The white hull of the boat sparkled – the light source, presumably from an afternoon sun, added sheen to the still water. There was no indication of what had capsized the boat.
Lisa sat in the dim light of her office, staring at the painting. No sign of life had been brushed onto the canvas. Just quiet stillness.
She remembered when her life capsized. Now she struggled to push back above the waterline.
She gathered her purse, her coat, and the work she needed to bring home and switched the lights off on her way out the door. It had been snowing since early in the morning, not heavy, but enough so that she needed to brush snow from the car. She unlocked the doors and threw the purse and the work into the passenger seat, then absently added the coat to the pile, while she grabbed the scraper from the floor.
It’s not that cold, she thought, wishing for frozen tundra and a quiet sleep. For a moment she envied the man in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” who had drifted into the most comfortable sleep he had ever known. Or, I’m just numb, too numb to feel the biting frost. She climbed into the car, turned the key in the ignition and backed out of her space to begin the slow drive home. She realized as she was backing out that she’d forgotten to clear the rear windshield. Oh well, she thought, the wind will blow it clear in no time. The car was silent except for the whistling of that wind. She rarely had the radio on, didn’t own an iPod, didn’t want the distraction. When she got home, she thought, she’d fill the tub, sprinkle the water with lavender bath salts, and climb in after pouring a glass of chardonnay. She imagined sinking beneath the water, shavasana, the yoga corpse pose, on the bottom of the tub, holding herself there as long as she could while waiting for the hot water to thaw even a portion of the numbness.
She knew it wouldn’t work.
Her hands were never at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. She wondered if anyone ever held their hands in that position. Her right hand held the wheel while her left elbow rested on the driver’s side door and her left hand held the weight of her head. The snow had gotten worse since she left the office; visibility was reduced and all she saw were lights, lights, and more lights, headlights like chaser lights, blinding her to the flow of the traffic.
She never saw the car that hit her, never knew how it had lost control and never knew that it was unable to stop at the intersection. She didn’t see it slide sideways, edging into her driver’s side rear quarter panel. She didn’t even know she’d been hit until she realized that her wheels were slipping from her control. She felt the spin in slow motion, forgot which direction to turn the wheel, saw the overturned hull of the boat in the painting and nothing but lights pulsing by. Cars, she knew the lights came from cars, wondered how they were avoiding her as she spun, thought about the stillness of the water the boat had capsized in and wondered if this was how she, too, would slip away.
The car stopped its spin with a thud against a guard rail as suddenly as it had begun spinning. She looked around her, looked at both arms, down at her legs – yes, all her appendages seemed to be there and in working order. She heard the sirens and someone pounding on her window, asking if she were alright, pulling on the door handle. She found the presence of mind to open the door and turned to get out of the car.
A man helped her out and she stood shakily on the sidewalk realizing that she was one of five or so cars involved in the accident. EMT’s were scattered among the cars, moving from vehicle to vehicle. Most of the cars were far more seriously damaged than her own.
It seemed hours before she was cleared to go. Her car was still drivable and she climbed back in, this time with her coat on because the man had insisted in putting it on for her. Ten people she was told had been transported to the hospital, but she had walked away without a scratch – too dead and numb, she thought, to die.
At home, she brought her purse and the paperwork into the house, took off her coat and poured herself the glass of wine she’d been thinking about earlier. She played the messages from her voicemail, the new ones, then the old, heard her son’s voice asking her to pick him up early from the party he’d been at. Heard him say again, “Mom, you said to call if I needed a ride, if my friends had been drinking, yeah, um, could you please come and get me?”
She put the receiver back into the cradle slowly, remembered the scene when she’d arrived to pick him up, saw the ambulance again and the body on the ground, knew that she was glad that she’d told him to call, that no matter the hour she’d be there to get him. She figured one of his drunk buddies had passed out on the sidewalk. Alcohol poisoning no doubt, she had thought. It wasn’t until she climbed from the car that she recognized her son’s jacket.
She downed her wine and walked out onto the back deck carrying the glass. It was still snowing, had gotten colder she thought. She looked out at the ocean, beyond the deck that was cantilevered over the cliff. He had always loved living on the ocean, grew up there and spent summers climbing down among the rocks to run on the beach below. She’d always been so careful, so vigilant in keeping watch. She remembered his long, sun-streaked hair blowing back and away from the beautiful face lit up in smiles, his voice tumbled with laughter.
He’d been waiting for her outside the friend’s house, left without telling anyone, probably didn’t want his friends to taunt him about calling his Mommy. A carload of teens careened down the street, the driver with a blood alcohol content of .18 had believed he was able to drive, didn’t realize he’d jumped the curb, run down her son – didn’t know what he’d hit.
She climbed up onto the railing of the deck, leaving the empty glass on the patio table, thought about the painting, threw caution to the wind and jumped, arms spread wide, head high, waiting while she fell through snowflakes, for the quiet stillness of the water to swallow her whole.