The Jane Austen Incident


Every Friday I head down to the bookstore to read and enjoy a cup of coffee.  There is something rather cathartic about a hot cup of caffeine and the escape of a really good book. A corner table flanking the main aisle serves as my favorite place to sit.  I’m always happy to find it empty as if everyone knows that’s my spot.  Without fail I arrive at around six o’clock and leave by seven-thirty.  This little ritual may seem pretty boring, but sometimes the extraordinary realm of fate chooses to reveal itself in the most mundane of places.

One evening, I sat at my table with my customary coffee and a copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  In the midst of escaping to Fanny Price’s world of English propriety, my mind began to wander to a conversation I had with a friend about a book he had just finished reading: Villette by Charlotte Brontë.  The memory was so intense it was difficult to pay attention to Fanny’s burgeoning fascination with Edmund Bertram.  I struggled to focus for another chapter, but a growing need began to occupy my every thought.  I had to find a copy of Villette.  Not in the next day or two, but right at that moment.

When I looked at the time, seven-thirty was a mere five minutes away.  I packed up my stuff and headed towards the “B’s” in the fiction section.  Sure enough, there was a lone copy of Brontë’s enormous novel.  It should have been a simple spot and grab sort of purchase, but when I look for one book I inevitably look for more.  I wandered over to the classic literature display and perused books by D.H. Lawrence, Charles Dickens, and Dante.  For some reason, I decided I couldn’t live without a compilation of Anton Chekov’s short stories.

At the cash wrap, the girl took one look at my books and told me I should go get a third.  As it turned out, classics were on sale: Buy two, get one free.  So, like any savvy shopper, I went back to look a for free book.  For a normal person, this would be easy, but for a bibliophile the “books I want” list is immeasurably long.  At first I thought of grabbing another Brontë book or indulging in my newfound love of Eastern European writers, but none of them satisfied the need that still burned in the back of my brain.

Jane Austen.  It was so obvious I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner.  The only book missing in my collection of her works was Northanger Abbey.  I snatched it off the shelf and hurried back to the cash wrap.  It was getting late.

By the time I got to my car, I was running a very uncharacteristic fifteen minutes late.  Nothing seemed amiss when I drove to the main road and entered the on-ramp to the freeway.  I figured I’d be home in no time, until the car in front of me came to a sudden halt.  All four lanes of the freeway were at a virtual standstill and I was stuck in the middle of it.  Inch by inch, traffic merged into the emergency lane.  Only a really bad accident would warrant such extreme measures.  Still, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

Sprawled across the width of the freeway were six mangled cars.  Three were crushed so severely it was impossible to tell the make and model.  The shock of it caught my breath as I fought back the tears.  There was no question in my mind that at least one life had ended, for one car had been ripped into two pieces.

It took a moment to realize the police were still setting up a perimeter, the on ramp had not yet been closed, and the first ambulance was just arriving.  The accident was only minutes old.  Perhaps, the same few minutes it took for me to go back and find Jane Austen.

c.b. 2011


34 thoughts on “The Jane Austen Incident

  1. Thank heavens you followed your impulses to brose a bit and get that free book. I really admire that you have that special time just to read. I’ve never known anybody else like you. (And that’s a great thing.)


  2. The bookstore clerk, and your muse who would not let you leave without finding Villette in the first place, were surely listening to the whisperings of your guardian angels. I always find it strange to see the evidence of another timeline, of a road not taken for some reason that hardly seems memorable at the time, that would so alter my life. I’m thankful for your delay that evening.


      • I totally get that. There have been times when I have been delayed (either at work, a store or even in traffic) Then I come upon a horrific accident that had just happened. Gives me goosebumps to realize how close to death I was….and that accident was horrific—I didn’t drive through it but it was sure all over the news!


  3. I was smiling when I started reading this post. I like Jane Austen’s writing style & thought I would mention about her books & my experience with it. But as I came towards the end, the only words that hung in my mind were “Oh my god”. Glad that you escaped the accident but sad about those who didn’t. God bless.


    • I’d still love to read your thoughts! 🙂 Austen is one of my all-time favorite writers for reasons beyond this post!

      I often think of those who didn’t make it and their families. I can’t even imagine the pain and sorrow. I cried for them that evening and sometimes I still do.

      Thanks so much for reading.


  4. Reading the part about the accident gave me goosebumps too. I’ve had the same experience once. My time wasn’t up, but when you start to think of all the little things … the small, seemingly insignificant, decisions we make … how they can play out, it really makes you think.


    • Every choice truly counts and it never hurts to be reminded of that. Whenever I catch myself taking it for granted, I think of that night.

      I’m glad your number wasn’t up and something little saved you, too. 🙂


    • Those books have a special place on my shelf. The sit together and my eye always wanders to them first when I’m choosing a new book to read. They did save my life and sometimes I wish they could have saved whoever was lost that night, too.


  5. wordsfromwellie

    Amazing! I was not prepared for that ending. I am glad you missed that. My heart goes out to those involved in the accident. I am happy you realize how blessed you are. Sometimes we really need to slow down and interrupt our schedule every once in a while. Continue to be thankful and count your blessings daily.


  6. Wow…. I’m so glad that you weren’t in that crash and am so sorry for those who were. You never know what a delay–a pleasant one like yours or even those irritating ones–might actually save you from encountering.


    • It definitely makes me wonder how many aggravating delays have saved me from a similar fate. What about that day I forgot the garage door opener and had to go back home to get it? Or that time I couldn’t find my right shoe and was a little later than usual going to work? The list goes on an one . . . if anything I’m a lot less inclined to get annoyed in those situations of delay. 🙂


  7. Oh! So tragic. Fate has a funny way of hitting us and us really paying attention to how sometimes we go through life thinking something is messing us up, when maybe on the other side, we are being saved from something worse. LIke in the movie Serendipity. Dean: “Maybe we’re lying here because you don’t wanna be standing somewhere else. ” You never know why you end up doing something out of the ordinary.

    Glad you were able to get your books, and stay out of a possible car wreck. So sad for the loss of lives.

    (on a side note, that’s much happier, I like your ritual. I would love one like that)


  8. This brought tears to my eyes. I’ve often wondered how many times something has happened in our day that saved our lives. I am so glad that you’re okay. I’m sure Northanger Abbey will hold a very dear place in your heart.

    My heart goes out to those directly involved, their families and all those like you who had to witness any part of it. Life is indeed fragile but we’re resilient. I’m looking forward to more posts!


    • The whole story is written on the back cover of Northanger Abbey. I will never get rid of that book as I’m pretty sure its my good luck charm.

      Just yesterday, I followed my Friday routine and once again I thought of those involved. It’s so sad on so many levels, but the memory always reminds to be grateful for every breath I take.

      Thanks for reading! 🙂


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