The Wreck

Natanya Ann Pulley

At first, they seemed like accidents. Stop instead of step. Lock instead of look. Tiny strokes on a page sliding out from under him. Lines cinched back into a loop at the last second. Perhaps he was typing too quickly. Not enough sleep. Not enough time. Enough caffeine? These accidents like the auto collision reports piling up on his desk. He began keeping a list. Then a table. Then a spreadsheet. A long list of mistyped words in the first column and along the top: The Factors. Was he too busy? Too tired? Too excited? There were no more errors under any one condition than any other, except when he was slightly-still-drunk-from-the-night-before-tired and all the letters fell wrong onto the screen.

Small accidents of the hand. Like a paper cut or too loose a hold on a thin ceramic cup. He remembered the way his mother would act like he'd done such a thing on purpose. Just to spoil another dishcloth. Just to spoil another awkward pause at the dinner table. He learned to place his hands wide and solid around his cups and mugs. And later, learned to fill those dinner silences with a new family. He asked his kids questions and said "that's okay" and "probably didn't mean it" to those beloved sometimes-creatures-of-himself. He saw himself in his children most when the confusion was just right on one side of the face, when his child pulled a cheek tight, the edge of eyelid slightly slanted downward, the edge of the lips sucked upward. An impact of flesh and muscle. That same look he used to give his mother.

At first, he began making tiny clerical accidents at work. Ones he caught on his own. Then others caught by everyone else. Caught at the last draft, around a conference table. Reading voices louder at the mis-marked text spaces as if to outdo the sight of them on the page. No one said anything, but he began keeping reports. These accidents to be managed. When he was rushed in the morning, the errors were usually on the business end: division instead of dividends. When tired, they were things of nonsense:  The entrance dog instead of log. And sometimes, there were collisions. Immersion instead of Omission, those vowels screeching and crunching into misshapen metal.

One morning when everything was just so—when he moved into his cubicle on time with his hair, shirt, wallet, thoughts and brightness, all the things of himself in the right place and began his newest claims adjusting report—he typed seek, typed motherhome, typed bloody….  

He meant body. Meant motorhome. Sleek. Meant to describe the weather conditions, the weight and speed of the RV, the damage to both vehicles upon impact. The driver's instant and unforeseen death causing the RV to drift into the other lane. To account for this grossly thing with a language of accounting. Accountable words, accountable letters. Counting the time, the space and the losses, totally them up into reason. He moved his right hand to the open folder next to his computer and wondered about the photos within. Under the police's statement, the insurance forms, the body shop's estimates, those photos in a large, white envelope.

His assistant had said, Are you sure? before she handed them over. Her frame thin, but strong. The envelope held between her great woody arms and her casual knit top with its obligated lacework embellishment along the collar. What she meant was: You cannot unsee these photos. But he had not heard that and brought out the photos expecting something from a horror movie. Blood, guts, and broken windshield glass. The sort of accident that brought out sand to soak up fluids on pavement. Sand instead of dishcloths.

Taken from the passenger side—where the door once was, before being hacked at, chomped away for removal—in the front and passenger seat was a They and They were bodies, silent and still.  But all bodies caught in photographs are silent and still. They might have been sleeping forms, if it weren't for their open mouths, he thought, but plenty of people sleep mouth open. But these were still, open-mouthed Theys and not by any blood or guts did he know they were dead—not by insides bursting forth or blue, cold skin or last moment twitching. Instead, slumped in their seats, something holding still or held still, something of stillness. Something very un- and very non-.

Simply they were dead. And that was that. He decided to move back to his report of the metal damage. That is, he shut the folder and began his second assignment. Fire damage to a house. Total loss.

A total lost, he mistyped and logged it and scrutinized his factor list. No, he was not hungry. He was not sleepy. He was not distracted. The telephone was not ringing while his assistant was away from her desk and he was not bothered to wonder if he should answer it and bumble his way through the art that was his assistant's client-friendly language, muddying up the terms and tones and pauses all along the way. Bad road conditions for dialog. For a second he wondered if he was, in this moment, his true self. Without all the possible risks of being hungry, sleepy or distracted, he was what would be considered normal. And that, in itself, seemed awfully odd to be. Quite risky, in fact. Himself—a total of all the moments behind him adding up and up and up, some additions which seemed to come in the way of subtractions such as his mother's death, such as lost promotions, these subtractions could never actually be removed from his experiences—simply added in as non-factors or invisible numbers or in algebraic terms that he never could remember and relied on his excel spreadsheet and office assistant to double-check. He was a total amount of himself both something… something that simply is and nothing (no any one thing) at the same time, all the time being still. A total lost.

Lost, he said aloud and left work early. Migraine, he said as if the word had been scouting out a chance to erupt. He imagined the word had been waiting all morning for its own birth through mistype. He moved his mug from his desk to the sink to be rinsed and into a pale blue dish rack, one that he was always proud of himself for using when other employees left their mugs to be washed free of dried coffee remnants right before being used again. Right before loose hands might drop those mugs to burst into shards and dusts of glass. His mug remained planted in the dish rack. A solid thing. A finished thing. A safely parked car.

