Sometimes when I’m writing, I am so eager to get to “what happens next” that I don’t take the time to get it right. I miss important details: smells, sounds, the chill in the air, the quality of light, the looks on people’s faces, the billowing curtains behind them. And my writing is poorer for it. This failure to slow down was pointed out to me in fender-bending fashion two days ago as I was driving to Home Depot to pick up a few bags of mulch. (Ah, the dangers of gardening!)
The intersection at Ponce de Leon Avenue and Clifton Road, in Atlanta, is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city, where red is the new green. As usual, I slowed down as I approached it. A big van—there is ALWAYS a big van or SUV—was sitting in the left lane, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so he could make a left turn. The van blocked my view of the oncoming traffic, including a view of a white Ford Focus driven by a young woman named Heather, with eyes to match her name, who was approaching the intersection from the opposite direction, hoping to make a quick left turn onto Clifton to visit a museum.
As she attempted to make her turn, I saw her and she saw me, and we both braked hard, even though we only had an instant to respond. And then things slowed down. I could see two people in the car, both young women, both pretty. The passenger had long blond hair and wore a gold necklace with a round locket. Her nose was pierced with a single glittering diamond stud. Her mouth was open, and I could see that her teeth were preternaturally white, like all young people today. The driver seemed a few years younger, and thinner, and wore a puff-sleeved blouse with intricately embroidered red and green flowers across the chest. Her head was tucked down, her thin arms fully extended, bracing for the impact, which unfolded not as a single bang, but as an intricate series of the lesser sights and sounds of bending, crumpling, cracking, and shattering, both cars’ rear ends lifting slowly into the air before just as slowly dropping back down to the pavement. And then it was over.
In fast mode, I would have written that the main character was involved in an auto accident, “but wait till you hear what happens next.”
Footnote: Thankfully, no one was hurt. I can’t say the same for the cars.