The Accident by Neil Shepard
No exit, here–just a recurring curve of memory. Turn south, drive with me a while down Route 5 to a blind-rise, high-grass, sweeping curve to Guilford where my youth almost took a U-Turn, almost flipped to a shattered windshield, shattered life, when my VW Bug lifted a boy off his feet, rolled him over my yellow hood, bumped him against the glass, and launched him fifty feet in flight– to the roadside grass where he bounced once and lay still, his elbow poking through skin– and soon, his pain, and shock, and consternation on my face, and a bristling crowd at my back, as I tried to keep the boy awake, alert, stern looks from the men who’d have chopped my hippie hair and run me down and told police to lock me up–
until the mother arrives, calm as a willow over a still pool, beautiful as a whisper, and rests a cool hand on my shoulder, and coos the boy out of shock, coos me, too, out of the darkest place, where I’m marked forever by a death – no accident can undo the damage of a dead youth. And her hand is on my face, saying grace, saying he’ll survive, your penance is dinner at our house in a week. And I’m there on a day of atonement, the boy with his mending arm in a sling, the mother cooking and humming, and all of us gracious at dinner, counting the blessings, recounting the tale again, I saying the boy must have felt a white jolt of pain, the boy saying no, the shock blocked it, and his mother must have suffered more, and she saying, no, no, turning to me and saying it was this driver who must have suffered most.
And then we went to bed, she in her early motherhood, and I, a college kid, deep in my mea culpas, eager for the body’s rhythm of remorse and the come-cry’s absolution, eager to nudge aside the boy and kneel for her blessed hand on my head. In the next room, he must have heard us. Oh, the accident, and oh, and what did I know, what did I know of a mother’s love. She held me like a child.
Neil Shepard’s previous flash fiction appeared in The Louisville Review, a special issue edited by Leslie Daniels. His prose-poems and poem-poems have appeared in hundreds of magazines, among them Boulevard, Harvard Review, New England Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Southern Review, and TriQuarterly. His eighth book of poetry, How It Is: Selected Poems, was published in 2018 by Salmon Poetry (Ireland).