Consciousness returned to George like a kick to the sternum. He gasped and lifted his face from the wet pavement it had been resting in for the past couple minutes into the damp night air. The spasm of waking wrenched his lumbar muscles, causing him to fall back the ground in pain. He landed with his nose and mouth in a shallow puddle of oily water. He coughed out the drops that had slurped into his mouth as he breathed deeply, then gingerly moved out of the sullen water. His whole body hurt. Where was he?
A wisp of a hazy scene came back to him; rain falling on a windscreen, streetlights glimmering like a field of tiny, yellow suns.
George lay curled on his side for a few minutes, trying to calm the shouting, searing pain that exploded in his limbs and torso periodically. As the pain began to fade, he became aware of the eerie silence around him. No cars, no people, no animal noises. He could see a warehouse a few yards away, but it must have been closed for the night. The roar of silence filled his ears. But that roar, the roar he heard each night in bed as he tried to break through his insomnia and fall asleep, seemed different. Almost too mechanical, like a spinning top. He forced himself to roll onto his back. It was difficult. It hurt. But it worked.
Behind him lay a confetti of shattered glass and broken plastic, the sizes of the debris growing larger toward the epicenter. The eye of the storm. In that eye, overturned, sat a vehicle. Was it George’s car? He couldn’t be sure. It looked like it could have been dark grey, but the paint had been scraped off from sliding on the pavement to such a degree that it could just as easily have been blue. The body shape had been obliterated by the crash; the car looked more like a crumpled ball of tin foil than any recognizable model. The rolling sound came from the front driver’s side tire that still spun, making George think of a turtle that had been flipped on its back, still alive but unable to find purchase.
Another flash of memory detonated in George’s mind, accompanied by blinding pain. Again the rain-spattered windscreen, but now the pattern of lights moved like a kaleidoscope, spinning and twisting in unnatural ways. And then hair. Long, brunette hair floated in front of him, pulling his attention from the whirling chaos.
George stared at the ruined car.
Someone was with him. What was her name? He could see her face, her delicate features covered with a light dusting of concealer, lips darkened with stain.
George tried to stand, but a wet pop sent him face-first into the pavement again, bloodying his nose. Why couldn’t he remember her name? He knew it. The few nights he was able to sleep, he fell asleep with that name on his lips. George pulled with his arms, pushed with his good leg, and inched closer to the car.
A longer memory came to him, this one less like a flashbulb and more like a video on fast forward. He and Emma at dinner. Her wonderful blue dress that occasionally clung to her curves, giving him brief tantalizing glimpses of her figure. In his car now, driving to get gelato. Sitting outside the gelateria, sharing spoonfulls while the rain pounded on the umbrella of their table. Geroge feeling finally at ease, as he did whenever he was around Emma. He would be able to sleep tonight. Finally, George and Emma getting into his car for the drive back to her house.
George reached the car just as the spinning wheels groaned to a painful stop. He grasped the windowless door by the frame and pulled himself up to peer into the cabin, paying no mind to the glass shards that sliced and embedded themselves in his forearms. Beyond the steering column that had been pushed into the driver’s seat and created an impassable barrier, Emma lay sprawled on the roof of the car.
“Emma,” George tried to shout, the sound only escaping as a hoarse whisper.
Her eyes flicked up to meet his. Her hand reached out to him, but she didn’t have enough control to guide it through the mess of the steering column and instead knocked George’s cell phone into a spin. George looked her over quickly. Her color was good, pupils normal size, no obvious injuries. He smiled to himself. They would be OK.
With a strained gurgle more akin to a cappuccino machine than any human noise, Emma began to convulse. George noticed that one side of her face had been cleansed of makeup by the rain. The skin there was pale. Too pale. His eyes moved down her purple dress. Purple. But it had been blue in his memory.
The dress was soaked with blood. Emma was dying. George shoved his hand into the largest hole in the steering column, trying to grasp her hand, to retrieve the cell phone to call for help. To do anything at all.
It was in that frantic moment of movement to save his love that George finally pieced together the crash. He had fallen asleep. Emma, the mere thought of whom allowed him to overcome his insomnia at night, was such a soothing balm for his sleepless mind that it had let go, drifted off. He fell asleep at the wheel and sent the car into a spin on the wet road. He must have been thrown free of the car.
Emma was still. Completely still. Her eyes stared into his, but without the slight tremble of life. He pulled his hand from the column and stared back at her. His knuckles were swollen, the redness was fading but would linger for a while longer. He was alone now.