Lipstick Stains and a New Yellow Dress
The moment is frozen in time. Broken glass on the asphalt reflects the rays of the setting sun, illuminating the two cars, crumpled like paper. The woman’s lipstick stains the airbag of her navy MINI Cooper. So does her blood. In a moment or two, sirens will interrupt the scene, and she and her 3-year-old daughter will be rushed to the hospital. Both will survive, but their lives will never be the same again. The same can not be said for the young man in the other car. His heart is as still as the moment. His last breath hangs crystallized in the air. A female jogger stands nearby: ponytail swinging in the breeze, sweat glistening, still breathing hard. She’s frozen too. Her dog, a lab, isn’t sure what is wrong. He nudges her motionless fingers. Then the man’s last breath is flowing back into his lungs. The lipstick is returning to the woman’s lips as the airbag is folding itself away. The two cars are separating, inflating like balloons. The jogger is running backwards down the sidewalk. The woman’s daughter is crying again, hungry and tired. The young man’s phone is back in his hand, the text he never sent is disappearing before his eyes: “Running late! I’ll be there soon <3”. He’s driving in reverse, away from the scene, watching the other cars roll backwards as well. He passes the bank his mom works at, the playground two blocks from where he lives. He’s pulling into his driveway, stepping out of his car and backing into the house. He un-combs his hair and replaces his suit with a T-shirt and jeans. The scene freezes once more. He’s sitting at the counter, reaching for some fries, eyes on his phone. He’s just received a text: “Can’t wait for tonight!” It’s his girlfriend. He’s only just remembered that he had promised to take her out for dinner. Alarmed, the young man drops the fries and runs upstairs to his room, where he is lucky to find a clean, ironed suit. He combs his hair and gives himself one last look in the mirror. He runs out the door, climbs into the car, backs out of the driveway. He drives past the playground two blocks from where he lives, the bank his mom works at. He checks the time. He’s already five minutes late. He glances at his phone. For a moment, we imagine that there is a second chance. We imagine that the young man pauses for a moment before reaching for the phone. He considers the consequences. He realizes that he can’t risk his own life, or the life of others, for the sake of a text. We imagine that he arrives at his girlfriend’s house, fifteen minutes late but alive, and apologizes. She smiles at him from across the table as they eat. He admires the way the candlelight dances in her eyes. They have a wonderful night together. We are only imagining. Unfortunately, there is no second chance. The sun is setting. The young man’s last breath dissipates. The woman’s three-year-old daughter stirs. The jogger dials 9-1-1. The young man’s girlfriend waits by the door in her new yellow dress, unaware that there is no one coming to pick her up. In the distance, sirens sound.
This story is inspired by a passage in Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse Five. It is often said that hindsight is 20/20. Foresight can be just as powerful. Take a moment to consider the consequences of your actions, because sometimes there is no second chance.