by Greg Gerke
This happened in Washington state. Just north of the Oregon border. Near somewhere called College Place. I was on my bike, just passing through. I sped along on a trail very close to a raised highway. I had biked a good eight miles from outside of Pendleton, Oregon where I was visiting my father. I needed a break and went off on my mountain bike that I brought along from Portland in my truck. Suddenly, above on the highway, two cars hit each other. One goes skidding into the guardrail, shaving off the paint on its side. The gnashing, the devilish grinding of metal on metal. I drop my bike and run up the embankment. The chassis's of both cars steam. A blue Ford, the car that didn't go into the guardrail, has its windshield cracked. Because I'm closer to this one I begin there. No one is inside. No belongings either. I rush to the other vehicle, a black VW. Again the same story. Nothing. I look up into the sky a moment and try to think. Less than ten seconds elapsed from when the VW stopped screeching against the rail to my mounting the embankment. It's a somewhat deserted stretch of road. No one in view anywhere. No oncoming cars.
I look over the guardrail to see if my bike is still there. It is. I go back to check the Ford. Still empty. Sooner or later a car or highway patrolman should come. I am the only witness. A squirrel runs across the highway, scoots under the rail and goes downhill. The front passenger's side tire on the VW blows out. I squat on the hot blacktop. Something tells me to check my wallet. Maybe it all has to do with money, often does. But no, it is about my driver's license. I was issued one in Oregon years ago when I moved there. But now the license I hold is from Montana. Same picture, same details. I try to stick it back in my wallet but it won't fit. There is another card in the wallet I didn't have before. A Washington state driver's license with a different picture of me in front of the state's insignia and with the same details. Of course the cars are both from Montana (the Ford) and Washington (the VW).
My bike is now gone. I turn round quickly from this dismaying sight to see a man behind the Ford zip up after peeing on the other side of the road. He doesn't look at me (he has my height and build) but quietly takes his place in the Ford's driver's seat and waits. I do the same, relaxing into the leather of the VW.
We don't exchange a word as the highway patrolman sorts through the paperwork and tries to get us quickly on our way. One of the tow truck drivers wants to make a stink about us being twins. I think maybe my other will answer to him, but he doesn't--he has business of his own and he can't be bothered with all that is on his mind. I don't even get a goodbye.
That evening the patrolman brings me to my father's house. I notice my truck is gone. Dad profusely thanks the patrolman and tells me the pasta he made for supper is all cold now, all no good. I warm it up and as I eat I explain to my father the accident and the damages incurred. He waves his hand at me and tells me if I had been in a VW bug from the '70's, a slug bug, I might be missing my whole face. I peer at him, noticing he is uncharacteristically clean shaven at such a late hour of the night, the time the late shows begin. Dad says in the morning we will go pick up the car and sort everything out. But now, he requests, let's just sit here and watch the stars. They're so goddam beautiful they make you want to forget about cars and accidents, don't they?
I wonder at his philosophy of life and beyond that, his smooth face. It could be enlightening if I saw through it.
I keep watch on that night sky--the dazzle of constellations, a thin moon, the shooting stars. It comes in one clump. I sit there on edge and then a switch is thrown and I'm deliciously at ease. I reason that many things, whether concerning me or my country, do not make sense, and I think it best to continue on, to not look for or bemoan the loss of my bike or truck, to get the VW fixed and in the future to drive more carefully.
About the author:
Greg Gerke lives in Brooklyn, New York. He came here after seven years in beloved Eugene, Oregon. His work has appeared in Pedestal Magazine, Hobartpulp, Apt, Rive Gauche, VerbSap and Ghoti. He is currently completing a novel set in Mount Shasta, California and Heidelberg, Germany. He has one book of short fiction: Fiction for a Sound Bitten Age. His website is www.greggerke.com.