Fragments of skull lie scattered around the twisted aluminum carcass of the sedan, a clump of long black hair entangled with a rearview mirror, caked with blood, still warm. She is slumped, twisted beneath the seatbelt, airbag hanging to the side, letting out a slow hiss like a sigh of relief.
I wait, jar uncorked. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes minutes. Time is neither linear nor corporeal, but I am both patient and ready. I watch the cavity of her chest leaking fluids, impaled by a hand break, observe the feces-stained front seat beneath her. It’s a blessing that humans cannot witness their own last moments.
I turn away from the mangled body, shift my gaze to the flames dancing over the wreckage. They lick the deepening sky, orange and hot. Beautiful. I marvel at the serenity of the countryside, the vast fields that cradle this winding road. The sound of crickets, the sweet grassy scent. Beyond, a cluster of bovine observers chew their cud impassively. I look at them and they look at me. They are great, dumb, lumbering beasts, but it feels good to be seen. I return their blank, heavy lidded stare with a nod.
I kick at a bent hubcap, imagine the tinny sound it might make, were I corporeal. It’s funny, but I do envy her, this mangled, fragmented corpse. Yes, she is dead, but moments ago, she was alive.
A torn leather jacket lies twisted beside her, and I can see that the pallid skin of her arm is decorated with swirling tattoos. An alcoholic stench saturates the upholstery. I can see that she was without hope. Already wounded. She’ll produce an onyx black, I think. Or a bleak, smoky gray.
I step over shards, imagine the crunch, imagine pain. It is the greatest mystery. Touch is the only sense that I lack. The puncturing of flesh, the severing of arteries, I’ve seen these things millions of times, yet I am no closer to fathoming the searing totality they so clearly evoke. Death is pure logic, but pain? I could study it for eternity, and I will, but I will never understand it.
When finally a thin mist begins to rise from the corpse, steaming in wisps from her chest, I am surprised. Pale pink, shimmering. I smile to myself. Humans. Predictable, yet unpredictable. The soul twists and dances, thickening in the smoke-filled air. Its pale shade deepens to vibrant fuchsia. I whistle softly, coaxing it towards my open jar. Shyly it hovers, but eventually flows into the container, filling the glass. I cork it before it changes its mind.
I swaddle the jar in my cloak, taking one last look at the corpse before I go. Their lives are so short. A flicker, a pinprick. Insignificant. But I love them. I love their insecurities and their delusions, their passions and their sins. I cannot help it. The thought lingers as I disintegrate into the other plane.
Lara Henerson is a writer, teacher, and improviser from San Francisco. She writes magical realism, and has a Masters degree in Creative Writing (Fiction) from the University of Edinburgh. She’s been published in the Gateway Review, The Mitre, and the Inkwell.