The Fifty-First State
By Lisa Borders
At the same time a white Dodge Ram pickup truck driven by Donald Corson, sixty-six, of Oyster Shell, New Jersey drifted across three lanes of traffic on Route 42 in Bellmawr and grazed the side of a green Ford Taurus, Corson’s seventeen-year-old son, Josh, stood on line in his high school cafeteria in Floyd, New Jersey, pondering one bad offering after another – Sloppy Joe meat that looked like dog food, Chow Mein that looked like vomit – and opting for an apple and a carton of milk as his lunch. While Corson’s second wife, Brenda, in the passenger’s seat of the pickup truck, was trying frantically to pull the steering wheel to the right, out of the way of the fast-moving traffic, even as she wondered at her husband’s sudden slump, the distant look in his eyes, their son stood in a corner of the cafeteria near a girl named Missy Dalton, a girl he’d been in love with since ninth grade, a girl who Josh knew was out of his league but he couldn’t help himself – she was just so, so. While Missy was smiling, not unsweetly, and walking over to her table of friends and Josh was internally berating himself for always saying the most incredibly lame things in the universe to Missy Dalton, Brenda Corson lost control of the steering wheel and the truck skidded in a few dizzy arcs. While the truck was still spinning, Donald Corson’s daughter from his first marriage – a girl he and his wife had named Holly, but who had lived in New York for nearly twenty years and reinvented herself as Hallie – had just finished a photo shoot in the Lower East Side for a music magazine called Lush Life, a magazine that, as far as Hallie could tell, was highly regarded in New York and unheard of anywhere else in the country. As Hallie was packing up her camera, lenses, light meter, shoving the flash and cord into her bag, cars piled up on Route 42 as a result of the Corsons’ skidding truck. A red Toyota Tercel driven by a nineteen-year-old Rowan College sophomore with a heavy foot on the gas pedal who also happened to be text messaging her boyfriend while the Corsons’ truck went out of control in front of her and who, when she looked up and saw the skidding truck, hit her brakes far too hard and far too late, slammed into the Corsons’ pickup just as Hallie was getting into a taxi which would take her to Soho, where she was having lunch with a photo editor at Interview. As Hallie was fretting in the cab that, at thirty-seven, she was too old to get work at a magazine like Interview – the photo editor would clearly see how she had squandered her youthful promise, would see that she was just Holly Corson, a nobody from a crappy little town on the Delaware Bay – a minister from an A.M.E church in Philadelphia’s Germantown section hit the side of the Tercel with his baby blue Honda Prelude after he tried, unsuccessfully, to steer around the wreck. The moment Hallie pulled her cell phone out to let the editor know she might be late, that her taxi was stalled in traffic on Bowery Street, was the same moment the minister saw a tractor-trailer fast approaching in his rearview mirror with a horror that Donald and Brenda Corson and the college student – all three of them dead – were spared.
As the tractor-trailer plowed into the three vehicles twisted together on Route 42 – white, red and blue, a macabre abstract Americana sculpture – and ignited a small fire, a brown-and-white dog, curled on the floor in an upstairs front bedroom of the Corsons’ comfortably run-down house – a neighbor’s long-suffering pet which Josh had snuck in the night before – kicked its leg four times in its sleep, growled slightly, then was still.