by Matt Biundo
“It’s because you don’t listen to me,” Julia said. She leaned against the passenger door, squeezed as far away from the driver’s seat as physically possible – even if only a few inches.
“Of course I do,” Ryan answered monotonously, eyes locked on the moonlit highway.
“Ryan, we’ve had this fight every day for the past week. You hear me, but you’re not listening.”
Ryan sat with his hands firmly at 10-and-2. He neither smiled nor frowned, his stoic despondence seeming only to prove his girlfriend’s point. “Ok. What do you want me to do?” he finally mustered. He glanced over at Julia, watching her body language do all the talking.
Ryan shifted his gaze back to the road. There was a deer standing right in his lane. He slammed on his brakes and quickly hit his turn signal to move left. Ryan’s argument with Julia was distracting, even if he didn’t show it. He was watching the road but wasn’t really seeing it.
The truck in the next lane had no time to stop either and barreled directly into the back-left side of Ryan’s car, sending them careening forward into the darkness. The truck slowed down and eventually stopped, but Ryan’s sedan continued to slide out of control. After four seconds, the momentum of the car was too swift for the friction of the tires against the cracked asphalt roadway and the truck driver could only watch as Ryan and Julia flipped end-over-end, only restrained by their seatbelts.
180 degrees. 360, a full flip. And suddenly, 720 degrees. Yellow and orange sparks every time the metal frame met the ground. Glass, shattered. The deer scampered away. Red paint and plastic littered the empty road.
Ryan watched through the front windshield – before it gave way completely – and saw the world spin counterclockwise. Each spin, flashing a different color, never in focus. Blurs of luminescent life. Every moment filled with a new beautiful hue until it was replaced with the next. Green, like the juniper trees that lined Mt. Hayden, where he and Julia went on their first camping trip together. Then bright red, her go-to nail polish color. A cool blue, like the collar he bought for Cooper, the Pitbull-mix they adopted together two years before. The colors flashed quickly across his face like in his favorite scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey. On a whim last summer, the couple decided to eat mushrooms together and re-watch their favorite film. Julia laughed at Ryan as he sat on the couch slack-jawed and singularly focused. Cooper had taken advantage of their collective inattention and stole most of the remaining pizza they had ordered.
And the air smelled like roasted marshmallows. On a separate trip, Ryan couldn’t believe Julia had never tried a s’more before. A little slice of heaven, he had joked. He held her hand as she moved the stick towards the fire, and Ryan guided them to a spot low in the fire pit, insisting she wanted the heat – not the flame – to properly cook her marshmallow.
And all around them an inescapable sound of metal scraping, sparking. His beat-up car that was still running, that he was still planning to drive into the ground. Why buy a new car, he reasoned to Julia, when this one runs fine? She learned to ignore the rusted metal and aesthetic inadequacies, especially if it meant saving money for their travels. The car had plenty of room for the two of them plus Cooper and a couple of bags. They could pack up and drive anywhere.
But in the chaos, Ryan wasn’t thinking about camping or dog walks or any part of their decade-long relationship. In the middle of the second full flip, the roof began to collapse, and an errant piece of metal struck Ryan’s head. As their car and his body began to swirl, his brain was thrown around inside his skull. His eyes remained open. The car finally came to a stop in the quiet evening air. Crickets chirped all around them, and only the truck’s fractured headlights shone their way. Upside down, Ryan’s glassy eyes were locked with Julia’s. The two sat motionless in a new kind of perpetual limbo. Their eyes met, but they could not see, as each looked directly through the other.
Matt Biundo earned a BA in creative writing and MA in literature from California State University, East Bay. His work has been published in journals in the US and UK. He continues to reside in the Bay Area as a writer and educator. Follow him on twitter at @BiundoMatt.