What can happen in a second — the car swerves: there’s the squealing brakes, the sound of a horn, “LOOK OUT”. You’re in freeze-frame as you roll onto the hood of the already dented red Civic. Your grocery bag splits, should have gone with plastic, tomatoes fly and explode like firecrackers on the pavement. Glass shatters. The windshield? Your eyes stare blankly, seeing but not believing, refusing to send the information they’re receiving to your brain so that your mind processes everything a minute late. And then you hit the black steaming tarmac and all you know is the stifling exhaust from the tailpipe of the car and the growing puddle of sticky red liquid around you. “Samantha!” a familiar voice reaches your ears and you feel afraid.
What can happen in a second — “Samantha?” In the vegetable aisle, Darren puts a hand on your back. “I thought that was you.” You don’t know whether to smile or frown. Your eyes skitter away from his gaze. “What are you doing in this part of town?” he asks. He grins, showing his canines. You swallow, shrug off his hand, look for an escape. There is none. Now he’s frowning. The silence has gone on too long. You clear your throat, “My boyfriend lives near here,” hoping he’ll buy it. Darren seems to be growing taller and wider, trapping you against the vegetable coolers, impeding your departure. The mist-sprayer comes on, trickling down your spine like cold sweat. Darren jumps away to avoid getting wet and you take your opportunity. There’s no one in line at the register. That’s lucky. You dump your vegetables, pay, shove them in the paper bag and rush outside, looking over your shoulder as you cross the street.
What can happen in a second — your brain is processing again: a large, soft palm, squeezing yours, holding tight despite your lax grip. Your new awareness causes your hand to spasm and clamp. There’s something on your face — you can feel the straps holding it in place — and you blink open your eyes, heavy with crust. You’re on a ventilator. Your eyes roam to the owner of the hand in yours. Your body goes still. Darren. He smiles at you and a shiver runs down your spine. Darren. You don’t realize you’re holding your breath until you draw in a deep inhalation and feel your eyes roll back in your head. Darren. Your grip grows slack. Darren. You focus on the methodical beeping of the ventilator and try to ignore the shriek shooting up your throat and settling in the back of your mind.