The flares, sputtering red, shoved across the unbroken white line, are the only evidence that remain of the early morning tragedy. Their harsh bursts of splotchy fire defy the tranquil darkness, daring the passersby to remember their own mortality, to ponder the recently departed. They demand attention, and they receive it as the road slows to a crawl. One by one, we all pay homage, for those few minutes, until the light of the flares fades to nothingness in our rear-view mirrors, and then we forget and speed along on our separate journeys through shared space and time.
We must forget. It is the only way we can maintain our tenuously grasped shred of sanity in a world spinning farther and faster away from our control every aging second. If we ever fully admit and realize our mortality, we will surely be crushed by the enormity of that truth. It hovers above us at all times, a mass of risks and eventualities with dagger edged arms known as “fear” and “doubt” that swing chaotically around us hoping to pierce our hearts.
Outlines of ghost cars, mangled, misshapen and mauled, flash briefly and faintly in the scattered lights. The trail of dying flares run through where the shimmering husks once rested, our eyes showing us a glimpse of how things were before we arrived. We don’t see the accident itself, we don’t hear the screams or see the blood, but we see the aftermath. We see how the vehicles had been pushed to the edge of the road so that progress could go on.
Progress must go on. We cannot be inconvenienced by the unfortunate events that befall others. We cannot spare them more time from our own dwindling reserves than we have already given in our slow hat-tipping pass by their final resting places. There are bills to buy and junk to pay. We have families that pretend to depend on us. We have careers that pretend to value us. The world is topsy-turvy and we have to hurry along our paths before we get left behind and fall off.
Four cars collided one dark and mist soaked morning in December hours before the sun would rise and the bulk of southern California’s humanity would flock in search of their daily worms. Time slowed for their fellow commuters as they gawked at the chaos and aftermath, stuck on the thermals of their morbid curiosity. The sirens came and tended to the injured and cleared the scene in some semblance of an importance based order. Time played its normal tricks, from too slow to too fast, and the day moved on.
Four lives were forced to face their mortality, and all those who drove by the spot of turmoil, for a time, were required to briefly join their journey of contemplation. But the power of the tragedy waned as the hours passed, and eventually no trace, not even the flickering of a dying flare, was left as a portal to deathly thoughts. Another day, another tragedy, and it was quickly brushed aside, except for those four lives who could never forget again.