At home, he felt he could avoid typing. He could avoid the mistype. Could surprise his at-home working wife as she shuffled herself between her own reports, the laundry and the barking of their always hungry, always bored dog. He might even wedge himself into her day and steal up one of those conversations that come playfully and spontaneously from some parallel life they live when they can't fuss over the business of daily living. But his wife—a fine-tuned instrument of a person, plucking away at a rhythm set to some universal song he couldn't hear—took the opportunity of him being home to slide under his fingers a manual she was working on. For another pair of eyes, she said, which made him want to take his eyes out of his head and leave them on the page, to roll around and magnify the crossed and looped lines.

Instead he began reading and fluttered along the words hoping to avoid any mistype. And he began to question the spelling of every word. Like saying a word aloud too many times, he read and re-read words. Asked them to be true, which in their stillness, they refused to be.

He read one line again and again: Women cannot wear capris unless explicitly part of an outfit. He asked his wife what this meant. She said not to worry about it but he did. She said she'd look it over herself in a minute. Said she just needed a swift-read from him. The sooner she finished, the sooner… He asked, But how could it not be part of an outfit? If there were capris and a shirt and shoes all on the same body? All those things totally up: an outfit? In saying aloud the last word, he wondered what an infit might be. And accidentally said to himself, perhaps aloud or to an inner ear: infant.

The man stood up without finishing his proofreading. There was no spreadsheet yet for this: a mis-thought. A mis-word. More collisions. Infit and infant: Things worn on the inside. An accidental spilling of letters on a page to be cleaned up by a backspacing dishcloth was one thing. No matter how many dishcloths it would take. But this? No sand for loose and dirty fluids in his mindspeak.

He thought about telling his wife about his mis-thought, but worried she'd call it a one-time accident. Then he'd have to confess to all the mistypes, all those fender-benders. She would begin to worry as well. Was it a simple misfiring of the brain? A slip of some sort. A tired vessel? A coffee-free synapses? Or worse, a broken step, an empty space, a black amorphous thing, ready to appear on MRIs or CT scans.

But such a thing rarely happened without other indicators, he reasoned. Dizzy spells. Diminished motor capacity. Unless it was an aneurysm. That ungodly attack of a thing. The monster no one was ever blamed for having, that no one deserved. Even cancer at times could be traced back to smoking and chemicals and steroids in cow flesh. Heart and organ failures by heavy lifestyles or bad genes, never sneaking up but haunting patient charts across the world. But an aneurysm—it came and took its people randomly and without remorse. The most severe ones, quick in the night. How long had his mother's body lain in that bed undetected? How little to no time had the RV driver to slow down and pull over?

 After unloading the dishwasher, which his wife said he never did, which he thought about saying was the thing he does when considering if he has an aneurysm, he decided he would not immediately call his doctor, nor would he skulk up to that hypochondriac's play-heaven of symptom checking websites. Instead he thought he would take a nap, something a migraine sufferer would do, which made him feel very comfortable in having told such a story to his superior when he left work that morning.

Moving towards his bed with the lights out, he tested his word use, began rattling off all the words he could think of and the words that most resembled them. These associations, he thought. Much like people. And he imagined the words bustling around, rubbing off on one another over and over until you have something/someone like Mark in the upper division at work that seemed to be no more than a total of all the people he interacted with. A hollow man, repeating phrases and pointing back at employees as they walked the hall, and as he walked down to the break room for a cup of coffee in an unwashed mug, to flip through the paper reading headlines.

The Marks of the worlds might be conferencing in his head and that might be all it was. Marks leaning upon one another. High-fiving. Marks colliding. Colliding in his half-woken state, like the un-people of the photographs. Traveling. Someone falls dead at the wheel, falls into what seems like the same slumber of all late-night passengers gliding through space. A slight drift to the left of the center lane. Then farther. Then further. A head-on. Their bodies not exploded or thrown from the vehicle, but the very pieces of them broken and still held together by the plain glue of them—by the small moments of some bone here attached to some tendon there. Some cells too still and silent to fall away from another. Enough skin to flap and gape here and to hold firm there. The form still held together—held still together—by the impossibility of disappearing completely.

He hit the bed at mid-thigh. A slight second that told him he'd hit something and then a rough topple onto the mattress. The flat surface of the bedspread crumpling into rippled material and his jerking legs pushing laundry from the end of the bed onto the floor. Those clothes twisted, long sleeves splayed across the carpet. The smaller pillows took most of the impact, collapse to hard lumps under his weight; he arched to pull them out and twisted his torso to a heated burn to reach them. The confusion of a throw blanket near his hips as he tossed the pillows aside. 

He let his mouth drop open. He slumped into the larger pillows behind him. His arms at his sides—not dangling, he thought, because dangling made it sound like they moved or could move. No, they were dangled there, hung at his shoulders by some other factor—or no factor. A nothing. That un-thing which did not keep a body still, did not keep a thing, but was a void of movement, of circuitry and blood, of life. He pushed out all the air in his lungs, imagining there was no tightness left in its place, no effort of having to do so, no factor in the equation of him. He let his head drop to the side, mouth lagging open and imagined the only thing keeping his limp body from falling off the bed might be a seatbelt.