Rewinding a Commute

by Lauren Kapsky

Red. Wet and sticky. A pool of blood slowly unslicks from the sidewalk. Spatter on the pavement lifts itself into a pink mist, hovering over the city street like some unholy fog. The blood recedes toward the severed neck of a corpse, a genie backing into its bottle.

Somewhere beneath the traffic light on Columbus Avenue, the gelatinous bulb of an eye twitches, wakes, and makes toward home. The optic nerve leads the eye over the crosswalk like a dog walking itself. It reaches toward the mashed tangle of a head. The head lies face down in the street before the front bumper of the M7 bus. Bits of brain and fluid reanimate in scattershot around it.

On the sidewalk, the body has set to work righting itself. The blood unspills. A half-zipped messenger bag, still slung crosswise around the body, unsoaks. A cellphone and some chapstick dry themselves off, skitter to the bag, and climb in.

The body rises. The head starts rolling on the pavement. They move to reunite, but not directly. They each speed toward the M7 bus. The bus heaves itself toward the sky and starts to reverse. A squeal of breaks fills the air. The head sails from the pavement toward the front bumper. The body reaches forward, neck first, arms outstretched, as if to catch it, like a goalkeeper tending the net.

The bus catches the head instead. I can’t hear the crunch the skull makes when it collides with the 10-ton vehicle, not over the high whine of the breaks, but I know it’s there. The spray of blood, brain, and teeth collapse into the head like a black hole, condensing into a knowable face. The bus backs away. The dangly bits at the top of the neck and base of the head — muscle, tendon, spine — grasp each other in a fast handshake. The eyes open wide in surprise. A person, whole once more, for the last time. The bus beats a hasty retreat up the avenue.

This is where I slow the video down to almost a standstill. It’s a typical weekday morning on the corner of 83rd and Columbus. People are lined up at the bus stop, pedestrians blurred in their rush past and around. Black, gray, and navy shapes wear set faces. Everyone’s in a hurry. No one has had their cup of coffee yet.

I watch this person pitch backward from the curb. I’m looking for something specific: causation. A bad actor, a shove, a push. But nobody touches him as he straightens and weaves in reverse through the morning crowd. I go back over the tape. I zoom in on his face for signs of deep emotional distress, as if suicidal ideation can be read like a magazine, but it’s blank to me, not particularly one thing or another. Normal, like he wants to get the job of getting to work over with.

I go back again. This time I look at his feet. I see his stumble, then his right foot catching the sidewalk at an awkward angle. That’s it. No crack in the pavement, no banana peel lying in wait, not even a shoelace untied. A bad step. He tripped over his own feet on his way to work and was decapitated by a bus, pushed only by the red hand of chaos.

(Bio: Lauren Kapsky is based in San Francisco, and has previously published work with Trix Magazine. )

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