Intersection

Intersection

The car crashed into our living room the afternoon of July third. I was in the kitchen making sandwiches while my wife watched our son play in the back yard. The driver had been drinking.

A busy street dead ends into our house, and for years people have been hitting our exterior walls. Sometimes they swerve and only clip a corner of the house; sometimes they hit the brakes and skid to a stop in the driveway, denting the metal garage door.

This drunk driver never even slowed down until he was parked in our living room. His blue sedan made it all the way down the hallway, tearing out the walls of our son’s bedroom and upending our couch on his hood. He stopped just inches short of the kitchen bar.

I put my half-made sandwich down on the plate and went to the driver’s side window. The driver looked stunned. His windshield was covered in drywall dust. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“Nice couch,” he said, rubbing his jaw. The airbag left bright red marks on his cheeks. I wondered if he had head trauma.

When the police showed up, they told me that this kind of thing was expected around the holidays. They said I could press charges for reckless endangerment, but in the spirit of the season that maybe I should just let it go. My wife held our son in the wreckage of our living room. “I guess we can let it slide this time,” I said. They took the driver away in handcuffs to let him sleep it off in jail and left his blue sedan in the middle of our living room.

“We’ll send over a tow truck,” the officer told me. “Happy fourth.”

The insurance company refused to pay anything for the damages. I sat on hold for three hours that afternoon, staring down the hallway toward the garage. It was strange to see sunlight on the tile floor.

“I’m sorry this is taking so long,” the woman from the insurance company said. “Most people are off for the holiday.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

After a couple more hours, she told me there was nothing they could do. “Call back on Monday,” she said. “My manager is out on a camping trip for the long weekend.”

My wife wasn’t happy. “What do we pay them for?” she asked.

“It’s considered an act of God,” I told her. “They have special exemptions for this kind of thing.”

Our son was scared. “Are there more cars coming?”

“No,” I said, looking down the hallway as a bright red pickup truck squealed to a stop at the intersection.

“Where can I sleep?” he asked.

“In our room. We’re going to have a slumber party,” I said. The master bedroom was on the opposite side of the house. It was the only room still intact.

It rained that night as we cuddled in our bed. The wind blew up the open hallway. Every time there was a strong gust, our son sat straight up. “I think I heard a car,” he said. I grabbed the flashlight from my bedside table and shined it down the hallway toward the living room. It reflected off the chrome grill of the blue sedan.

“Just the wind,” I said. “No more cars.”

“How will the other cars know to stop?” he asked.

“There are signs,” I said. “And reflectors. Tomorrow we can paint something on the wall.”

In the morning, we pulled our chairs around the hood of the blue sedan, since our dining room table was in splinters. The yolks of our eggs slid toward the front of the car. It was Sunday morning, and normally my wife would be excited to see the new week of coupons in the newspaper, but she just stared down at her reflection in the blue paint. “When are they going to take this car away?” she asked.

I shrugged. Our son ate a bite of his eggs and pushed the plate away. “Can I play video games?” he asked. We all looked at where our flat screen lay face down on the tile floor.

“We’ll get a new TV,” I said. “Maybe you can read your book.”

My wife cleared our plates. The egg yolks had dried on the low side, congealing into crescent-moon shapes.

I went to the hardware store and stood in line at the customer service desk. “My house has a large hole in it,” I said. “The outside is coming inside.”

“You’re going to be wanting plywood,” the man behind the desk said, pointing to a corner of the store. “Aisle twenty-three.”

In the plywood section, I got the attention of another employee who was trying to hurry past me. “The man at the customer service desk says I need plywood, but I don’t know what kind. I was thinking maybe maple?”

“That’s not how it works,” the employee said, looking over my shoulder. “What are you using it for?”

“A hole in my house,” I said. “A house hole.”

“All right. Plywood is measured by thickness. For the kind of hole you’re describing, I’m imagining you’ll want something in the three-quarter to one-inch range. How big is this hole?”

“Roughly car-sized,” I said.

“And you’re mainly looking to keep out the elements, I’d imagine? Also, pests? Crickets, roaches, pygmy rattlesnakes?”

“Exactly,” I said, even though I’d never heard of pygmy rattlesnakes.

The employee smiled. “I think I have a handle on the situation. I’d like to set you up with three sheets of three-quarter-inch plywood. It won’t last forever, but it should make it through the summer, unless it’s an especially active tropical weather season.”

“They’re saying it might be,” I said.

“That’s outside of my expertise. What I can tell you is that this plywood will last through as many as three hurricanes or five tropical storms, depending, of course, on the severity, distance from the eye, and location of first landfall. That much I can tell you.”

I bought the plywood and the employee helped me strap it to the top of my car. He tied a red plastic flag to the end to warn other drivers that the plywood was sticking out beyond the edges of my car. “Is this legal?” I asked.

“Not strictly, but we do it all the time,” the employee said. He patted the top of my car and leaned into the window as I started the ignition. “Have a good day.”

At home, my son stood by the foot of the ladder as I screwed the plywood into the stucco. When I was done, I pulled out a can of green spray paint.

“We can write something here for the cars to see,” I said. “What do you want it to say?”

“Happy birthday, America. Don’t drive drunk,” my son said.

I spray-painted the words in all capital letters across the plywood.

“It looks very festive,” I said. My son was happy with himself. He stood with his hands on his hips, and I could see a little bit of the man he would become.

