This post is part of Fiction Friday, a series born out of my ongoing desire to be a novelist. These stories are meant to be read independently. They are fictional vignettes inspired by glimmers from my life.
After the concert, we drive the long way home. We're both too awake, too giddy, too high-spirited to go back to the house just yet, which is stale and stuffy from the trapped summer heat. So we drive. Instead of turning left at Holly Street, you take the hard right that bends down the hill toward the lake. Night joggers are out. Every few seconds, their reflectors catch the headlights of passing cars and light up like a photography flash.
You roll down both our windows. "Beautiful out," you say, but I'm lost staring into the glossy night.
I'm in that same daze when the car hits something. It's a thump that feels like we're going fifty over a speed bump – hard and quick. You say something sharp that I can't make out.
"What happened?" I ask. "What was that?"
"I don't know," you say, but I think what you actually mean is, I don't want to know.
You keep checking the rearview mirror, shaking your head, shifting in your seat. There's no shoulder here to pull off onto, and there are cars behind us. The windows are still down; I feel, for the first time in weeks, cold. If you are, too, you aren't showing any signs of it.
The road curves. We don't say anything else. Out of the corner of my eye, I see your hands tighten on the steering wheel. The road, too, becomes tighter, narrowing so much that I wonder if it might collapse into a single lane, forcing us to swerve onto the sidewalk to avoid oncoming traffic; but just as I have this thought, it widens again, brightens up. A sodium street light flickers on as we pass underneath. Out of the darkness, a jogger appears. Somehow the road has brought us back to the lake, coming from the opposite direction.
When we reach the spot, you pull off the road as much as you can – which is hardly at all – and let the other cars pass us. You punch the hazard light button with your thumb and tell me to hang tight. I watch as you crouch in the middle of the street, craning your neck, frowning. There's only pavement and yellow paint.
"I don't know," you say when you slide back into the driver's seat. "Maybe it was nothing."
How could it be nothing? I want to ask, but it doesn't seem like the right thing to ask.
"Let's go home," I say instead.
The house, miraculously, is not stuffy. It's warm, but not stuffy. We shed out of our clothes and into pajamas, open the windows, and set the alarm clock. That night, I dream that we're in the car again, and that we hit something again. It's all the same until we go back and check. This time there's a tiny little man in the middle of the road, hiding under a cello case. The case has our tire tracks burned into its pebbled texture, like a tattoo.
"Are you okay?" we ask. "Are you hurt?"
He peeks out. I recognize him; he had played in the concert that night. He'd had a solo. There had been a standing ovation. Here, curled up under his cello case, he's still wearing his suit, and the collar is damp. He's been crying, but when he sees us, he smiles.
"Oh, yes," he says. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" we ask, relieved that we didn't run over anyone's cat, or a family of raccoons.
"Of course," he says. He gets up and wipes his eyes. He starts to drag his cello case the rest of the way across the road. "You don't need to worry, kiddos," he says. "These things happen all the time."