The Slowest Arc
On my way to a Saturday morning study group, I idle at the red light on Winchester. My car faces south toward Los Gatos. My mind is as neutral as my engine. To my right two small silver cars arrive side by side, almost pushing each other out of the way to make their respective turns. The farther car begins to rise, like a gleaming helium balloon, and continues to rise until it is over the nearer car. High in the air it arcs and rolls in a slow, elegant spiral, almost pausing, then plummets on its head on the asphalt in the middle of Winchester.
Now I understand the phrase, “scarcely believe my eyes.” The car does not move. I must assume this has happened, not in a waking dream, but in the world. I pull my car over, park, and stumble out to help. It is immediately apparent that I will not be able to open the crushed door, and other people begin to form around the car, so I turn back with shaking hands to find my cell phone. 911 brings forth a busy signal. I try it again, again, again, and five times, the busy signal. At nine on a Saturday morning. But others also hold their cell phones, more beginning to arrive from a nearby café, and one woman appears to be talking, so she has gotten through.
Nothing moves inside the car. The morning sky remains blue. The street remains quiet. The driver of that car was in a hurry. What was he, if it was a he, heading toward? Was he coming home from a late night? Was he eager to get to the gym? How did he not see the orange plastic barriers, temporary barriers, to his right, surrounded by neon cones? His mind was preoccupied.
He assumed that everything around him would run smoothly so he could think his thoughts unmolested, as we always assume. So much of our lives must run smoothly. Hot water cascades from the shower head. Drivers stay in their lanes. An e-mail is sent and arrives at its destination. For the most part. He assumed that it would not affect the course of his day if he gave into a momentary feeling of impatience by stepping on the accelerator. We do it all the time.
People gather around the driver’s side as a police siren grows louder and its lights appear down the street. No one else is on the passenger side to see what I see next. The flattened, upside-down door opens and two legs emerge, tangled in a black seat belt strap. The feet, in white running shoes, touch the ground. Then all is still again. My feet move toward the car.
It is a man. This morning he put on faded blue jeans and white shoes. He had been impatient to get somewhere. He meant to go left, or perhaps right. The front tire of his car found contact with the lowest part of an orange plastic barrier, the thinnest edge of the wedge, and obeying the laws of physics, the tire followed its natural path up the vertical slope of the barrier. The tire, the vector, had no choice. The car was perhaps surprised to find itself aloft, so high and quiet against the blue sky of a Saturday morning, perhaps nothing in its manufacture had prepared these tons of metal and glass to float, to float for a full second before the earth pulled it to herself with decisive arms.
After a moment, I saw the man emerge, his eyes wide, hand to his white cheek while speaking to the police officer. Had he died I might not be able to describe to you that terrible beauty, that silver car following its path into the air, that arc, that nautilus, that whorl of your soft hair, that silent curve against the morning blue that haunts me even now.