Fiction by Nathan Willis
The cars stay bunched together. When they go by, I cover my ears. It’s the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t bother the other people in the stands. They aren’t tourists like Harp and me. They understand the flags and strategies. They know the backstories of every team and every driver. Harp wants to be one of these people.
He says, wouldn’t it be great if there was a whole group of us back home that got together to watch these races?
The whole group would be us and John and Christine, and we already get together.
One car veers from the rest and smashes against the outside wall. It rolls and catches fire. The driver pulls himself out through the window. As the other cars approach on the next lap, they drift to the side to give him room.
He makes it to the infield and waves to the crowd. The announcers call him a survivor.
If I were out there, I wouldn’t drift. I would hit him as he jogged across the track. Not head-on. Just a graze to let him know this is still a competition.
There would be questions after the race. I would say I was distracted. The faces of the crowd are crystal clear at any speed and I saw that they were scared. They knew something I didn’t, so I took my eyes off the road. I watched my dials and my mirrors. I would say I didn’t even know I had hit him until I heard the sound.
The sports reporter would ask what it sounded like.
The last time Christine and John came over we had drinks and played games. Then Christine thought it would be funny to get into our bed and pretend that she was me and that Harp and I were having sex. It was the punchline to a months-old joke the rest of us had long since forgotten. I didn’t like it then either. Her performance became more exaggerated and sloppy until she fell off the bed.
That’s what it would sound like if I hit the survivor.
None of us moved to check on her. Not John. Not Harp. And certainly not me. We waited for her to get up. I don’t know if she did. I don’t know how we ever got out of that room.
Back in the kitchen, we sat around a board game we’d started earlier that night. The skin around Christine’s eye had swollen. The purple was already rising to the surface. She tried to apologize again. Harp and John told her to stop.
It was my turn. I landed on Landmarks. Christine drew a card and read the question. She wanted the name of the world’s deepest sinkhole.
Instead of answering, I put my hand on the side of her face where she hit the floor. It was warmer than the rest. I held it there until she asked me to stop.
The cars go by again. The lap counter ticks backward. Harp saw it, too.
There is a rule that would explain this but we don’t know what it is.
I worry about how long we’re going to have to stay.
Something new inside of me fills with dread.
When my hand was on Christine’s face, I felt a pulse, different from her own. It matches the pace of the cars on the track. Every lap is a beat.
The sinkhole is called The Heavenly Pit.
When we get back, John and Christine will have us over. They’ll ask about the trip and we’ll say we had fun and tell them about the race and the crash and how loud everything was, but they won’t care as much as we want them to. We’ll have drinks and tell stories about the exciting and unexpected things that each of us has encountered when traveling.
We’ll move to the table and start playing one of our usual games. After a few turns, I’ll say I’m getting another drink. I’ll go to the front room and stay there until it’s time to leave. The others won’t come looking for me. They’ll figure out a way to play without me. At one time, I would have been hurt. But not now. Now, I look out the windows at the empty street and I’m grateful.