They met at the intersection of Hill Street and Canyon Road. The two roads converged at the highest spot of the hilly land.
The crossroads were busy with endless waves of traffic. The vehicles ran at the speed of forty-five miles per hour or even more.
He was there first. She came a week later.
They came there to work their way out of the situation.
On their left, across the strawberry field, they could see the white mountain far beyond the vast canyon. The snow possessed a look of eternal ignorance. It seemed a storm was raging there.
At the crossroads where they were standing, to the right they could see the city growing and stretching sharply in every direction. There was a small bridge looming over the newly built suburban townhouses.
First they stayed at different corners of the crossroads.
Then they started to talk when the traffic died down, at dusk, when people were already home. The flower shop had been closed then. He noticed she was looking at the green carnations scattered all over when the woman dropped the bucket and water splashed onto the pavement.
“How did it happen?”
The scenario was like this: in the morning the traffic headed North and Westbound, in the afternoon it ran back toward the South and East direction.
“Do you remember the guy? I mean the car.”
“Yes. It’s a white Mercedes. The guy ran the red light.”
“I was t-boned. It’s a hit and run.”
The time in the evening was a mixed bag, the vehicles were unpredictable. They had to look in all directions. They helped each other in order to help themselves. He knew the car she was after. And she knew his.
“What are you going to do if you catch that guy?”
There were times they were not sure what to do. They even doubted the meaning of their action. Sometimes it seemed they just happened to
stand there, studying the traffic and letting their instinct work.
They should have been alert. They should have been watchful. Their instinct told them to seize the moment. But what did seizing the moment mean, exactly?
There was time in the evening when all the lights of the businesses were already on. It was time when all the cars suddenly came to a stop. And at the traffic light, a dark shadow slowly moved across the intersection, totally blocking the light.
After three weeks studying the traffic together, they agreed that the people who drove Mercedes were the most reckless drivers. In the forth week, they could distinguish the cars, the people inside, and the time of the day these cars would come and go.
She thought, maybe it will never come, the driver does not have the guts to come back.
Her hope dwindled. He could tell. He felt even worse.
For five weeks there were a couple of accidents but nothing was serious. Nobody hurt. Over speeding? Yes. But no hit and run.
They did not want to, but they felt the urge to talk, of the deadline.
“Do you know the forty-nine days’ rule?”
“No…, actually, kind of.” She seemed bewildered.
He could tell that she was Catholic. He saw the dainty gold cross on her necklace.
“Even when you don’t know, it’s still applied to you.”
As time was running out, they got closer. It should have been a competition between them but they did not feel that way. Besides, just two of them were there, among endless waves of traffic. After all, they were social creatures and had a great need for the companionship of other beings.
She felt the uncertainty of her fate was more bearable when she looked at him and thought of his slimmer chance.
“Something gets to happen, you know,” she said, unable to find the right words to assure him.
But the long hours during the nights were still unbearable. The dirt smell from the strawberry field clung to the weary air. The smell made her sick. It was her fifth week, and his sixth.
When the city fell asleep, they still longed for any sign of traffic, not just at the intersection, but also from the streets moving down to the city in every direction. Sometimes a single fog light flickered deep down in the canyon. Sometimes the storm swept the city into total darkness.
At night she saw the dog appear on the bridge like how it was in Claire Barnard's "Storm": the dog standing scared and lonesome and thunder falling around it like heavy stones.
And at the bleary street corner, a dark shadow slowly moved across the intersection, totally blocking the light.
He looked at the pictures on the sidewalk, surrounded by flowers.
He saw people bring green carnations and teddy bears. They left the lovely-looking cards and wrote poems, too.
“I’ve got to do something about it. Cannot just wait and see,” he said.
So I’ll be here all by myself. She thought.
She wondered whether they would recognize one another if they were to meet again. The thought sounded very lost, she knew that, because all he cared about now was to escape, at all cost.
“If I could only see the borderline,” he said, with hidden anguish.“When you cross the border, you will become a different person.”
“I want to be me and to love green carnations. I want to be myself, to stay myself.” She looked sad when she said that.
You have no choice. He thought, with anger and envy. We are losing. At the end of this damn week, I will be lost.
“There’s a whole bunch of green carnations waiting for you over there, across the border.”
The time is up, you could disappear anytime now. She thought, with a sense of melancholy. He could not just dissipate into thin air. She believed in Borges’ idea that once something had existed there was no way to turn it into nothingness.
“It’s not as hard as you imagine.” He seemed to have some knowledge of it.
He paused to think of a way to say. “It’s not exactly like crossing the border. It’s like… jumping rope. Do you ever jump rope, with the long rope? Two kids turning the long rope and a group of kids jumping in and out?”
She knew what he meant; it was her favorite childhood game. “They must follow the rule. They can’t just go in and out. They’ve got to wait for their turns. They can only get in when someone gets out, or else the rope will get entangled.”
“I think it’s just a game, in forty-nine days. You know. Like any other game.”
After all, it made her feel better to think of it as just a game.
The moment when the game ended, everything came to a sudden stop. And she was bounced back, shaken, and freezing. When something had to happen, it happened so swiftly. It swept her away.
There was that white Mercedes at the crossroads, again. And a very dark shadow.
She registered the screeching sound of the brakes, the thrust pushing her violently forward, and the world distorted through a fish-eye lens. The bridge arched higher, the white mountain bulged outward, the city hollowed in, and everything curving, twisting, and converging at a bedazzling glare.
She felt all her insides being drawn out with a turbulent suction. Now it was stripped of its own form but still visible. Like a fruit whose skin was peeled off, revealing the raw and fleshy layers of substance. It was there, bare, mere naked, exposed. It possessed nothing that could contain it.
At zero hour, things returned to their starting points. The traffic light turned red. All the cars reversed to their very first stops. The dog returned to the bridge. It had fallen into the deep canyon previously. Time retraced to the moment before anything had happened, before the green carnations got scattered on that pavement.
But it does not matter anymore. He thought. She has already exited from her memory.