sporklet 10

Samuel J Adams

Cars of Western Ohio

Noelle begins sketching Cars of Western Ohio lying in a hospital bed the day after the third collision, working with a wry smile full of morphine and purple-scarred elbows full of windshield silica. Noelle’s read that the black swamps of Western Ohio once resembled northern Everglades, and so the cars she draws travel a primordial landscape: she evokes gator heads in their hoods, fanged and scaly.

When the hospital discharges her, Noelle returns to the intersection where she was struck, and watches cars breaching the crosswalk in bold, drifty declarations of vehicular supremacy. They take protected lefts with serpentine ease and pedestrians empty the walk in a mousy scurry as the walking man flickers behind the waffle-irony grating of the crosswalk sign. In this rube-filled corner of the nation, the walking man is a con-artist; in this haunted landscape, a flickering ghost. This untrustworthy specter lingers Waldo-like in the nooks of Noelle’s canvases not monstrously populated with the Cars of Western Ohio. The automotive focus marks a new turn for Noelle; the academy hired her on the strength of her portraiture; the examining committee praised her “keen and singular gift for faces.”

When semi-trucks go right on red, Noelle sees pedestrians on curbs turn to momentary statuary as these relics of industry roll past. When the cross clears, pedestrians stagger forth stiffly, and Noelle ignores her torqued ankle and torn shoulder to join their throng; when she reaches the other side of the street, her heart High-5s the blinking orange hand that greets her.

Sometimes rainwater sizzles beneath their tires and the cars abandon any theatrics of brake-tapping—they glide through stop signs like pucks on the air hockey board Noelle uses in her preferred laundromat, sheltered from all roadside noise by the warm ticky rumble of dryer drums. Her mom texts her in such places. Are the people nice? Are you all alone? Noelle texts back: I’m alone. They are all very nice. Then her mother asks about her shoulder and Noelle stops responding.





The window of Noelle’s apartment observes a narrow street that transforms into an unmarked one-way the moment two cars appear. Noelle watches contests daily, peeling back the gauze that’s covered her right eye since the fourth collision. Some cars lunge viciously for dominance; others dip sheepishly into driveways. Noelle wonders if hills might yield politer outcomes, if civility forms under gravitational pressures: in her apartment’s stairwell, tenants descending the stairs defer to tenants coming up them. But the lumpless, preadolescent flatness of the land imparts immaturity to its vehicles, and a mean schoolyard simplicity divvies the aggressors from those pulled over in bullied salutation. On windy autumn days, walnut trees toss their thick green fruits in punitive volleys upon the defeated vehicles; nights when traffic ceases or slows, Noelle recovers these fruits, digs out the black pith around the nut, and mixes it with tire tread particles to texture and darken her canvases.

Malevolent cars drove differently in California, Noelle’s home, where litigiousness reigned and pedestrians strolled lordly in the surety of their right-of-way. There, lawbreaking cars knew themselves assholes and proceeded with hectic glee. But in Western Ohio, villainy comes in modest automotive models—the plainer the meaner, she texts her friend Hutz.

That, Hutz replies. Plain Meanness. Paint that. Mine that vein. And for the love of God take care of yourself.




The month Noelle spends in a wheelchair after the fifth collision leaves her with time to ponder. Noelle knows drivers should seem more culpable than the cars, but western Ohio is the far-east of the warm, friendly Midwest, and with such nice pedestrians, Noelle struggles to believe the drivers wicked. Their vessels must alter them: the kindly physical therapist who helps Noelle relearn her gait transforms when her SUV nears a yield sign. It’s some radical change they cannot help. Noelle knows because once or twice a semester, she sees it happen.




Noelle is midway through the crosswalk when the fender bumps her thigh and lifts her onto the hood and she lands elbow-first to the sound of denting metal and the jolt of déjà vu. She rolls onto her chest and feels the engine’s scalding breath beneath her and she thumps her fists greasily against the glass.  Behind the windshield, the motorist’s apologetic palms raise slowly, and a polite, Midwestern, self-effacing smile forms to acknowledge this unfortunate coming together of body and machine.

Noelle wriggles off the hood, regains her footing, and squinting through her tears sees the nightmarish thing she always sees: that no matter how much she screams, how hard she kicks the headlight or wrenches the wing mirror, the eyes of the motorist gaze beyond her, as if at some bigger purpose lingering upon the gray horizon, some power that frames collisions as inevitabilities that happen perforce the risky nature of this flat, brutal world of tornadoes, thunderstorms, and freezing swamps. Noelle is wondering how to render the driver’s impossible expression when the pin comes loose in her knee and pain sears uselessly inside her. We can only dip our brushes in pain so much; the source dries.

Noelle falls upon the road.




She rattles on the gurney as the ambulance rushes every traffic light. Images flicker of her Cars of Western Ohio, and she acutely feels the challenge of perspective her project poses. She wants to look through the eyes of those who see through the snowfall the bandaged young redhead and her paintings toppled upon their hood and yet see through her, past her, to cast eyes like high-beams through the fog of this world and feel with unblinking certainty that the God who heals Noelle forgives them too. 

And then to drive away showing off like medals won the plain white license plates with the red-lettered name, Ohio.

That, Noelle—paint that. Mine that vein.

Samuel J Adams is an MFA candidate in fiction at Bowling Green State University. His work appears in New World Writing and The Molotov Cocktail and is forthcoming in BULL and Rubbertop Review. He tweets at @Bib_Zone.