He stepped out of nowhere. You hadn’t seen him walking,
hadn’t seen him at all, but suddenly he was there, running
across the road. You hit the brakes hard. You’ve hit
him, you think, see his body bumping up onto your hood, his
face shattering the windshield—your secret terror: to kill
someone while driving. But the windshield does not shatter.
You’ve only bumped him.
You roll down the window to yell at him or
apologize; you don’t know
which—you’re flustered and flabbergasted, “What the hell
do you think you’re doing?”
“Could you give me a lift to Bainbridge?” he says in his scruffy
British accent. He wants a ride. It’s his technique, you realize, for getting
one. Stopping a car in midstream—and because he’s caught you off
guard, “Go ahead, get in.”
You can’t say anything, still shaking some—you almost killed him—how
about it then? Was it your fault? And you know it wasn’t, but know also
that if he’d died, you’d have lived with the guilt for years—regardless.
But he interrupts. You hadn’t wanted to be reminded: someone else is
in the car with you. You like your solitude and besides you know your car smells:
sour milk from spilled coffee, perspiration mixed with something like soy sauce—it’s
your private space and whatever made you let someone in? But you almost killed
him. That’s enough, isn’t it, to shake off habit, that covering
you always wear—that’s enough isn’t it?
“You aren’t from here, are you?” he
avoid answering him, counter with a question, “What about you?” but
realize it sounds like tacit consent, no I’m not, what about you? Well,
it’s none of his business--why should you tell him that you summer here
and have for years? You owe him nothing since his life was spared. But he’s
still sitting there, expectant. You realize he hasn’t answered
your question. Did you even ask it? You begin to wonder.
“Mind if I smoke?”
“Go ahead,” you say for the second time, wonder what’s
made you so compliant, realize it must be his accent, scruffy British
When he offers you one of his hand-rolled
cigarettes you take one, start to believe it must have been fated,
your bumping into
of nowhere and that sort of thinking, “magical thinking,” a shrink
would tell you, is only the second of many mistakes you’ll
make that evening.