The third crash was different — not quite in their yard this time, but caused by too much speed on the same familiar straightaway, and by the same sharp curve just before the house. A car had swung its way almost into the ditch, one front wheel over onto the loose stones of the shoulder, but this time the driver had cut the wheel sharply, in time to get his car back onto the road. He was successful in that, but in the process he flung his car across the centre line and straight into the path of a dump truck heading in the opposite direction. Neither driver had a chance to react after that, and the accident was awesome in its sheer brutality.
There were no pieces travelling around the car in their delicate prescribed arcs, finding their way to a new position along explainable lines. This was all hard, full, spectacular stop, the car crumpling abruptly underneath the huge engine of the truck, the back of the car accordioning into the front as it kept moving forwards.
Inside the house, the head-on impact sounded like an explosion. John jumped off the couch, knowing immediately what had happened. As he ran for the door, Mary threw the book she had been reading at him, the pages whiffling and fluttering, but she missed.
John could see how serious the accident was as soon as he got out the door. It was the way the dump truck was crouched over the crushed car like a cat over a small and absolutely dead mouse. The driver’s door on the truck was open, the driver running around the car from one side to the other, trying to see inside. The roof, what you could see of it, was crushed flat down to the tops of the doors, so the vehicle looked more like a sheet-steel tank than anything else.
There was an absolute absence of sound, everything startled into silence.
John could see that other cars were stopping, people piling out in a rush until they got close enough to the car to take a good look. Then they were simply slumping away, leaning on their cars as if they needed the support, as if their bones and muscles had suddenly developed an inexplicable weakness.
Glass was thrown out and away from the car in all directions, every single mirror and window broken explosively so that the pieces were intermingled in a great wide circle all around the car.
Then the dump truck driver was sitting on the ground in shock, his face covered with his hands and his back against the front wheel of the truck. He was moaning, his legs thrown out in front of him as if he’d lost the ability to move at all. Something was oozing from the bottom of the crushed car, but John was too far away to tell whether it was blood or transmission fluid. Later, he’d decide it had to be blood. It sounded better that way.
Up close, it was hard to make out anything, and it wasn’t until he heard the details on the news that it was clear there had been three people in the car — and that all of them were dead. The car was so totally destroyed that John had a hard time deciding just what it was he was looking at — but that confusion would shrink with each telling of the story, the details settling themselves more solidly every time through.
Minutes after the fire trucks roared down the road and stopped, John saw a firefighter step away from the side of the car, walk across the road, bend at the waist and carefully throw up in the ditch.
John found himself edging in far closer than he ever had before, and he felt almost offended when one of the firefighters rudely pushed him back out of the way. “If you’d just step back a bit, sir,” the firefighter said, but John found the “sir” hard and sharp, as if the firefighter was also making some kind of judgment he didn’t appreciate.
There was occasional steam coming from the front of the car, and the two front wheels had disappeared under the dump truck. There were long, slow discussions among the firefighters about the best way to move the heavy truck. They had managed to lift enough of the roof on one side of the car to peer carefully inside the flattened wreck. No one was rushing anymore.
John was still caught up in the sheer drama of the scene when a newspaper reporter saw him and came over, asking questions about the crash. It was strange how much John enjoyed that, he thought later. But he had enjoyed it, enjoyed it tremendously, all the while keeping his face as respectful as he could, telling the reporter about the seriousness of the crash, about all three of the crashes, leading the reporter up across the lawn to show him the healing scar in the grass and the sharp stumps, now starting to turn grey, of the clipped-off maples, agreeing when the reporter asked if his photographer could take John’s picture for the story he was doing.
The next day, they had put his picture with the story on the bottom of the front page, and John thought he looked properly solemn and not the least bit smug at all. Turning to the obituaries and holding the paper up in front of him, John wondered if he should go to the funerals. He imagined standing there in church, formally dressed, impassive yet serious, while family members nudged each other and looked over at the man they’d seen in the paper. The unfortunate guy with three fatal crashes right in his yard. The guy who had tried to help. Somehow, John had managed to convince himself that standing there was included in helping. In the end, he thought better of going to the funerals. It would take far too much time out of the day, he thought.
To be continued…