The driver held the road’s center line, two hands on the wheel, gently, constantly tugging either side, adjusting to the asphalt cracks and the pulls of the suspension. Yellow blurred evenly past the undercarriage, his lane empty, the oncoming lane empty, each worn to tilt toward the shoulders and marshy drainage ditches, but the road clear for balance.
The car here was a Hawthorne wood-spectral relation, a pearl-white Charger, lone black stripe beneath the windowline. High but tight, the dealer’s radials had died so factory-order Double Stufs might wrap the hubs, and the dual pipes out back gritted white puffs in the new near-summer scorch and growled like a lover. The driver squinted between the right of way and the rising dials, and he held the center so tight.
Sixty-five, seventy. Seventy-five, eighty. He drove the straightest line in the world, and the song on the radio or deck hadn’t been invented. The song was still silent in a shower, not yet stereo or staged, and it had the biggest beat you could hope to hear and survive. He’d swung the volume full up before he began the run, with passing speed, roar and minutes making this music softer, tolerable — pleasant. The bass pumped like blood, the treble animal but domesticated. Seventy-five, eighty, he’d let the beat catch him briefly a sucker, eighty-five, ninety.
He saw the town venture, race before him. A dozen blocks at most, a cartographer’s eventual dot, the pinpoint was understated because it never would have thought otherwise, but it was as perfect a place as he’d seen. Mispainted shotgun homes to bungalows to statelier builds mixed with mid-century libraries and brownstone post offices to long-beaten low-rise apartments amid escalating commercial. Now sadistic business leases to overfilled shop windows to chains and franchised overhangs, and what he saw was the road. Ninety-five, a hundred.
He grabbed for the e-brake. His foot stomped gas and he flew.
On this straightest line in the world, the back end lifted higher — his chest crushed the steering — over the front, flipping directly forward, lifting the front, following through the air. Like when you fall down the stairs, you think — seriously fall down stairs. You may hit steps while tumbling, but you only truly feel the last ones when you land. If town witnesses are to be believed, the pearl-white Charger with the black stripe under the windowline never touched down while it spun ahead.
Trunk over hood, squarely with the yellow line. Every window burst at once. The tires burned acrid across no surface. Glass flew outward to curb not in shards but in silver and blue confetti, and the uninvented song fought the enveloped growl at jet decibels. The crowds that ran in concern from their kitchens and registers and cubicles to porch and sidewalk saw the car finish a final flip in the center of town and touch down on its hood ornament, momentarily bending — if you were close, you saw it — before a ferocious snap and all of this car coming down behind it, like a building collapse, siding and wood or maybe steel and plasterboard all down upon a concrete base, from brightness to black, explosive with no charge in what gravity had ordained, destruction.
And still the music played.
The song came at the obscene volume even with the Charger engine abruptly dead, ripped into street pavement and concrete. Half-buried, half-scattered at close radius, the frame afire bent many degrees from the ground, the absent windows played the siren of some future, shot through the cage and into the square and across the lots and lawns of the dozen blocks. At the loud stillness, a woman ventured closer from a sidewalk, then a man, then another, then a group of school children with one hanging back and another cautious, then the crowd from the grocery, some from the fast-food, and more rounding the corners and others following. The assembly grew as the music blared, with no one holding their ears but all pushing closer to the burn. Taller ones stood chest to shoulder. The shorter tried to angle around them for views.
A child in front raised hands above head. You couldn’t tell boy from girl at the distance. The child began to move them to the biggest beat you could hope to survive. Two teens beside the child did the same, and a self-conscious impediment in the adults surrounding began to fall. They raised their palms halfway, pushing them through the air, and with the crowd tight, they had to send them forward and up. They moved, and the smoke was thin but let them feel traction in the world. The motion unified as it peeled backward through the hundreds present, arriving, their hands not so much waving as thrusting and savoring the sound.
Behind a hedge in the square, retinas bloody, thrown mid-spin when stressors ripped the belt, through his blown windshield and out of the horrible alternation of sky and ground to arc and fall like a splintering hammer, the driver held himself up, drawing to his broken knees and watching unseen. A swaying took the upright half of his body, and he went down again. He threw up his whole life in the hedges. Minutes passed and he caught one breath. He began to crawl, with blood at his bottom lip, wondering about this girl he was supposed to see.