by Sarah Malone
I tried twice to tell him.
“You’re serious?” he said.
The air shook. Diesel. We were stopped along the westbound turnpike shoulder: my Land Rover and the Korean couple I’d rear-ended, behind us the trooper’s cruiser, lights spinning. He patted the edge of my car window.
“Stay here,” he said.
Even the hair at the back of his neck was a crisp distinction: stubble-sunburn. Like many types of plumage, his hat brim had evolved for another function than it served. Tractor-trailers passed without slowing or changing lanes. The trooper looked neither at them nor away. At least we were together, on a long dip across a pine bog.
All across the country, you can see forests becoming swamps. I don’t know what swamps become.
Anyone could have seen what I had: an eagle, brown, flecked and juvenile, high in a white tree. It flapped low across the standing water. The Korean couple must have been looking for their exit. The trooper didn’t ask if they knew the minimum speed. He photographed our bumpers. He saw what he needed. He let me drive away.
Fiction of this length plays interestingly with time when read from the page or screen. We see the end as we begin. However much time the story covers, for us it will be short. The usual pause upon finishing becomes proportionally far greater than it is for longer stories.
We quickly recognize this story’s location. Many of us pass such places daily, non-places that are rarely experienced except in passing and that are not designed to be places. Some even have signs specifically forbidding all but emergency stops.
So here is an emergency.
The story grew backwards and forward from the image of a highway-bisected swamp, a couple in a car ahead of me, all of us looking as we should not have, following an enormous bird that was paying us no notice.
I like sentences from which, in combination, we understand things additional to the words. Significance comes not from the things themselves but from how we piece them together.
And how we pause.
Sarah Malone's fiction appears in Open City, is forthcoming in wigleaf, and won the 2008 Arthur Edelstein Prize. She is a Juniper Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and blogs at Sarah Wrote That.