An Instant of Time
He is watching the car skid toward him, and deciding whether to move. Which way? In the instant of time he has to make the decision, he imagines a wealth of outcomes. Does he wait to see if the car will spin away? Will it strike something, and will that something be moving? Will it begin to roll?
There are two obstacles between the car and his position on the sidewalk. He sees a streetlamp and a hydrant on the corner. Come to think of it, in the narrowing quantum of time he has, the curb might cause the car to slow, or stop, or roll. He doesn’t have an advanced engineering degree, but it isn’t necessary to determine that the car has the velocity and mass to do significant damage to itself, anyone inside, and anything it hits.
One thing is certain; the current vector of the sliding automobile is going to cross near his current position, and it will happen in less than two seconds.
What luck, he thinks. At one instant, you are walking out of a downtown office building, after an ill-fated job interview. He is a journalist, which means his traditional position is a vestige of a lost era. He has found it difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate the skill and experience to transfer his skills from travel blogging to, say, medical equipment manuals, or sports reporting.
That means he finds himself leaving an office an hour earlier than scheduled. A light rain falls, though the sky threatens to open a torrent at any moment. He passes a coffee shop, but realizes he left his debit card in the car, back at the train station. He has just enough cash to buy a train ticket, so the coffee is foregone.
Steps later, he sees the walk signal and continues across the intersection without breaking stride. After walking another half a block, a handful of change is strewn on the ground. He leaves it be, realizing someone else may need it more. He considers running for the next station to escape the weather, but decides to stay patient. Look adult.
And now, at the next stoplight, serendipity has put him in the path of a car, storming toward the intersection to race a yellow light. The car is cut off by a bike courier, and cuts quickly right, then left, and breaks its purchase with the damp road.
On the sidewalks, people run, and others gasp. Few are truly in danger. He stands near a mailbox. Ducking behind it will solve nothing. Immobile, its destiny is to fly into the polished concrete foundation of the building, a beat before it is crushed by the car.
A few steps to the left, a woman with a stroller walks directly toward him. She hasn’t yet realized her peril, being distracted by something her two-year-old boy - or is he three? - has thrown to the street.
To the left, a man has been standing on the curb, fiddling with a phone. He may be changing his music program. It seems likely, since he is bobbing his head to whatever streams through his headphones.
In the slight break between recognizing the onrushing disaster and taking some sort of frenzied response, the journalist reflects on his shoes. They are slick, shiny, and bald on the soles, and likely to slip, should he decide to lunge for safety. They were perfect for an interview, yet woefully inadequate for leaping across a wet granite sidewalk.
Across the street, the car jumps the curb and begins its terminal slide. It msses the hydrant, but the light pole snaps like a pencil and skips across its hood. There will be no redirection.
Its speed must have been somewhere north of forty-five miles per hour. The street must be forty feet wide. That leaves about, he figures quickly, 720 milliseconds to move. A standing jump of five or six feet might be possible. Or ten feet in two bounds.
He thinks about the coffee he doesn’t have. The change he didn’t pick up. He might still be waiting for the signal a block away if he was a few steps late for the light. If he’d had sharper answers, and a stronger rapport with a hiring manager, he might still be sitting in a conference room ten stories up, soon to wonder what that sound outside was.
But he’s here. Now.