Driving toward the concert, along a backroad dense with insects and pine, we come to the slow procession of cars. It stretches through deepening twilight, disappears around the bend a half mile up. Oh God, I mutter. Accident, my wife says; maybe road work. We close in, join the row of cars. We’re going to be late, I say; an hour at least. My wife doesn’t answer. White headlights rush us from around the bend— prisoners set free, running wild-eyed into the night. Then they end and, one by one, we begin to move.
above, one steady star
We wait. Behind us, headlights accumulate. This is ridiculous, I say, it had been such a nice day—as if that should excuse us from this tie-up. But it had been wonderful, one of those rare Saturdays when everything went right: a morning of small chores accomplished without effort, an afternoon spent watching the Red Sox win, an early dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant, with the anticipation of a performance by the Tokyo String Quartet. Now this. My wife, always the more patient one, hums one of her favorite tunes—something from Bach, a sonatina. It makes me think of our vacant seats, waiting in the concert hall. Five minutes, I report; five minutes and we’ve barely moved. My wife just continues to hum. A siren grows loud, louder, cuts off. It’s not road work, my wife says. I nod, half-listening. Headlights pass. Taillights dim, crawl forward, grow bright again. Twilight turns to night: only a few stars, no moon. Finally, after forty minutes, we begin to round the bend.
red light beating
against the pine—
Slowly the scene presents itself: a police car like a battleship across our lane; one officer directing vehicles around a row of red flares. On the roadside, a station wagon, its front end nearly gone, its entire windshield burst; glass glitters across the blacktop, as if all the stars had dropped. A rear door is open; near it, three white-shirted medics huddle over a sheeted figure. Farther down, an ambulance and its warm interior light sits parked beneath the pines, cozy as a small house. Head-on, my wife says. They must have already towed the other car. Then she points to a spot just left of the medics, and touches my hand . . .
by the bright flare
a child’s sneaker,
its laces still tied
Quickly, it comes to me: the end of an outing; a family returning from a picnic, the park; a husband, a wife, children full and sleepy from hot dogs and sun. Wagon running smoothly through the shadows of pines, dotted white line zipping past its tires, windshield filled with the last light of a day suddenly canceled as the family rounds the bend. An officer waves us on, and we proceed past the wagon with its violated metal; past the medics who calmly work, their movements precise and quick; past the white sneaker. Then we are back in our lane, speeding up, passing the stalled row of oncoming cars. We have become one of the wild-eyed ones, yet we do not feel free. My wife no longer hums her favorite Bach, and I have stopped thinking of the concert. Instead, I concentrate on the road, on the insects flicking through the headlight beams. I am conscious of my wife—of her cream-colored dress, her pendant earrings, the curl in her hair. I touch her pale arm, just to feel its skin; she takes my fingers, doesn’t let go. Carefully, I steer down the road with one hand, my knuckles white against the wheel, as we proceed through the night.
the deep space between