Every Friday, The Gloss is publishing a chapter of Andrea Dunlop’s novel, The Summer of Small Accidents. Catch up with Chapter 1 and if you decide you simply can’t wait for next week’s installment, you can buy the ebook here. Happy reading!
When Leigh left work on Thursday, she was in a good mood for the first time in long time. She had a party to look forward to and was still on a bit of a high from the relief of being extricated from the madness of Max’s apartment. But mostly it was the weather. As she came out the glass doors of Heighton House she felt the sedative June breeze that was coming down Broadway. This was the sort of weather that made you believe that everything was going to work out in your favor. You thought “this is summer,” the weather was warm enough to put away your trench coat but it was not too humid and you just wanted to be at a sidewalk café or on a rooftop. The summer seemed full with the possibility of being outside, like when you have just gotten off the plane in a warm place during a bad winter.
This feeling lasted exactly as long as it took her to get to the subway where she was engulfed by the perpetual swampiness of the underground in the summer months. She found herself on the train platform watching cars thundering by. She knew she shouldn’t stand so close to the edge of the platform but found she was always drawn to it, not because of a latent death wish (she hoped) but because there was something incredible about feeling the wind from the passing cars, having it whoosh by you and lift your skirt, blow your hair off of your shoulders. The faces in the windows of the train were a blur overlaid by her own reflection, whirring by like numbers on a roulette wheel.
When she was in college, and taking many more philosophy classes than could ever be necessary, she became a little obsessed with the concept of determinism. At first, the general idea seemed too obvious to ever be useful; things that happen now will cause other things to happen later, and all things that happen are caused by other things happening earlier, and so on and so forth. What Leigh found both distressing and exciting was the thought that what she was doing on any given day was the outcome of a long, interwoven set of catalysts and one more step down a path to some unforeseen and inevitable end. That there could be so much meaning in even the most minuscule of actions—meaning that can only be seen in hindsight. Some days, she would randomly get stuck on a completely perfunctory task because she was mired in this kind of thinking; if she left for class early she might avoid a car that would otherwise veer out of control and hit her, should she be standing in precisely the spot she would be standing if she left for class at her usual time. Realizing after some time that this kind of thinking would eventually drive her bonkers, Leigh forced herself to stop considering the trajectory of her life’s destiny every time she had to decide between strawberry swirl or mocha flavor from the university’s frozen yogurt machine.
She had thought she’d grown out of this, but then again who knew she’d have so much time on her hands after college to think about things like this? She still found herself getting fixated on the idea. It wasn’t as if she thought of things as being ‘meant to be’ in the grand sweeping sense that runs rampant in B-list romantic comedies. Someone says ‘I stopped in a coffee shop on 59th street that I don’t habitually go to and there he was, the man of my dreams! It was fate that I stopped in the particular coffee shop on that particular day.” In reality, this person went into the coffee shop for the singularly uncosmic reason of wanting a cup of coffee. But the simple fact that if the person hadn’t wanted coffee right there on the corner of 59th street, they would have gone right on past said dream man—how amazing was that? That at any given time, you could be walking right on by someone or something that could change everything for you. It was something she often thought of when she first moved to New York city, watching the subway cars whiz by her one by one as the train slowed to a halt in front of her on the platform; each train full of people she would or would not encounter depending on which set of opening doors she found herself closest to when the train at last came to rest.
Accidents. Or incidents, maybe. The difference between these two words always bothered her. To say something was accidental meant it was without purpose, and to say incidental meant that whatever had happened did not matter in the grand scheme of things. When used as nouns standing alone both seemed to imply a certain degree of doom. The incident with the governor’s underage intern. Leigh’s fixation wasn’t completely a product of the vacuum of circular thinking college students find themselves in—that had just exacerbated the original problem. Accident was a word that had shaped and perhaps even defined her early life. The accident. No survivors. The world welcomes two orphans; but of course no one used that insensitive, ugly word when talking to her and her sister.
The air was noticeably cooler by the time she came out of the subway at Astor Place. She took her time making her way to Shaun’s apartment allowing herself to become momentarily mesmerized by each little vignette that was playing out on the sidewalk, a mother trying to corral two toddler girls dressed in matching jumpers, a man dancing down the street to unheard music, Japanese teenagers giggling in a tight cluster in the courtyard of the Starbucks. It was just after Memorial Day so New York was not yet a ghost town. Shaun’s apartment was near NYC, an area that was peaceful during the summer after all the college kids left, headed back to the small towns from whence they came. There was a noticeable lack of their sartorial assaults mixed in with the otherwise sleek residents of Greenwich Village: no one schlepping around in pajama pants and sweats as shamelessly as if downtown were an actual college campus instead of just a part of the city where there happened to be a school. Leigh bristled every time she saw them; their resistance to the city—their desire to be in it but refusal to be of it got under her skin. She’d never admit it, but she felt a little jealous too. She didn’t miss being in school, exactly, but she did miss the way that the people around her had all their big ideas and their hopes. No one was truly cynical; no one was a fatalist unless they’d decided it might be a cool thing to be after reading too much Nietzsche.