(Page 3 of 3)
It took forever to get back to the car. They trudged up the incline, their path now gratingly familiar to the woman. She held the metal protectively against her stomach. The line of cars extending along the other side of the hill looked permanent, like a tiny city. As they walked the man was thinking, what kind of family owns a personal jet? Where were they going? Was it the rich, piloting father who caused the crash, or did the expensive metal box fail them? He thought all of this without anger, except: why must it affect so many people?
It was stifling when they got back into the car. The woman turned on the ignition and cranked the air conditioning. The radio leapt back to life; the advice lady’s gentle voice spoke reassuringly: “Many women have trouble with their mother-in-laws, so let’s not assume you’re being crazy—” The woman held the piece of metal on her lap, flipping it over to look at the other smooth, blank side. What was it from? The wing, she supposed, considering its flatness. It must have snapped off upon impact and clattered across the road.
“That’s great,” said the man. “I’m so glad you have that. I’m so glad we have something to remember this moment.”
“We missed our appointment,” she replied, gripping the metal more tightly.
“We missed our appointment ages ago,” he said, nearly shouting. “So we get to reschedule and do this all over again. What will happen next time, I wonder? The car will explode? A biblical flood will sweep us to Mount Ararat?”
“That Catholic school education,” she said. “You think everything that happens is so purposeful, it’s all intentionally done to you. You’re never just a participant; you’re the catalyst! Actually, you can’t blame Catholicism for that, that’s just your personality. All the energy in the universe is funneling towards a single point: you—just so you can form an opinion on it.”
She was as shocked as he was. She didn’t think she’d ever identified so precisely what about him was wrong and insane. Maybe it was the distance between them, the time she’d spent on her own. Getting away from him would bring clarity, her emotions would develop a simple, reasonable form.
But the wave of satisfaction passed. She was disappointed to find she felt small and mean, and stupid for having stolen this little piece of the wreckage—he was right, it was like a souvenir. What if it was evidence? What if it held an important clue to the cause of the crash? And now the police would never know.
“Look, it’s sad when people get hurt. I don’t mean to be unkind,” the man finally replied, speaking slowly. “But it did make us miss the appointment.” He felt simultaneously annoyed and ashamed. “What do those people mean to us?”
“I’m not—whatever you think. Mourning them,” said the woman. “I’m shook up, that’s all. Just the sight of it, I mean—well, you saw it. You saw it, too.”
She wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand and put on her sunglasses. She said, “I lied before when I told you I only had stupid dreams. I have very bad dreams, with you in them. All the time. I dream that you are somewhere in the house but I can’t find you in any of the rooms.”
Her voice was small. The man tried to figure out what to do with this information. He watched her, feeling the strange movements of his heart. All the blood in his chest seemed to be swooping up and down, very quickly, from the top to the bottom of his ribcage.
The woman tossed the scrap of metal on the dashboard. “You’re right. I don’t want this. I don’t know why I picked it up.” She rubbed her arms as though she was cold and refused to look at it.
“Okay,” said the man. “Okay.”
He grabbed the metal and got out of the car. The woman unfolded her arms and leaned over the passenger seat to watch him. How unlike him, she thought, to not respond to her, but to go off and do something.
Halfway up the hill, the man stopped and took a wide stance. He drew his arm across his torso and threw the piece of metal like a Frisbee. It flew straight through the air, spinning as it went, and landed in the trees ahead. The man wiped his hands on his jeans, looking satisfied. He put his hands on his hips, then folded them across his chest. The sun beat down, unprejudiced, on everything: the cars, the workers and paramedics across the hill, the billboards. After a moment he turned to march back to the car.
He walked around the car to the woman’s window. As soon as he reached it he felt disoriented—for a moment he was sure he had something to tell her, but now he couldn’t remember what it was. In fact, he wasn’t sure he’d had anything to say in the first place—it was like opening a cabinet only to realize you didn’t really need anything in there. He looked down at her; her cheeks were cloudy with mascara and she had one of her legs tucked underneath her.
Finally the woman rolled down the window and said, “I guess I brought back that bit of plane for nothing.”
Exasperated, the man said, “It would have been for nothing if you’d brought it home.”
She sighed at him. She knew how little regard he had for symbols or sentiment. She remembered all his stuff in the garage that he had apparently lost interest in. She imagined for a moment burning it in the backyard while they and their daughter danced around it with sticks.
The image struck her as so funny that she brought her hand over her mouth to cover up her laugh. The man, whose eyes had strayed to the pavement, looked up at her, startled.
“I’m sorry, I just had the funniest picture in my head. I pictured we burned everything you own in the backyard.”
He balked a little at this, though she’d said it lightly, like a punch line. And indeed she thought it was funny, the whole day was kind of funny. They had let the whole terrible, wasted afternoon slip by and not made a single plan, not one decision. They had not sold a house or exchanged their lawyers’ information, or decided what to do with their daughter that weekend. They did not know what to do with the man’s stuff in the garage. She threw up her hands, looking wild and amused. The man smiled back uncertainly.
Then she beckoned him back into the car, rolling up her window so he couldn’t see her through the glass in the glare of the sun. Instead he saw the distorted, unrecognizable reflection of his own face, plastered onto hers, looking earnestly back at him. They stared at themselves in the glass expectantly. The workers must have lifted the plane onto the trailer by now. Any moment now, they would drive it off and the police would open the lanes. Any moment now, they would begin to move.