A Collision of Unequal Mass
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Flatter"
Originally featured on 01-10-2008
As part of our series "Relatively Forced Holiday Laughter"

It was at the crossing of Hummel Lane and Brass Avenue that gravity stepped out for a cigarette break and vacated its post. I thought later of my two year old nephew Ronnie. Ronnie was still getting acquainted with the function of his legs, and sometimes got distracted and fell on his two year old butt. All toddlers react to physical pain, but Ronnie’s pain began long before his rump hit the concrete. From the instant Ronnie understood that a loss of balance was in his immediate future, the look on his face was one of indignation and disbelief. That was his father—my brother—Brendon’s observation, late at night over brandy and caramels on the screened-in patio with Charlotte, his athletic blonde wife leaning a little too far back in her rocking chair and laughing a little too slowly. They talked about Ronnie’s potty training mishaps with the exact same language grad students might use to discuss the actions of minor characters in a Shakespeare play. The crickets laughed continuously.

It was at two and a half squares of sidewalk south of the intersection of Hummel and Brass that I acclaimed to myself that I knew how to be happy. There was no warmth or excitement in its recognition; the fact did not need to sell itself to me with emotions. Happiness was my thesis project, and this was what it looked like; bicycling down empty streets at twilight with Jane, a little too cold, a little hungry. Then my handlebars were sucked into the middle of something that felt circular. Later I thought of the vortex of bathwater in a shower drain. The thought incited a shiver, or maybe I just shivered. It was cold out.

Jane turned a corner. I was riding right beside her and I didn’t turn the corner. Momentums clashed.

The curb tried to push itself into my back and buttocks and out the other side…and I think it might have succeeded. Could this be what Ronnie felt every time he stumbled? Ronnie was a two year old, and two year olds were forgiven. I knew then what Brendon and Charlotte were trying to articulate, regarding the expression on their son’s face when he tripped and fell. Ronnie wasn’t old enough to be embarrassed or self conscious, that wasn’t it at all; his disappointment was disappointment in the collective weight of the earth for betraying him. This was probably not a good time to mention to Jane that I wanted kids.

“You totally want to bang your sister-in-law.” Jane liked to taunt, and I liked it when she taunted. This was earlier in the evening. We were eating crab nachos, I think. Why the hell any knock-off Mexican food cart would offer imitation crab meat in a nacho platter is beyond me, but Jane loses sleep if she passes up the opportunity to try the most bizarre and unappetizing item on a menu (she likes to see her friends wriggle their chins and say “dude, that’s disgusting” when she says you should try the such-and-such- I mean, hey, whatever makes her smile, right? I think she feels she’d turn invisible if she stopped pushing the envelope of her ostensible quirkiness, but that’s beside the point) and with enough Joe’s Flamin’ Hot salsa, it actually wasn’t bad. “Did you hear what I said? You want to bang-”

Yeah, I heard her.

“Don’t you want to deny it?”

Where would denying it get me?

“So you admit it.”

“Admit what?”

“That you’d like to take a corkscrew o’ love to that tight little-”

“Jane, I’m eating.”

She looked down at the plate we were sharing, eyebrows arched, and we both laughed. Then she reached for my crotch under the umbrella’d picnic table but her hand found my wallet instead, and we laughed even harder. After that she probably made some witty remark about what that symbolized, but it was a moot point, I’m sure.

The night after that is kind of this black box of nothing, gift-wrapped in disembodied memory snapshots of us laughing. Somehow we wound up on bicycles. Just like I don’t remember seeing the sky’s progression from light to dark, I can’t recall the sequence of events from us dining on cheap nachos in Center Square Court to this midnight bike ride, but it doesn’t matter; one doesn’t contradict the expectation of the other. Jane and I were random. I used to call it ‘in love’ but I think ‘random’ is more specific.

I simply forgot where it was we were going. I’m not clumsy, and if you accuse me of that, I’ll turn bright red and…okay, accuse me of whatever you want. I said it, I forgot. Spaced out. Now I’m on the ground with an ouchie (wasn’t that what Charlotte — my sis-in-law — calls it?) and Jane’s-

“Damn it you retarded idiot what the”

This I heard before the thud.

