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Crash
Zadie Smith


‘I suppose he was.’

‘What about his wife?’ I asked. ‘The woman doctor? Have you visited her yet?’

‘No, I couldn't. I feel too close to her.’

Already Catherine saw me in a new light. Did she respect, and perhaps even envy me for having killed someone, in almost the only way in which one can now legally take another person's life? Within the car-crash death was directed by the vectors of speed, violence and aggression. Did Catherine respond to the image of these which had been caught, like a photographic plate or the still from a news-reel, in the dark bruises of my body and the physical outline of the steering wheel? In my left knee the scars above my fractured patella exactly replicated the protruding switches of the windshield wipers and parking lights. As I moved towards my orgasm she began to soap her hand every ten seconds, her cigarette forgotten, concentrating her attention on this orifice of my body like the nurses who attended me in the first hours after my accident. As my semen jerked into Catherine's palm she held tightly to my penis, as if these first orgasms after the crash celebrated a unique event. Her rapt gaze reminded me of the Italian governess employed by a Milanese account executive with whom we had stayed one summer at Sestri Levante. This prim spinster had lavished her life on the sexual organ of the two-year-old boy she tended, for ever kissing his small penis, sucking the glans to engorge it, showing it off with immense pride.

I nodded sympathetically, my hand on her thigh below her skirt. Her pleasantly promiscuous mind, fed for years on a diet of aircraft disasters and war newsreels, of violence transmitted in darkened cinemas, made an immediate connection between my accident and all the nightmare fatalities of the world perceived as part of her sexual recreations. I stroked the warm belly of her thigh through a tear in the crotch of her tights, then slipped my forefinger around the coif of blonde pubic hair that curled like a flame from the apex of her vulva. Her loins seemed to have been furnished by an eccentric haberdasher.

Hoping to soothe away the hyper-excitement which my crash had generated in Catherine – now ever-larger in memory, more cruel and more spectacular – I began to stroke her clitoris. Distracted, she soon left, kissing me firmly on the mouth as if she barely expected to see me alive again. She talked on and on as if she thought that my crash had not yet occurred.

5 (#ulink_0244e1bc-8d91-5aaa-80bf-0b67f76135df)

‘YOU'RE GOING TO drive? But your legs – James, you can barely walk!’

As we sped along the Western Avenue clearway at over seventy miles an hour Catherine's voice sounded a reassuring note of wifely despair. I sat back in the leaping bucket seat of her sports car, watching happily while she fought her blonde hair out of her eyes, slim hands swerving to and from the leopard-skin glove of the miniature steering wheel. Since my accident Catherine's driving had become worse, not better, as if she were confident now that the unseen powers of the universe would guarantee her erratic passage down these high-speed concrete avenues.

I pointed at the last moment to a truck looming in front of us, its refrigerated trailer bounding from side to side on over-inflated tyres. Catherine drove her small foot on to the brake pedal, pulling us around the truck into the slow lane. I put away the rental-car company brochure and gazed through the perimeter fence at the deserted standby runways of the airport. An immense peace seemed to preside over the shabby concrete and untended grass. The glass curtain-walling of the terminal buildings and the multi-storey car-parks behind them belonged to an enchanted domain.

‘You're renting a car – how long for?’

‘A week. I'll be near the airport. You'll be able to keep an eye on me from your office.’

‘I will.’

‘Catherine, I've got to get out more.’ I drummed at the windshield with both fists. ‘I can't sit on the veranda for ever – I'm beginning to feel like a potted plant.’

‘I understand.’

‘You don't.’

For the past week, after being brought home in a taxi from the hospital, I had been sitting in the same reclining chair on the veranda of our apartment, looking down through the anodized balcony rails at the unfamiliar neighbourhood ten storeys below. On the first afternoon I had barely recognized the endless landscape of concrete and structural steel that extended from the motorways to the south of the airport, across its vast runways to the new apartment systems along Western Avenue. Our own apartment house at Drayton Park stood a mile to the north of the airport in a pleasant island of modern housing units, landscaped filling stations and supermarkets, shielded from the distant bulk of London by an access spur of the northern circular motorway which flowed past us on its elegant concrete pillars. I gazed down at this immense motion sculpture, whose traffic deck seemed almost higher than the balcony rail against which I leaned. I began to orientate myself again round its reassuring bulk, its familiar perspectives of speed, purpose and direction. The houses of our friends, the wine store where I bought our liquor, the small art-cinema where Catherine and I saw American avant-garde films and German sex-instruction movies, together realigned themselves around the palisades of the motorway. I realized that the human inhabitants of this technological landscape no longer provided its sharpest pointers, its keys to the borderzones of identity. The amiable saunter of Frances Waring, bored wife of my partner, through the turnstiles of the local supermarket, the domestic wrangles of our well-to-do neighbours in our apartment house, all the hopes and fancies of this placid suburban enclave, drenched in a thousand infidelities, faltered before the solid reality of the motorway embankments, with their constant and unswerving geometry, and before the finite areas of the car-park aprons.


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