The last thing he remembered was tightening his grip on the steering wheel. The image of his unfastened seatbelt flashed before him, the empty buckle grinning a wide, stupid grin that he’d like to fill. He had the flash of a thought that maybe if he held the wheel tight enough, he could brace himself against the force of the collision, the way one grips the crossbar of a rollercoaster to prevent from falling out during the loop-the-loop. It was useless, though. He was thrown through the windshield and landed on the boulevard, his head coming very close to colliding with a Yield signpost.
He should have died. In fact, he was (technically) dead for a minute there in the ambulance. His heart stopped for a full spin around the undamaged watch that clung to his fractured wrist. The paramedics tried to pound the organ awake, but they were pretty sure they were knocking on the door of a dead man. They were readying the paddles when his ticker started keeping time again—just like that. The seasoned paramedics shared a “how-about-that” glance, real quick across his body, like blink and you’d miss it, and then set about stablizing him.
All that time and for three months after he was out cold, dreaming about something that faded and was lost the moment he awoke to the fluorescent lights of the hospital room. There were no Get Well cards or flowers because he was more or less alone in the world and had always preferred it that way. But waking up alone in a strange place with a question mark over his head made being alone feel very lonely.
The attending nurse brought him up to speed and regaled him with the rather miraculous story of his survival. “You shouldn’t be alive,” he was told. It was something he heard too frequently during his recovery.
There was no one there to pick him up upon his release from hospital so he took a cab home and found a note taped to his door informing him that his neighbour, an older woman he’d conversed with regarding the weather on a few occasions, had been collecting his mail for him.
“And I knew about the hidden key so I let myself in.” He was sitting at his neighbour’s kitchen table, having a cup of pretty bad coffee and looking at the mail stacked between them, wishing to grab it and go. She was in the middle of justifying her reasons for entering his home. “I wasn’t sure if you had any pets or plants and I’d seen you hide the key under that fake rock, so I felt it was my duty to—”
“I don’t have any pets or plants,” he said.
“I noticed. But when it got cold a little ways back, well…you know it isn’t a good idea to leave a house to the cold like that, so I lit your pilot light and—”
“I guess I should be getting home. Thanks for the coffee.”
Sitting at his own kitchen table, he sorted the stack of mail into junk, bills and other. It was mostly junk and bills, but he did find one letter of interest, sent Overnight Delivery from his aunt in Florida. It was an invitation to attend his twin sister’s funeral, which he was three months late for.
After the initial wave of grief had subsided, he looked again at the invitation and noticed that the funeral was right around his accident. He called the aunt—who was at first mad at him for not attending—and after some catchup about the goings-on of some cousins he didn’t care too much for, he got the date and cause of his sister’s death. She had died, approximately, at the same time his accident occurred; cause of death unknown. That is to say, she died due to heart failure while walking her corgi, but why, no one knew. She was, according to the aunt, perfectly healthy.
He hung up and went to the bedroom. The bed had been stripped of its linen and the pillows were on the floor. Most likely the neighbour’s doing. He was too tired to make the bed up so he lay facedown on the exposed mattress, staring at the wall. He focused on the dull whiteness of the paint and on slowing his breathing. Somewhere beneath the quiet of his in- and exhalations he heard the steady sound of his heartbeat.