Inside the house, we didnt even hear it. From this distance, you would think such a thing would make a sound capable of cutting through anythingsquealing rubber, torn steel, shattered glass, ripped tree limbs, gnashing gears, that baby wailing. But with Miles Daviss Kind of Blue on the stereo and the house bustling with people from the home tour and the doors and double-paned windows closed for the air conditioning, honestly, we didnt hear a thing. As it was, one of the tour people on the deck thrust her head inside the door and shouted, My cell phones dead. Someone call 911 or something. Then I saw it, we all saw it. A small SUV, Subaru Forester, had leapt a guardrail on the Clara Barton Parkway adjacent to and above the copse of trees behind the house, torn through the branches of one of the larger elms, and landed upside down, the front end and windshield mashed into the ground, the rest of the vehicle relatively intact but for the torn and bent side panels.
Everyone approached the car cautiously, as if the crash were still in progress, as if the car might yet explode, fearful of first-hand witness of the carnage that must lie within. If the car hadnt flipped and landed upside down, perhaps some sort of rapid rescue could have been accomplished by those of us thereperhaps a clear-thinking, composed, temporary hero might have issued from the group of home tour visitors, freed the passengers quickly, and saved the home tour from complete disaster, in fact providing an additional layer of excitement and entertainment that might only show the house off better. But mashed down as it was on the front end, we couldnt gain access, couldnt even see inside the vehicle. Not clearly. Even that might have been something we could have borne until the EMS crew arrived. What could one do, really, in such a situation? We werent equipped for it. This was work for trucks with winches, ambulances, police officers, and professionals in dark blue jumpsuits armed with sophisticated medical kits. The driver was probably dead, probably drunk and responsible for his fate anyway. It would have been reasonable to arrive at such an assumption and just wait for the trucks and ambulances and professionals that would, after all, be dutifully summoned, to arriveif not for the sound of crying within the wreckage. Not the whimpering of an adult in pain but the full-throated wailing of an infant. More than anyone could be expected to bear. Certainly more than she could bear, in the end, given the circumstances.
Wed been in the house a year at that point, with the remodeling work proceeding non-stop, for the most part. The final touches had just been completedthe floor of Brazilian mahogany newly-laid in the kitchen/breakfast area, the Black Galaxy Indian granite counter tops with ogee edges in place, the Sub-Zero PRO 48 refrigerator with glass panel door and the six-burner Wolf gas range with dual convection ovens installed. In truth, the floors are andiroba, but its commonly called Brazilian mahogany, which pleases me since the word connotes more effectively the richness of the wood. Including our house on the Bethesda Summer Tour of Homes was a way to show off the accomplishment. A commemoration. From this place we would begin again. Leave history behind. Forget everything that ever happened before we met at the retreat in Cabomy ex-wife and both daughters refusing to even look at me, to be in the same room with me, let alone speak to meher first husband and five-year-old son threaded through the axles of a semi on I-95. Here, looking over the newly-finished deck, into the copse of trees enclosing the back of the lot, protecting us from the parkway, listening to Miles Davis, here we could hold onto a cup of freshly-ground coffee or a glass of Bordeaux, could hold onto each other, could use words like copse, and be released from our pasts. Just the two of us, in the present. In this present, so carefully constructed. Everything clean and new and in place.
I had called 911 on the land line while everyone else, including her, deserted the house to join the others around the wreckage. By the time I arrived outside one of the women from the home tour group was on her knees, whimpering, clawing at the rear passenger side door. Oh god, its a baby. Get it out. Its just a baby. Oh, god. Her fingers were already torn and bleeding, desperate to get a grip on the door, which was caved in from the crash and wedged shut. We tried to pull her away, but she shrugged us off, frantic in her assault on the closed door. The strength in her arms and shoulders startled me. The wailing of the infant was overwhelming, just inches from us, but unreachable, unstoppable. We could barely see through the web of fissures in the cracked window, just enough to make out the red-faced baby, strapped in its safety seat, upside down and howling. We could barely get a view of the driver, just that she was a woman, the mother, we assumed, and that she was still, twisted, and bloodied.
We continued to try to calm the woman, assure her that the rescue squad would arrive soon, and she continued to refuse our entreaties. One of the men in the group of home tour visitors came running from his car, a tire iron in hand to pry at the jammed door when the first ambulance arrived, other sirens not far behind. Professionals had arrived to take control of the situation, just as they were supposed to do. I turned my eyes to the ambulance as it lurched into the drive and saw her, my second wife, at the back of the crowd of home tour visitors around the Subaru. She stood still as a tree, rooted, her arms folded tightly onto her stomach, as if screwed down, her lips pressed so firmly together they seemed but one lip. Her gaze was locked on the wrecked car, fixed, stony as a slab of granite.
If only the guard rail had kept that car up on the parkway as intended, if only the car hadnt landed upside down, if only the mother hadnt been mashed, snapping her neck, if only the EMS squad hadnt had to treat that home tour womans mangled fingers and sedate herif only that baby hadnt been strapped in there crying. If only it had happened some other day, any other day, not during the tour of homes, after all the renovations, then wed be fine, safe and free, and she would be what I wanted her to be and wouldnt be lying in bed all day, every day, her fingers picking at the embroidery on the Italian duvet cover, staring at the ceiling, indifferent to me, to our new lives free of history.
In the late afternoon light, the reflection of the Sub-Zero PRO 48 on the polished Brazilian mahogany floor is dazzling.