I wanted to run to the smaller car, the older model Toyota, its front end crumpled like a paper bag. I wanted to run to the aid of the grey-haired woman who was visibly shaken but not visibly injured, hands over her mouth, unsure of whether to get out of her car or not. I wanted to ask if she was okay, had she hit her head, was she dizzy. I wanted to say don’t get up just yet, catch your breath, does anything hurt, help will be here soon. But I was worried she’d brush off my assistance. I was worried someone else would run faster, get there first, and I’d be left breathless in the middle of a wreck, everyone wondering what the hell I was doing.
I wanted to call 911 and report the accident, two cars, one pulling onto a busy street, poor visibility, a tough spot for a left turn, the other going too fast, but I was sure someone else was already calling, and I’d just clog up the line. I was sure someone started dialling as soon as the tires squealed and the glass fell like ice in a warm front. The operator would be audibly annoyed at another call about the same accident. I might be the third, fourth even. I’d hear it in their voice.
I wanted to help the old man sweep the debris from the intersection. He’d come out of the barbershop with a push broom and worked methodically in neat lines. He was used to pushing hair across linoleum, and the tiny slivers of glass on the rough concrete fought him, springing into the air like mist under a waterfall. He rested often, and I thought about offering a hand, but I didn’t know if he’d be insulted. If he would think I was suggesting him incapable of the assistance that he so freely provided. That he might scowl and shake his head at me, certain I must be too senseless to identify my own way to be useful.
I wanted to comfort the passenger from the other car, the newer model SUV. She was probably the girlfriend or wife of the driver, the tall man who was pacing, concerned only about his vehicle. The passenger, the woman, was now sitting on the curb, shocked and in tears. I wanted to acknowledge her upset, to see what she needed. I could go in the corner store I was standing in front of and buy her a bottle of water, a package of tissues, but I thought maybe she’d think that was stupid or the ambulance would arrive while I was in the store and they’d wrap her in a blanket and give her water and tissues, leaving me to walk home carrying water and tissues that I didn’t need, left to sit on my kitchen table. How many days would I stare at them for? Little trophies of my ineptitude.
these words by Michelle Kelm were inspired by the work of Sylwia Kowalczyk
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