Pay Attention

By: MJ Ferguson

Pay attention to the road.

The soft mantra fills my head as the dark pouring rain pelts the windshield. The wipers beat relentlessly, expelling as much water as they can while more continues to fall.

Pay attention to the road.

The darkness of night casts illusions on familiar objects. The shadow of a tree looks like a person. A clump of dead leaves looks like a bunny or a squirrel. The raindrops obscure my vision, despite the relentless swish-swish of the wipers.

Pay attention to the road.

All I have to do is get home. Home is safe. I’ve traveled these hilly country roads hundreds of times, driven down them on sunny summer days. At home, I don’t have to worry, don’t have to fret. But for now, all I can do is clench the steering wheel.

Pay attention to the road.

The road curves to the right, and as I turn with the road my car hits a massive puddle, more like a pond. My shoulders and arms tense, heart beating faster as I attempt to readjust. But I’m too late. The water pulls me over the edge of the road. My car careens down the grassy hill, down, down, down. Time is racing past me as I struggle to regain control. To slow down. My blood rushes cold through my veins. The last words my mother said to me before I left this morning ringing in my ears. I love you. And then, my car crashes into a tree.

The airbag explodes upon impact, harsh against my skin, smoky dust filling the air. Buzzing fills my ears. The engine rattles and groans, trying to operate but not able to, pushing and pushing but not finding a way to function. Specks of color dance across my vision as I fumble for the keys, turning off the ignition.

I sit in silence for a moment, my entire body trembling, the car engine dying off. My face and chest sting, and I imagine that even my freckles burned off from the impact of the airbag. The air is thick with silence and heat. Tears explode from my eyes. Cries burst from my mouth. I move to untangle myself from the seat belt. I struggle to open the car door. It swings open out of my grasp. I fall into the pooling water, my hands disappearing in its depths. The pouring rains slices into my skin like shards of glass, drenching me in an instant. I drag myself as far away from the wreckage as possible, distancing myself from the scene of destruction. The evidence. 

How could this happen? I paid attention to the road, was careful and mindful.

How could this happen? I was responsible, wasn’t drunk, wasn’t tired.

How, how could this happen to me?

I collapse on the ground. Sobs wrench my body, my wails unheard over the beast of the storm. I turn my back to the car, not wanting to see that treasonous hunk of metal. Not wanting to look at the evidence to a crime I didn’t commit. 

I paid attention, didn’t I?

The rain poured on, beating against my skin, my body. Everything ached — my back, my chest, my head, my face.

My sobs subsided to whimpers, then to mournful thought. Why hadn’t I paid more attention to the road? If I had seen the puddle, I could have avoided it. I could be home. Were my parents worried? My family? Or had no time passed at all?

I yearned for my cell phone, but my body was worn and oh so tired. I wanted to get up, but couldn’t. 

I lay there in the rain as time slipped away, my body physically and emotionally numb from the cold. Long enough that the rain subsided.

I ease onto my back, groaning at the stiffness and reawakening aches of my body. The clouds drift away, revealing the dark night sky. Little dots of light flicker, speckling the stratosphere like paint on a canvas.

Pay attention to the stars.

The stars weave and dance through the sky. Their faint light contrasts to the surreal clouds. How gentle the stars seemed, as they lit up the sky. I get lost in the swirls of galaxies and mighty constellations.

Pay attention to the stars.

Everything seemed to slow, to calm. A gentle breeze blew across my face, my breathing slowing as well. I couldn’t help but feel safe, the mystifying swirls of light as comforting as being at home.


A sweeping sense of worry fills me. There was something I had needed, but I couldn’t remember, only that it had to do with home. Was I supposed to be there? Did my parents need me for something? But the worry left when I refocused on the stars.

Pay attention to the stars.

The tall prairie grasses laden with rain against the glittering sky was breathtaking. A sweet, forgotten memory surfaces in my mind. It was a younger me sitting in a field with my father, gazing at the stars above. We were bundled in a thick, warm blanket. My father pointed out various constellations: the Big Dipper, Hydra, Perseus, Pegasus, Cassiopeia. 

I looked for those constellations now. It was like searching the sky for an old friend. They were there, would always be there for all to see.

Morning light began to peek over the horizon, tingeing the sky a deep red. I let the dimming swirls of stars and galaxies fill my vision once more before I took a final, shaky breath. My eyelashes brush against my cool skin, my mind filled with the wonders of the nighttime sky.

Pay attention to the stars.