There’s a moment in everyone’s life when everything you’ve ever done or experienced, everything you’ve ever seen, heard, felt, or tasted converges, intersects in one millisecond of realization and clarity. And in that one millisecond everything in your life means everything and everything in your life means nothing at all.
For Roger Dukes, driving carefree in his Jag, that moment was now.
Prior to that moment: Roger had had lunch at the Yacht Club with his friends, Justin Hood and Conrad Bipp. They had talked, of course, about their sailing, vessels, vacations past and future, fine wines, restaurants, investments, alma mater football (Princeton’s team was a joke this year, but, what else was new?), their wives (during which Conrad, recently divorced had been mostly silent with a hard-bitten look on his face), their children (at which point, Conrad turned his head away and stared out over the lake, apparently deep in thought and pain), religion, politics, the crumbling (for most) economy (none of those concerns for any of these three fellows, currently – business, as usual, was booming, and there were always the inheritances to fall back on), and, ironically, the hereafter.
And then, just like that, in a split second, the stag was there in the middle of the road, there was a flash antlers and fur and the crash of impact – the dark, bloody branches crashing through the glass, the brown mass of coarse tan fur and hide, and an awful burned smell – while the car was spinning like a top on the road and visions of Roger’s life were flashing, just like he’d always heard happened in such moments – hundreds, thousands of images in that millisecond, from his kissing his wife, Natalie, after their wedding vows, the day old Carruthers shook his hand, gave him a Cuban cigar, and made him a partner at the firm, back to his days playing catch with his dad, that old drunken bastard, catching his first fish, his first day of school, his mother waving as he got on the school bus, his first visit from the tooth fairy, and even things he didn’t remember, back to his first step, his birth, and swimming around in the womb.
“So, what do you think, so far?” David Wallis asks his wife, Claire.
She hands him back the single sheet of paper. “Not bad,” she says. “Pretty good so far. I like your images.” And then, looking at him quizzically, “You think about death a lot, don’t you? Almost as much as sex.”
“I don’t think about sex that much, despite what you may think.”
“They say men think about sex every three minutes. Is that true?”
“Where did they, whoever they are, get those numbers? No, I sure don’t think about sex every three minutes. Not anymore, at least,” he said, with an intended crooked smile.
“Death, well, yes, I guess I think about it some. I’m fifty-five years old. My father died at fifty-eight. So…I think about it.”
“What’s going to happen next? In the story.”
He rubs his chin. “I’m not sure. I was thinking maybe some middle-class guy who lost his job and lives in his car comes out of the woods and saves him.”
“Ohhhh,” she says, with an unpleasant look on her face. “Isn’t that…a little cliché? You don’t want to hit your readers over the head with your moral, do you?”
“No, no. Wouldn’t want to do that.”
“I’m going to make myself some tea. Want some?”
She leaves the room and he stares at the screen in front of him. “Shit,” he says to himself. A little cliché. What does she know about it? She’s a pediatrician. Doesn’t even read fiction. Mostly just those medical journals detailing new cases about exotic childhood diseases in New Guinea, Angola, and the like. And he’s had stuff published, maybe not where he thought he’d be by now – The Podunk Review, The Binghamton Journal, places like that – but it is something.
He needs to get out for a while.
He heads to the kitchen.
“What’s up?” she says, looking up from her tea.
“Just out.” He doesn’t look at her.
“Don’t be long,” she says. “Dinner’ll be ready in a about hour.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”
“Okay. Be careful.”
He doesn’t reply.
He starts the engine of the old MG (bought the year before, she said, to soothe his midlife crisis, to which he replied “Too late for that”). Listens to the engine hum, thinking about what she said the night before as they were lying in bed, after he said he was ready to go again. How she laughed and said, “You’re not twenty-five anymore, you know, Dave,” to which he felt his heart drop and he stopped brushing her hair and said, with a sigh, “I’m not sure I ever really was.”
He drives down Sunnydale Drive with the top down, along the lakeside, then turns into the park. Cruising, feeling the early fall air blowing through his hair, what is left of it anyway. Not twenty-five anymore. Well, maybe not, he thinks, but I still have a little spunk left in me. Picking up speed. Feeling good, exhilarated. Driving always does this for him. Makes him feel young, renewed, experiencing the freedom of the ride.
He glances at his clock, turns on the music – ‘Dream On’, Aerosmith – remembering the days, back in school, when everything in the world seemed possible, when life seemed like a road that would go on forever, like the goddamned Yellow Brick Road. Coming to a hill, gunning the engine, feeling its raw power beneath him. Then, in an instant, at the top, in a flash, seeing the stag and it’s too fast to slam on the brakes, too fast to do anything, that majestic beast standing, just standing there in the middle of the road, waiting.
Mitchell Waldman’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Piker Press, Milk Sugar, trans lit mag, The Fine Line, The Houston Literary Review, Wind Magazine, Poetpourri, Midwest Literary Magazine, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, new aesthetic, Wilderness House Literary Review, Longshores Literary Magazine, Girls With Insurance, The Battered Suitcase, Worldwidehippies, Greatest Lakes Review, Five Fishes Journal, Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Review, eclectic flash, Ink Monkey Magazine, and eFiction Magazine. His writing has also appeared in the anthologies Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust (Northwestern University Press, 1998), Messages from the Universe (iUnivese, 2002), America Remembered (Virgogray Press, 2010), and Green (MLM, 2010). He is also the author of the novel A Face in the Moon, and the forthcoming story collection, Petty Offenses and Crimes of the Heart, due out later this year from Wind Publications. In addition, he is the Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. For more information, see his website at: http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com.