Today on my way to work, I saw a body on a stretcher with a white sheet thrown over it. Her car sat overturned next to her stretcher and a fire rescue truck, red car red truck, and a few men in uniforms stood around, still as a photograph, far apart from one another.
Before I rode up to this still-life, I’d run dry on a shoulderless curve in the road. The flip of the switch to the reserve tank was an unfamiliar move, and the bike rolled to a stop along the edge, my empty sidecar in the steep grassy ditch. I saw myself as a bloody lumpy smear on the white line. My mind went bam-bam-bam to my daughter, my husband, my mother who would be angry at me for doing something so stupid as to ride a motorcycle in the first place and to run out of gas where there was no shoulder in the second and to leave my daughter with only her father to raise her and then my fingers the sweet spot on the fuel switch between main tank and cutoff, and the engine began to breathe again and so did I.
No one is a smear on the road today, I thought. Today is a lucky day. Today is beautiful and I get to go home tonight and I know how to find the reserve without looking now.
How long between my last late-getting-going fumblings to load up and the time the car flipped over on the road I take to work? An ambulance passed, silent, while I filled my gas tank at the station just across the overpass in full view of the broken things on the highway. What could she have done differently at home this morning to allow her to go home again tonight?
By the time my tank was full, the ambulance passed heading back to where it came from, no lights and no siren. I sprayed gasoline all over my tank, my seat, my jeans. We, the people of the gas station, were as still as the men in uniforms had been when I passed them running on reserve and jangled nerves.