there was no telling when these moments would creep up on her, overwhelming the imagination and overtaking all the senses, so vivid that she could feel the lurch and the whiplash as the car crashed from behind. didn’t matter what car. didn’t matter what time of day. there was no telling when these magnificent works of the imagination would surprise even her, from whose brain these pseudo-experiences were being projected. the bumper would crush into itself in slow motion, and the shock would reverberate through the metal frame into her bones, shaking and creaking the structure as if the two were melded together. moving together, destroyed together, the white paint flaking into a million microscopic fragments, a fountain of automobile youth and failed invincibility.
she couldn’t remember when this compulsive habit of imagining terrible accidents, calamities, disasters, started. probably around the same time she learned the nomenclature of automobiles — a science of combining the model + the make — and as one mystery was solved, the universe balanced itself out by adding to her life the conundrum of these momentary devices of self-torture-in-hypothesis.
but it wasn’t just car crashes and hydroplaning in unlucky puddles of summer storms that would explode themselves in those experiential images of her mind. it was slicing clean through a thumb while preparing the tomatoes; smash-dropping the laptop on its heavy corner into the hardwood floor, to the demise of both surfaces; miscalculating the dark staircase and stepping one too few times and falling down down down to the doom of her front teeth, crack-crakking against the hardwood humiliation. always the scene ending with the irreversible and/or very expensive destruction of something valuable.
in the collection of these moments, she lived, breathed in relief; boy what a good thing that this didn’t really happen just now. through these stomach-dropping ordeals of her dangerous alternate realities, she trained herself for the inevitable Terrible Thing. feeling the crash, surviving the slice, teeth-clenching in genuine suffering of the uh-oh moment. she was bracing herself for that day on which her imagined world would collide into the daylight of some normal Monday; practicing so that she could calmly carry that severed thumb to the emergency room herself if there ever would be a need.
years passed and still no Terrible Thing happened. all that had really changed was the curve of her shoulders, forever clenched in continuum with her fists, and her brow, too, which was furrowed in default worry. like a boxer in the ring, always ready to spring, with no opponent to actually crash her white knuckles into. youth passed on by, but she never looked up to shake her fists at its sneakiness; eyes squeezed shut and teeth clenched against the vivid slices of her imaginary life, there was simply no time for the mundane worries of the ordinary collective.
and thus she lived, or didn’t. and thus she stopped living. or didn’t. because for her, the end of active existence was a double negative. “death” simply relaxed the hunched spine and uncurled the clenched fists so that when they laid her out to be fitted to her modest plot of ground at the weedy cemetery on 14th Street, everyone was surprised by how much room her body actually took up in the coffin, freely unfurled as she never had been, in life. it was as if she had finally been freed from the anticipation of pain, quietly triumphant in death that had brought her peace. she had out-run all the treacherous non-adventures of her life, and rested in the silent folds of death, finally safe from all living possibilities. frozen exuberance, motionless joy. they would note, later on, the few who would remember her, how beautiful she had been in the casket. and how it could have been that they had never noticed, before.