It really didn’t seem real. The whole thing. He should’ve been dead. All of them. It was so fast. He knew the car had flipped twice, but for the life of him, looking back at the wreckage and the trail of disturbed snow, Ethan couldn’t really understand what had happened. He was woozy and his heart was beating so fast. He was frustrated, because he had to tell person after person that he didn’t speak Swedish, yet they continued asking question after question. His boss showed up and asked if he was all right. Ethan couldn’t tell if he was real or not.
For a moment, he wondered if he was dreaming. He had been having strange dreams all month – most of them about work. The Christmas season was always crazy. And this year, Ethan was working at a full-scale Swedish “Julbord” restaurant. The seventy-four-dish buffet was laid out and refreshed every twenty minutes, making sure nothing was ever out of place. Ethan, who was new to the restaurant and the traditions, handled drinks and desserts, which meant he was constantly pouring various flavors of Aquavit, strange Swedish beer and liquor combinations, and, of course, the warm, spiced wine, called Glogg, that he had grown to love as a mid-shift cigarette break alternative to coffee.
His boss told him not to worry about coming in to work the next day. Ethan, high on adrenaline, insisted he would be fine by morning. He promised to be there. His boss, of course, didn’t hold him to the promise; having seen what Ethan hadn’t, at that point – the car.
Ethan passed out a minute later, but for months, refused to admit that he did. He was convinced he was fine. “Just a few scrapes and cuts on the face, a bunch of glass in the hair, a bruised hand, a sore rib, a sprained foot, and swollen lip.” The lip came from when his head flung forward and hit the back of the driver’s seat, which according to him, happened on the second flip.
He would say that that was his most vivid memory of the crash – his face hitting the seat. But, he would be lying. His most vivid memory, the instant he dreamt about for months after, the moment that when he pictured it, his heart still jumped, was the lead up. The moment just before the car flew across the ditch and into the wall of snow on the other side. It felt like the beginning of a roller coaster – that perfect moment of calm at the top of the first steep hill. He felt everything stop – time, motion, breath. It all stopped. And he just accepted the inevitable. Then, he saw the three girl’s hairs start to float and everything went loose as the wall came rapidly towards him.
Ethan had been planning to go straight home that night. He was just going to have Alice drop him off at the train station. It had been weeks since he had fallen asleep next to his girlfriend. Most nights, after arriving home late, he would sleep on the couch to avoid waking her up. He also was looking forward to waking up early the next morning and sending out some job applications. The night schedule he worked and the day schedule his girlfriend worked had become overly difficult to manage. They were both frustrated with the limited number of dinners they shared, nights they fell asleep next to each other, and frequency of what she called ‘private time.’ But, the fun spirit in the car had Ethan considering joining the group for a couple of drinks at a local dive – his favorite kind of bar. Johanna, the chef, was done for the season and wanted to buy everyone a round. She was pleading with Ethan to join, arguing that he never came out with them for drinks because they always went to dance clubs, but that their plan was to go to his style bar that night, so he had no reason to not join. Alice was blasting her Bon Jovi mixed tape – an awkward combination of Bon Jovi B-sides from throughout the years. She called it “old time rock” which made Ethan laugh. It reminded him how much older he was than everyone he worked with.
Mary was the youngest and by far the most excited for the night. She had just reached legal drinking age and this was her first night out with the staff. Maybe Alice was trying to impress her or make the night even better by swerving the car to the beat of the music.
Ethan felt it coming. He knew she was speeding up as she crossed the overpass. There had to be ice on the road. And suddenly they were sideways, then straight, then sideways the other way.
Ethan took a deep breath, fearing and refusing to believe what was happening. His heart jumped, the same jump that occurred every time he got into a car for years after, and then he saw their hair start to float.
The car was moving so fast the initial hit simply flung the small two-door European sedan upwards, rolling it from front drivers side corner to the crux of the drivers-side roof. The insurance company would later surmise that the car had rolled two and one half times after skidding off the dark, slick road at approximately ninety-three kilometers per hour. When the car balanced on the driver’s side, it slid for just under twenty-eight meters before it settled. This explained the shattered glass in Ethan’s hair.
After he came to, which wasn’t long after the car had stopped moving, Ethan looked up at Johanna, who was trying to push open the passenger side door from the backseat. Mary, in the passenger seat was struggling with her seat belt. Alice was silent and still. Ethan looked down at his arms, half-expecting for one to be missing. They were fine. He was fine. He couldn’t believe it. He was confused. He closed his eyes and tried to figure out what had just happened.
It felt like slow motion, but not. Moments would stop and allow for observation then skip ahead to another.
“Alice?” He was so confused. And his foot was stuck. He wished he had just taken the bus. Alice’s seat had been pushed back and trapped Ethan’s foot. He twisted and pulled to get it out, so he could help Johanna get the door open. It took some work, but he got loose just as Mary got her seatbelt off and braced herself against the dashboard, so she didn’t fall on Alice, who still hadn’t moved. Ethan gave the door a final push with Johanna and the door popped upward. Mary climbed out first, then Johanna, who, along with Ethan, was screaming for Alice to wake up.
Ethan reached around the driver’s seat and grabbed his phone, which he saw next to her, in the snow. She woke up as his hand slid past her face. She didn’t speak. She didn’t look upset. Half her face was red from snow, dripping bits of ice and rock and glass, the other half red from the airbag. She climbed past Ethan and out of the car, which Ethan soon saw was about a quarter mile from the road. It had started to snow again. Ethan couldn’t remember if it had been snowing before.
By the time they reached the road, a group of cars had stopped and Ethan had to explain to each of them, then to each paramedic, cop and fireman that he didn’t speak Swedish very well, that he had had a glass of wine, and that he hadn’t passed out (even though he had).
He looked back at the car as he lied to his girlfriend, who he had called to tell he’d be home late, letting her know he was in an accident, but insisting that it wasn’t that bad. He didn’t want to worry her. He was so cold and so confused after hanging up. He just stared at the car and the falling snow. There is no way they all should’ve walked out of that car. He didn’t know what to think about it. He was happy. He was alive. He wanted to jump and dance and scream, but he was also a bit wobbly, so he just lay down on the paramedic’s board and tried his best to answer all the questions.