Fifty-five years before you left the party there was a monumental storm. The rains were so heavy, so drumming and relentless, that they loosened branches, releasing sycamore seeds before they were ripe and abandoning them to the anarchic night. Vicious monsoon winds carried the freshly orphaned seedlings for miles before deserting them deep within the weeping soil, where they sprouted quick and rooted deep, growing fierce and strong as the storm which pulled them from their mothers.
Forty years before you said you’d drive her home, a comet began to slowly shatter, scattering streams of debris which separated into particles above the Earth. For decades after, while your grandparents welcomed your parents, who grew and fell in love and raised their own child, dust specks were spinning and colliding above, whirling in an atmospheric smash of molecules, that were pulled towards the world in molten fragments, each trailing flaming kite-tails in one long, breath-taking shooting star.
Three years before you lied that you were sober, a group of harvester ants erupted on a woodland clearing and discovered a patch of elderberry flowers. Determined and resourceful, they pillaged the seeds and carted them for many miles to store them deep within the underground chambers of their colony, where two summers later they began to sprout.
Two hours before you saw her at the party, she dressed in a voluminous summer shift, the colour of sun-bleached shells, considered putting her hair up, then down, then half-up, before deciding on soft curls. She kissed her mother, teased her brother and promised she wouldn’t wake them when she came home.
Eight minutes after she climbs into your car, it takes the merest distraction, the slightest flicker of a shooting star across the night sky to capture your fragile mind just long enough to lose control. You plough into the nearest tree, a sycamore, where the impact is so powerful that the windscreen shatters, sending glass shooting instantaneously in a million directions like shrapnel shards. As the force propels her forward, pleats of diaphanous fabric float upwards so that she looks like the ghost of an angel as she flies across the bonnet onto the cold ground, where her dark curls hang loose, landing in a circle of white elderberry flowers, pale petals foaming around her temples like the spittle at her mouth.
Right now, you are driving a woodland road in a cloudless night beside the girl in the billowing dress and the air is drenched in possibilities.
Jo Withers writes short fiction and poetry from her home in South Australia. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Caterpillar, Molotov Cocktail, Lunate Fiction and Milk Candy Review.