For lunch, I started the grill and we sat on the back porch. Smoke from our neighbors’ grills rose over the privacy fences and oak trees. When I looked out, away from the sliding glass doors, I could almost imagine that there wasn’t a blue sedan parked in our living room.

I cooked a package of hot dogs and put them on buns. “That’s too many hot dogs,” my wife said.

“I thought we might see who could eat the most,” I said. “Like they do every year on TV. They dip them in glasses of water first so the bread goes down their throats easier.”

“I just want one,” she said.

“Can I have pickles on mine?” our son asked.

“Relish is the traditional condiment,” I said, “but I guess it’s okay.”

That evening we watched fireworks on the TV in our bedroom, the red and green and yellow flashes changing the colors of the walls. Our son smiled at the shapes they made in the sky, but every time one exploded with an especially loud boom, he looked down the hallway to where we had covered the hole with plywood. The sheets hadn’t lined up perfectly, and in the dark I could see the glow from the streetlights and the shadows of passing cars.

We slept a little better that night. The plywood muffled the sound of traffic and kept the mosquitoes out. My son woke me up once, talking in his sleep. I thought he said something about drywall repair, but that was impossible. He knew even less than I did about home maintenance.

When the holiday weekend was over, I went back to work and tried to forget about the car in our living room. By lunchtime I had become increasingly anxious. The sound of the fax machine made me jump. On my lunch break, I called the insurance company. “Can you come get the car out of our living room?” I asked the woman.

“We’re still processing your claim,” she said. “As you can imagine, the holiday season is a busy time for us.”

“Any idea how long it might take? My wife really wants it out of there.”

“I’d guess seven to ten business days, assuming we can find a tow company that doesn’t have a waiting list.”

“I understand,” I said.

“Thank you for your patience.”

For the rest of the day, I tried not to drink any caffeine. I kept imagining my wife and son sitting on the couch as an eighteen-wheeler plowed into the living room. I imagined them splattered on the metal grill. I imagined the driver sitting outside my house with his head in his hands, giving a statement to the police. Would they know how to reach me? I checked my cell phone. No missed calls.

On the way home I got stuck in traffic. I tried to call my wife, but her phone went straight to voicemail. She’s okay, I told myself. She always forgets to plug her phone in, and the battery doesn’t last as long as it used to. She probably took our son to the park. They’re probably talking about what a nice day it is. He’s probably sweating through the thick white sunscreen she makes him use.

The traffic stretched ahead of me for miles. I turned on the radio but couldn’t concentrate on what they were saying. “Government spending is out of control. What we need are fewer traffic lights and more prisons. This country was built on Coca-Cola and hand grenades, not seat belts and dental floss.”

Traffic stayed stop-and-go all the way to our neighborhood. A fireman directed cars past our house. I parked on the lawn. The sheets of plywood we had nailed over the hole in the wall were splintered.

My wife and son were on the front porch, covered in a thick emergency blanket, drinking bottled water. A police officer stood in front of them with a notepad.

“What’s going on here?” I asked as I walked up to them.

“Dad,” my son said, running to wrap his arms around me. He cried into the leg of my slacks.

My wife looked away and started sobbing. The police officer pointed at the front door. “Might want to have a look,” he said.

I opened the front door. The living room was full of cars. Red, black, green, and white. The metal twisted together. I couldn’t tell minivans from pickup trucks from hatchbacks.

“How did this happen?” I asked.

“They were all headed home after the long weekend,” the cop said. “You know how it is. One takes a wrong turn, and the rest follow. We figure the whole thing was over in less than five minutes.”

“Are you okay?” I asked my wife.

“We have to move,” she said.

“What about the drivers?” I asked.

“A few died,” the cop said. “We’re pulling the bodies out now. We should be out of your way by dinner time.”

It took the firemen two more hours to remove all of the bodies from the wreckage. They wrenched open doors and trunks with the Jaws of Life. Paramedics loaded corpses onto gurneys, covered them with white sheets, and put them in the backs of ambulances. Our tile floor was bloody. My wife went into the kitchen and boiled spaghetti. She emptied a jar of sauce onto the noodles. It smelled like blood.

One of the cars had taken down an electrical pole and our power was out, so we ate in the dark.

“Are the dead people ghosts now?” my son asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “Finish your dinner.”

That night I lay in bed with my wife and son until they fell asleep, then got up and put my clothes back on. The moonlight came in through our sliding glass door and reflected off the wreckage. The street outside was quiet. I could hear my footsteps on the tile.

As I got closer to the wreckage, I heard a low hiss and a faint rattle that I thought might be a cooling engine. I leaned into the spaces where doors and windshields used to be but couldn’t see anything. The sound quickened and I could also hear dripping. Finally I got down on my knees. Underneath the pile, a middle-aged woman in a brown dress with yellow flowers looked up at me. Her lower jaw was missing. When she exhaled, blood bubbled from the hole in her neck.

“They missed one,” I said to the woman.

She nodded anxiously.

I sat down and leaned against the wreckage, took my phone out of my pocket and dialed the insurance company. I knew the dying woman was a liability. The phone rang three times and went to a recording. I hung up.

“This is going to have to wait until morning,” I said to the dying woman. She looked disappointed, but I could see that she understood.

Pinkies

Shane Hinton holds an MFA from the University of Tampa. He lives in the winter strawberry capital of the world. “Intersection” appears in Pinkies, his debut story collection, published this month by Burrow Press.

This excerpt is reprinted by permission from Pinkies (Burrow Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Shane Hinton.

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