What Comes After

The way your body reacts to the car in your path where there was no car before. The way your stomach turns, and the way the hairs on your arms reach out becoming an extra sense. The way you take stock of your options in an instant. The way it would all go down if you cut left into the oncoming traffic or if you cut right and hopped the curb. The way that woman there on the right might jump out of the way, or you might hit her—and then, the way her blood would look glistening on the sidewalk. The way the summer sun would burn your decision into the sidewalk.

The way your veins retract when you slam on the brakes. The way time doesn’t actually slow down the way they say it slows down. The way every nerve in your body takes it all in. The way it all happens in an instant even though time doesn’t slow.

The way your shoulders tense. The way you wonder if you just broke your nose, but it doesn’t hurt. The way the cornstarch tastes and smells—the airbag hanging from the wheel like an empty balloon—and the burning rubber smell. The way you check your arms, your legs, even your glasses: all intact. The way the hair was burnt from your arms. The way you still don’t believe you aren’t bleeding. The way you touch your face again and again to check. The way the smoke rises around the front of your car. The way that—Oh god, what about the other driver?

The way you shut off your car and take a deep breath. And then another. The way the other car flipped over onto its side, but you keep breathing. The way you wonder how their car rolled over like that? But how fast were you going? The way you remember to breathe.

The way the other car looks all smashed in on the side, the side where you hit it, but no, they cut you off. Didn’t they? The way the front of your car crumbled into itself. The way it really does look like an accordion. The way the broken glass looks actually glistening on the street. The way the only blood you’ve seen is the antifreeze leaking from the other car.

The way your head starts to ache and your nose starts to ache and you wonder if you just killed someone. The way you wonder if they’re okay. The way you wonder if they’ll call it vehicular manslaughter. The way you wonder if you’ll go to jail. The way you wonder how it happened and what will happen next. The way you know you weren’t at fault, but what if you were, and what if you go to jail?

The way your stomach sinks when they still don’t get out of their car. The way you start to wretch when they still don’t get out of their car. The way you feel faint when they still don’t get out of their car, but then, the lightness you feel when she finally gets out of her car.

The way her face is cut. The way there’s blood around the collar of her shirt, but she’s okay, and everything’s okay. The way that everything is going to be okay.

The way she says “My dad’s gonna kill me.” The way she paces. The way she tells you “This is the second accident I was in today.” The way you don’t know what to do or say. Should you apologize? Wouldn’t that be admitting fault? Or would it just be polite?

The way she needs to use your phone, but somehow her mother is already there. The way you wonder where her mother came from. The way you try to rationalize it. She must have been at the bank. Was that her standing at the corner? She must have been watching her daughter pull away from the bank and that’s why she’s here.

The way someone must have called 911 because the cops are here and the ambulance is right there and you don’t remember when they showed up but they’re here now and they have some questions.

The way the cop stands with his notepad and pen. The way he wears his sunglasses. The way you wish you could see his eyes so you could know what he was thinking. The way you want to answer his questions, so you try to remember, and you try to answer, but you feel cold even though it’s hot outside and you realize you’re sweating. The way you think she cut you off at the intersection. The way you think she had a stop sign, or she ran a stop sign. The way you were doing 35, or at least that’s what you say, but maybe you were doing more, but you can’t remember, so you keep your mouth shut. The way you wonder if a car can flip when hit at that speed. The way you’re not sure if you just lied. The way you were on your way to work. The way it’s your first week and now you have to call and tell them you won’t be in. The way your mind turns left and right when you don’t know if it’s worse to say that you saw her at the stop sign or that you didn’t see her at the stop sign at all. The way you can’t remember which is even true.

The way you were driving. The way she was in front of you. The way you repeat yourself and skirt around the details you can’t remember. The way you try to fill in the blanks with details you’ve imagined or, perhaps, remembered from something you saw on TV.

The way it all could have been so much worse. The way you wonder what comes after.

Eric Joseph Scholz is a writer and musician currently living in the suburbs of northern New Jersey. He holds a BA in creative writing from William Paterson University and plays bass in a band called A Film In Color. His work has been featured in The Mix and Left Hand of the Father.

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