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Just one swerve was all it took. And now I sit alone in the hospital, in a small, empty room with pink walls, soft grey sofas. Gold-framed pictures of wildflowers.
We drove up snowy I-91 through New Hampshire after visiting family down there. We reached the border, and the guard told us to pull over for inspection. It was just me, and Kim, and six-month-old Eve. It’s not like we were smuggling anything. We’d bought a new car seat for the baby at the Babies ‘R’ Us in Nashua. It sat beside her in the back of our little blue Mazda.
“This delay won’t matter,” Kim said. “Eve could use a diaper change and a feed.”
We parked, went into customs and waited until another guard told us to follow her back out. The new car seat, unwrapped, had been taken out. The guard pointed at it. “You can’t bring this in,” she said. “It doesn’t have a CSA symbol.” She meant the seal of approval from the Canadian engineering standards organization.
“But it’s the same brand as our other car seat,” Kim said, with Eve still on her breast.
“Doesn’t matter. It’s contraband.”
“Contraband?” I said. “This is ridiculous.”
“You have a few options,” the guard said. “You can leave the seat here, and we’ll destroy it. Or you can wait until tomorrow, when the post office opens, and ship it back. Or you can drive back to return it.”
I looked to Kim. “What do you think?” I said.
“Ouch! Stop biting me, Eve. I’m okay with whatever. Let’s just not ship the thing back.”
“Okay,” I said. I checked my phone. The nearest Babies ‘R’ Us was in Burlington, Vermont, a two-hour drive southwest. “We can get there before it closes, if we hurry,” I said.
I took Route 58 west, a two-lane highway through the low mountains across northern Vermont. The speed limit was 40. I was doing 50 at least. Eve was asleep and Kim was quiet. No radio. Few cars. Just snow-covered farmland, pine trees, a house here or there. It was still snowing a little.
At a T-junction in Irasburg, featureless except for a white gazebo on the left, I turned left. We drove for a while then saw a sign that told us we were on Route 14 South. We were on the wrong road, but I figured we were still headed in the right direction, so I kept going. Up ahead, on the right, there was a gas station called Bob’s Quick Stop. I checked my fuel gauge. All good.
When I looked up again, a big white sedan in the opposing lane had turned right in front of me.
I swerved, but not enough. The white car clipped my door.
Our little blue car flew off the road and crashed into a snowbank. Horn blaring. Eve screaming in the back.
When I told my dad the news, he just wanted to know where I was. Newport Hospital, I told him. My dad is driving down from Montreal. He’ll be here in a little while. All I can do is wait.
Although the walls are insulated, muted hospital announcements occasionally push through. Otherwise, plenty of time to think about how quickly life can change.
I think back on everything that could have been different. If only we hadn’t tried to save a hundred bucks buying the car seat in the States. If only we had known about the CSA symbol. If only we had come up I-89 instead, like we usually did. If only I had turned around on 14. If only I had slowed down. If only.
But if I hadn’t swerved in time, things would have been different too.
I had avoided the head-on. We’re all still alive.
A click from the door. It opens.
“This place is great!” Kim says. She holds Eve in her arms. “The bathroom has a change table and everything.”
I smile and hug them both. Eve sneezes.
“Bless you,” I say.