Scenes from an Accident

Early this morning, I saw a woman in a white car pull out of the parking lot of my apartment complex and head for the turning lane. As she did, she cut off a man on a motorcycle. Though he slowed and swerved, the cyclist hit the car with a crunch, rolled over the hood, and landed on his face in the road. The woman stopped the car and jumped out, screaming.

When I got there, the man was lying on his side. I couldn’t see his face, but the asphalt around it was slick with blood. Leaning over, I told him not to move, that the paramedics would be there shortly, with painkillers. I asked the woman whether she had a cell phone. Sobbing, she said she did, and handed it to me. I had stopped carrying cell phones back when they still flipped open and had keys; this was one of the newfangeld models people dial by touching the screen.

“I don’t know how to use this kind of phone,” I said. “Will you dial 911 for me?” She said she already had, and somehow the phone ended up in the hands of a neighbor of ours, a fat, greasy character on SSI, who provided dispatchers with a very precise and lucid account of the accident, along with our location.

The motorcyclist rolled over to face us. His mouth was a picked scab; his four front teeth were gone. He was gurgling and clutching at his right arm. Two gray-haired men strode into the turning lane. The driver threw herself into the arms of one, the other knelt down by the cyclist and told him not to move.

“Is that a doctor?” I asked the guy hugging the driver. “He’s a cop,” the man answered. “It’s all my fault,” the driver said, and repeated the words, over and over. She was a blonde in her mid-20s, wearing a short, black dress that reminded me, oddly, of Jackie Kennedy’s widow’s weeds. Tears were spilling from under her glasses and onto her baby face.

“It’s okay,” the man said, patting her back. “You didn’t mean it. It was an accident.”

The cop who’d been talking to the driver walked back to his car and returned in a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department windbreaker. A short, wiry Phoenix policeman appeared, and made himself busy examining the point of collision. The man’s bike was a Honda, apparently an older model. It had left a deep dent in the body of the car. The cyclist was still lying on his side, rocking slightly.

With a protracted effort, he sat up. Everyone stopped talking and stared. Squinting at the driver through pale eyes, he looked for a moment very much like Steve McQueen.

“You just had to pull out in front of me, huh?” he said. The cop told him to lie back down.

“You’re pretty tough,” I told him. “I could never have done that.”

“He probably didn’t roll right,” the man hugging the driver said.

The paramedics arrived, strapped the driver to a board, loaded the board onto a stretcher, and packed stretcher, board and driver into an ambulance. The Phoenix policeman listened to my version of events and took down my contact information. I asked if I could go, and he said I could, so I took my Thirstbuster and left.

A Christian imagination can be a great thing to have. Thanks to it, I was treated to a drama of contrition and confession, with a garnish of death and resurrection lite. But it was a real come-down, being forced to remember that my imagination is still where the better part of my Christianity resides. Nobody wants to star in the parable of The Good Samaritan Who Had Nothing to Offer His Neighbor Apart from Some Really Dumbassed Words of Encouragement.

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