Through the Windshield, Into the Street
by Arik Gabbai
Coming down the canyon, his right hand holding firm at twelve o'clock, Max smashes into the car in front of him and flies headfirst through the windshield. In the moment immediately preceding the only car accident he'd ever been in, nine years earlier, Max sat in calm, philosophical silence as the messy choreography of the collision played out before him like a ballet, the events unfolding with sickening clarity, inevitable, as if to Mozart or James Horner. He supposed afterwards that all such accidents occur in this manner, a moment in slow-motion spent appreciating with a clear eye and mind the storm before it hits. This time, though, he sees nothing, and has time only to think, Oh, fuck, before he goes headfirst through the windshield.
Max sails over the car in front of him and lands in the intersection of Sunset and Benedict Canyon. To his immediate left is the Beverly Hills Hotel, pink and glamorous and spooky, and beyond that, dirty-pretty Hollywood; to his right Sunset meanders its way westward towards Brentwood and eventually out to the beach; all around him in every direction is the sprawl of greater Los Angeles.
He goes from flying through the air at nearly forty miles an hour to instantly, utterly still. He crashes down, stays. There is no rolling around. Max's body is contorted in all directions, limbs twisted and broken, his face open, hot against the asphalt, and only when he realizes just how wrong it all looks does he become conscious of what's going on. He's aware of movement, feels himself lift upward, takes a look around. A sky-blue old model Mercedes, its back bumper crushed into the trunk, sits idling in the street. Other cars are beginning to pull over and stop; Max hears their horns and the sounds of women shrieking. Already in the distance there's a siren, but it can't be for him. Too quick, he thinks, and L.A. is a big place. At the park across the street, a young woman with a stroller has her hand to her mouth. Dark purple sunglasses spread across her face, but her posture emotes horror and terrible sympathy.
Blood laps under him in waves. People are converging around him now, frantic. A middle-aged man with sideburns too long for his face rushes forward and says, as if in character, "Everybody back, I'm a doctor." Eight or nine or ten feet high, Max thinks: how nice, these people, to forget dinner or soccer practice or that new show on Fox and attend to this stranger. How nice of them to get out of their cars, call the police, make the spectacle official in order to warn passing drivers of calamity. The shift from the anonymous, mildly hostile rush of traffic to communal crisis mode is immediate and complete. More than anything, this strikes Max as curious.
Then comes the pain. In shock waves, and Max, back inside his body, knows that he is dying. "Don't move, be still" says the doctor, and Max tries to tell him okay but manages only to gurgle. Breathing isn't easy, and Max wonders what exactly he should be most worried about: not enough oxygen, or his back, which feels as if it's been shifted and rearranged, his stomach and ribcage facing left, his chest right; or, perhaps, that his face burns like fire and all he sees is black because his eye sockets have filled with blood.
Then, just before the lights go out, Max feels a sudden overwhelming sense of things being altogether all right, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. His parents and friends, his neighbors, Maxine, these people in the street, the whole of Los Angeles, Miami, New York, the entire country, the world, the universe--everything is as it should be, and Max...as for Max, he is no longer of this world.
Or maybe he still is. Maybe he lights a cigarette, takes a drag, then a moment, and says, "You're right, Maxine. I'm sorry." Maybe he forgets himself for just a second and allows himself to laugh, thinking that the pairing of their two names is his least favorite coincidence of all time. Maybe she gets flustered on her end of the line, but softens, asks,
"Why are you laughing?" He tells her, and she says, "I'm sorry, too. Max, I don't want to fight anymore."
"We're always fighting," he says. "Why are we always fighting?"
As the canyon stretches and yawns and finally opens into the flats of Beverly Hills, maybe Max slips his phone into his pocket and passes a slow-moving sky-blue old model Mercedes, who gets stuck at the light back on Sunset.
About the author:
Arik J. Gabbai was born and raised in Los Angeles and now lives in New York, where he's pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the New School University. This is his first published fiction.