SYMBIOTIC: A LOVE STORY Josh Wagner
He never would have found the wreck, if not for the horses. There were three, all palominos, standing shoulder to shoulder in the rusty pasture, muzzles in parallel, facing the plain as if startled by the same cold star. He’d been pushing eighty on the highway. At dusk he thought about everything the sun was setting on—everything he was leaving behind. He rounded the corner and there he looked up. That’s when he saw the horses. He followed their gaze into the hills a far ways off across a river that moved so slowly it seemed not to move at all. He saw the black rocky outcrops and sparse pines on the ridge, a milky blue sky above. He had been driving between the mountains and the river all day, now and then spitting the shells of sunflower seeds into last week’s coffee cup. He didn’t like the radio on. The sound of the engine and the wheels on the road was enough music for him. Stacks of boxes in the truck bed blocked out the rear view mirror, but he kept glancing 80
up anyway, out of habit sometimes and sometimes just to look at the one dustfree corner of the mirror’s edge where her photo used to be. The sight of the horses got him out of his head, got him looking around. Otherwise he never would have noticed the tire tracks swerving off the road, vanishing over the shoulder and into the culvert. A thin ribbon of smoke, nearly invisible, drifted up from below. He pulled off onto the shoulder and got out of his truck. He walked to the edge where gravel turned to sage, and from here he saw the wreck. One car, a white Camry, front end crushed like a cigarette in the bracken and brush. It took him longer than he expected to scramble down the side of the bank. Inside the wreck was a man in the driver’s seat and a woman passenger. Neither moved. He went first to the driver. The window was shattered. He almost reached in to touch the
body. The man’s forehead rested on the steering wheel. His eyes were open and ornamental drops of blood slid down his cheek, pooling at the eyelid’s edge, clinging to the lashes. Wide pupils fixed on the speedometer. He ran around to the other side. The woman was slumped forward, too, tight against her seatbelt. Her eyes were closed. He checked her pulse, felt for breath. Nothing. For a moment he stood as still as the victims. Then he started to run, not toward the road but deeper into the bare trees. He stopped and walked back to the car. He grew dizzy and turned toward the river. He slumped down in the snow, leaning against the passenger door. He did not have a phone. It was one of the things he’d left behind. Time must’ve passed, but he could not account for it. When he heard her coughing he wondered who was there. Her eyes were open and her head rested
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