Close-up of a Human

By Niko Spanos

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We drove past each other weekday mornings out where the highway is two lanes. It took him a month to notice. The third time he saw me, he smiled and waved. I waved back. I remembered to smile the next day.

I talked to him as we passed. About work. About downsizing. I explained how, if the same thing happened to him, he could transcribe medical reports over the Internet to make a living. I justified money spent for online games, online movies, online sex, food deliveries, wine deliveries, toilet paper deliveries.

I don’t know where I was going the first time I saw him. His head was tilted to one side and long brown hair covered half his face. He looked at me and it felt like I knew him. Later that day and for two months after, I drove through the city, the county, the state, always looking for his red sedan with one missing hubcap. We passed each other again on the road where we first met. The next day, I drove the same route at the same time. So did he. I thought he was commuting.

When I saw him up-close, his sedan was halfway in a ditch, smashed into the side of a pickup truck. His seat belt, refusing to acknowledge defeat, clung to his neck. His head and long brown hair drooped towards his lap, which I couldn’t see because everything below his collarbone was somewhere in the dashboard, mixed between the steering wheel and speedometer.

I reached through the broken window and pressed his head against the headrest. One hand on his forehead, I parted hair from his face and tucked strands behind his ears. He was breathing, but he wouldn’t have known. I pushed up on his eyelids. The irises were light brown. Acne scars dotted his cheeks. More imperfections: a nose that curved left, chapped lips, yellow teeth. If I had a phone, I would have taken a picture. I studied the flaws, willing the man to remain distinct from the pixilated, until firefighters pulled me away.

He began driving again after eight months. I wanted to tell him that I had been at the crash. I wanted to see his scars. I motioned for him to pull over. He probably thought I was waving because he laughed and shook his head and continued down the road.

We drove until farms turned to forest and then we circled back until farms turned to suburbs and then city. We drove that route, up and back, several times. The next day, we drove it again. He smiled and waved to some people and they smiled and waved back. I wondered which ones talked to him. I wondered which ones were really commuting.

I followed him home because I wanted to see him up-close again. But he didn’t leave his car. He backed out of the driveway. I tailed him until my car ran out of gas and died on the freeway.

I never saw him again. I assume that he moved or died or gave up driving. He must have waved to hundreds of people by then. But how many had seen him up-close, without windshields and movement blurring the details?

I had seen his scars, his twists, his flaws. I memorized them. I imagined more. I rearranged and flipped and contrasted. I disfigured and warped and discolored until I didn’t need to drive any more. I printed him out, page by page, and taped him to my walls.

Niko Spanos