It was a wall of white against the passenger’s side.
She didn’t feel it or hear it or see it. Not individually. It dropped upon her senses all at once, like the sensation of falling right before sleep. Later, she would not remember how she scratched the soft part above her elbow, or why her teeth vibrated against each other like tuning forks, but at the moment, when the white car crashed against her side door, her body knew what to do. It asked no questions but drew itself up, tightening into a smaller skin surface, like a hand closing into a fist.
It was over in an instant of grinding metal, too short to pick through it and recall minutiae and too long to swipe it aside with the rest of the day’s seconds.
This was what she saw in that instant and would never remember:
The canal at home where she fed ducks each morning, each avian face as distinct as her family’s; her neighbor, a woman who opened and closed her garage door again and again without reason; her mother’s voice when she had more rum than necessary, gooey with dissatisfaction; her sister’s face tightening against impending tears; her father’s head nodding with sleep into the couch’s pillow; her room’s watermelon walls the second before she turned off her bedside lamp.
The ringing in her ears, a whistle through stiff lips, and smoke the color of winter pulled her back. There was an echo of movement, a ripple of heat as the air bags bounced open, and the smell of hot rubber as the cars came to a stop. Honks somewhere far behind them rang but didn’t seem to reach the smoke cocoon.
Her mind was a white bar of static but her hands shook as she looked up, as if they would hold the memory of what happened in their skin for far longer than her head would. Her sister’s voice was there immediately, asking if she was hurt. Why hadn’t she thought of asking that? Why hadn’t she even remembered there was someone else in the car with her? She nodded and answered and thought of what her default position was: the victim, the one to be cared for, the more important of the pair. It brought no remorse or dropping in her stomach. It was who she was and she was alive.
Through the next hour person after person would ask her how she was, and she’d shrug her shoulders and say fine. And she was. Better than she’d been before that meeting of metal and metal. The crash had shaken loose the enamel covering in which she’d locked herself and revealed the glittering truth.
She was as hard and smooth as the asphalt and nothing could possibly dent her.
Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading or writing. She also watches over a veritable army of pets. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Of the Web. You can find her here: http://carabosseslibrary.blogspot.com