The bruise poured itself onto my forty dollar jeans from a fountain in the fat of my lower back. It was at that point that Ronnie would wail and screech and Charlotte would run onto the playground, sweep the boy up and make cooing noises as she stroked his messy hair. Nothing about this aroused me sexually.

My bicycle lay on its side, angled over the curb with the tires sticking up. The spokes of my back tire were still spinning to a slow halt, and as they rotated, a hair-thin reflection of moonlight wiggled through the metal rods like flowing water. I always try and notice one thing that’s pretty, no matter where I am.

“Are you even gonna help me up or are you too fucking retarded to even”

Okay, I lied, it does give me an erection to see Charlotte interact with the boy. Jane and I were already engaged, and had a tentative wedding date set for June. I had a full-time position as a technician at the Synchronimetry Research Lab, and Jane was tutoring math. I had just taken third place in a regional Judo tournament, and one of our local organic food stores had a bulk sale on my favorite brand of granola cereal, good through Tuesday. These were the commercials looping through my brain when my fiancé made a right turn onto Hummel Lane. The thud was not part of my happiness.

The words her mouth emitted were more like sparks than words. I stood back. With clarity I saw the next three hours of conversation in front of me, behind me—it was a unidirectional dust cloud, and I could see it- and I don’t mean visualized it, I mean saw it. I was oscillating somewhere inside my body like a plucked guitar string, miles from the surface of my skin at any particular instant. I thought of Ronnie laboring valiantly to hold back the flow of tears when he bruised himself. Charlotte was right; there was dignity involved. And Jane was right: I wanted to bang Charlotte.

Words would be spoken until spoken words overflowed the November air because words had to be drained from our bodies, and then we would be quietly riding bikes down darkened streets again. Everything would be the same, except…except, I don’t know, for a lack of…I guess things just wouldn’t be so random anymore. Yeah. After that thud, there was a certain, I don’t know, I guess you’d say a certain cadence. It was like the first percussion beat of something that couldn’t ever be turned off.

A foreign body swerved and I stood still, and that was as much sense as I could make of it. My mind might drift off in physics class and I might start drawing diagrams of our trajectories at the intersection and try and understand it using conservation of mass, but words did not equal mass, regardless of volume of expression. The best explanation? I was just supposed to know things, I guess. I was supposed to be thinking about turning that corner when I was thinking about freshly baked flax seed-bread three loaves for the price of two, my marriage, my Judo trophy and the abstract condition defined by the synergy of these things. We’re not two years old, we’re adults, was what Jane told me thirty nine times in the same sentence. It was at the crossing of Hummel Lane and Brass Avenue that gravity became involved.

Her backpack was sprawled on the street, one strap torn off, and some oversized black flashcards were strewn about, having spilled from an opened pocket. I’d never seen them before. Jane bent down to pick them up and re-stashed them quickly.

The front wheel of Jane’s bicycle was knocked slightly out of alignment. This could be fixed. Jane did not notice it and I did not fix it. I stormed off into another dark, quiet street saturated in another cloud of words I did not need to hear, because I knew Jane could not follow me. Jane did not follow me.

I can take a fall. My Judo training taught me how. Jane did not know what Synchronimetry was, and I did not know what those black flashcards were and why she had paused from cursing me until she had each one of them organized and zipped up carefully in her backpack. Neither was part of my happiness.

The dark street and the cold led directly back to Brendon and Charlotte’s screened-in patio three days later, in the same span it took gravity to unite my butt with the sidewalk. I told them how I waited twenty four hours before looming at Jane’s doorstep with a hot Hawaiian pizza and a sad expression. I told them that she complimented me on my hair, and that that was all she said for a long time. And she had meant it. I took a fifteen dollar haircut before going to see Jane. It made sense, I guess.

I searched Charlotte’s eyes for sympathy, but her sympathies were elsewhere.

We were adults, not two year olds. The crickets oozed a rhythm from the silence, laboring to extract it.

Brendon frowned. Ronnie was laughing and playing in another room.

I wondered what else Charlotte did in that rocking chair.

I thought of describing the bicycle collision and its aftermath as if it were total Shakespeare.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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