judged his speed and slid the shift lever into third
Three hundred ninety-seven.
and laid on the gas.
The tires bit the asphalt and the little car clawed at the last remaining edge of ribbon it could. The traveling horizon slowed and showed him the two hundred feet before the road would slip between two walls of concrete.
Four hundred fifteen degrees.
And he closed the distance squarely, accelerating down the pavement and feeling the rush and confidence of one passed by death. The steering wheel was shuddering slightly and the wind in his face was bringing him tears, but his mind was clear. He would not be a father. He would not go back to look for the marks for several years. By then the interchange had been demolished anyway.