The previous week I'd driven up-shore to a popular lookout to photograph a distant storm approaching over Lake Superior. It was a beautiful storm, self-contained as storms often are, hunched far out over the vast water like a blob of blue ink, but it stalled in the middle distance and time just slipped away. There's a picnic table up there where I've napped more than once. What woke me this time was the mischievous gale delivering autumn's first snow. I leaped behind the wheel as it came down in armloads. Highway 61 quickly grew rutted and slick. Maybe I was driving too fast. U2 was on the radio — "Mysterious Ways," I seem to recall. Apparently my heartbroken Pontiac breached a safety barrier and made a long, lovely, some might say cinematic arc into the churning lake.
I say apparently since this particular memory is not crisp. The airbag deployed at the barricade, snapped my head back, and swaddled me in a whiplash haze that took a long time to shake off. I missed the lightning thoughts and impressions a person might expect in this situation — cold panic, clenching denial, a magician's bouquet of vibrant regrets.
I'd have sunk with the car if Marcus Jetty hadn't been doing a little late-season beachcombing. Marcus runs Greenstone Salvage & Tinker, a famous local eyesore of bike frames, tube amps, hula poppers, oil drums, and knobs of driftwood. He was picking along the jagged strand in his raincoat, eye on a fat cork from somebody's herring net, when a car approached on the highway above. He later described the sounds of a whining V6 and thumping bass line before the barrier burst to shrapnel and the world for a moment muffled itself.
In the silence Marcus looked up. A midsize American sedan sailed dreamlike through thickening snow.
Excerpted from "Virgil Wander," ©2018 by Leif Enger. Reprinted with permission of Atlantic Monthly Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.