Crash #9 from Ten Crashes

Jon Fried

At 68, Cara's still the tragic beauty, at least in her own mirror and in the mirror-like eyes of enough men to keep her busy all her adult life. A junior in college and already going steady with Elliott, she found her first other man, a musician, who lasted until a few months before the wedding (and resumed briefly a few months after). Next was a business partner of Elliot's followed by a personal trainer of hers. Now she's found the manager of their private beach club. She tells her friends she's stayed true to Elliott, meaning she's stayed married to him, for bad reasons as well as good, she admits, but mostly when she looks at her life there aren't really reasons at all, there are just these men, and her two boys, and Elliott, and her therapist, also a man, though not one who has ever shown any interest that way. And thank god. He is a leader in the field of multimedia interactive therapy technology. The technology is incredible, maybe Cara's savior. He digitally records all of their sessions, and then indexes them and labels them according to the events and topics and answers they cover, so Cara can go back when she needs. And she needs. There's a lot covered on those discs: the curious arc of each affair, and the pains she has caused and the pains she's felt; there is the arc of her marriage, and the dull rages, and the rare but poison-tipped questions of why. Somehow the sound of their voices, hers, and his, is necessary.

Cara's the one with the sad, almost oriental eyes, and the sad, luscious lips, and a slenderness that was only too slender in her early teens. The little things she'd had done to herself were not to improve, were not to deny reality, but simply to edit out the phrase "for her age", as in slim-f.h.a., alluring-f.h.a., intoxicating-f.h.a.

The computer in her office, a room in her home where she works on house redesign (her own) and planning events (sometimes others'), is equipped with a huge screen, big-screen-TV size. She bought a lounge chair that can switch from perfect viewing spot to napping couch with a kick of her legs. She bought a tiny table for the DVD remote.

And driving in her little Lexus she can't remember if she shut the thing down before rushing out to the caterer. Vincent is throwing the 10th Annual Members' Gala at the club and Cara is on the budget as food consultant. She wanted extra time with the caterer, so she didn't want to be late and she rushed out the door. Now, at the red light on Route 35 the French canapé and mini-yakitori are swept off the plate of her consciousness by her computer's little screen saver fish (not so little on a screen that large), which, if she in fact did run out of the house without shutting down the DVD of her last session, would at this moment be slowly rippling across the still image of her with her face in her hands, but very gently in her hands so as not to disturb the makeup, the fish blowing bubbles that rise to the top of the big screen as the image very slowly disappears. One little jiggle of the mouse? The fish disappear and Play resumes and there's Cara, running like a faucet, about to drench the world in tears. One little tap of the mouse, or a click on any key, and the 45-minute hour resumes. Nothing is hidden. He's a very good therapist.

She is not worried that her husband might come home first. He might, that happens once in a while, because he often arranges late afternoon meetings in the branch office close to home, especially when he has a business dinner, so he can hop home and change. Even if he does, he won't look in her office, and even if does look in her office he won't look at the screen, and even if he does look at the screen, he won't really pay any attention. She can count on it. If it were only Elliot coming home, she wouldn't be worried at all. That, she thinks, explains why she may have forgotten to shut down before running out.

Cara is worried about their son, Kevin, who is coming down from the city for the weekend, as he likes to do now and then with a day or two notice. A video editor, a freelancer, he leads a thoroughly freelance life, nothing steady, including income or companionship. He's worked with some big names, anything from Channel 4 to the artist Laurie Saunders (OK, Cara had not really heard of Laurie before, but now through Kevin calls her by her first name). Mostly he works with lots of no-names, but he is sweet and talented, tall and not bad looking in his gangly way, but a little wobbly in his soul, which doesn't quite jibe with his New York City life, and so he likes to come out to the beach. Sometimes he comes to talk about his love woes. Sometimes he doesn't want to talk at all. Sometimes he finds some old friends who stayed close to home and gets drunk like he used to. Cara doesn't have to do anything, not cook, not break her stride, although she always does pick up an extra few things because of that somewhat inexplicably serious look he gets in his eye when he asks if she has any dinner for them. His brothers are long gone. He asks if Dad will be around and doesn't expect it. Cara goes on with her life, she goes out with friends, and rarely, rarely, entertains, and sometimes even apologizes for leaving him some deli containers and running out, but lately he's told her, again so serious, how he admires her vigor. He especially admires how independent she and his father are, and yet so solid. A rock. He's hoping for the same for himself some day. You know? He's still a little insecure about his opinions. She reassures him as a matter of habit.

This time she thinks he's just had a bad break up. Alana, that's it. He said in the voicemail he needed some time out of the city, he'd be coming down Friday. Didn't sound like a meet-the-boys and go-get-drunk weekend. It sounded like a lay around the house weekend. He might, for example, want to watch a DVD or two. He'd installed the damn thing. Don't let those guys from CompUSA do it, he said. He took a whole Sunday and half of Sunday night but the thing worked great. He might be headed for that mouse right now.

She is preparing to turn on to Monmouth Blvd. It is November, shouldn't be any traffic, but there is, and she taps both her wedding band and the band with Mr. Enormous, the diamond, rapidly on the steering wheel. What is this guy doing making a left into the pastry shop from this lane? Ucch. Everyone knows the parking is around the back. Kevin will be on the train, he has no car. He takes a cab from the station, such a New Yorker. He could be on his way. He could be there already. Cara jams on the accelerator and to her own surprise makes a huge squeal as she races around the pastry shop car and back into her turn lane and then commences the turn all while the light is changing. There is an answering squeal, of brakes instead of tires, and a honk, and another honk and squeal, and hand gesture curses behind glass, but she floors it again and is through and between the cars and on Monmouth heading into the salt-purple twilight. The car is already going fast and she makes it go faster. She has a knack for summing up her life in blunt, less than perfect language. She has used the word fuck. Fifteen seconds of a session could reveal everything.

Turn on Ocean Blvd. Oncoming cars don't honk, they just slow, except for some kid, maybe some friend of Kevin's, in a little black thing that's going faster than Cara and expecting everyone to stop or swerve just like Cara is and he's coming in the right lane and there's no way Cara can stop and no way the little black thing can stop, but little black thing skid-swerves left at 60 miles per hour and goes into a turn, right down Ocean, and is out of her way and no one's hurt.

Cara is vocalizing abstractly in her driver's eat. The thought of Kevin sprawling in the big chair and clicking play and hearing her say things she thinks she might have said urges her slightly further over the speed limit.

Two more turns, and she's on the street. They say that most accidents happen closest to home, but no one's driving on her street now except Cara. When she left it was light out and there were no lights on in the house so she will know if he's there by what lights are on and see what room he's in, the room in question being over the living room, the leftmost room on the second floor.

She arrives in the driveway to find not only that room but every room in the house ablaze.

Jon Fried's published work includes pieces in BeeHive, Eclectica,, Greetings and The New York Times, plus songs he has written and co-written with Deena Shoshkes, his wife, with whom he settled in New Jersey and started the Cucumbers, a band currently preparing to release its sixth album.