Tentacles

Since retiring, and my boys leaving home, I’ve started to take over one of their rooms. I have some of my paintings and photographs on one of the walls. I sit at the desk and occasionally write. Now that I’m working a real job again, I spend more time in this room. The window looks out over our street, the corner our house is located on. What I see out that window is a hell of a lot of delivery trucks. Endless streams of Amazon and UPS and USPS trucks delivering packages. Yesterday, all of those trucks reminded me of this story.

I wrote it in response to a first line from The First Line. Unlike Sunbaked Sand and The Smoker’s Club, they didn’t publish Tentacles. When I published a couple of short story collections, this story made its appearance in Shady Acres and Other Stories. If you like what you read below, give the collection a try. There are far more worlds to visit.

In Pigwell, time is not measured by days or weeks but by the number of eighteen wheelers that drive past my house.  It’s been that way for years, ever since I moved in on a cold blustery day in April.  I learned of its unofficial name, Pigwell, when I was ushered past the door and into my room. 

“Welcome to Pigwell,” the woman lying on the upper bunk said.  She didn’t move and didn’t bother to look at me.  She just stared up at the ceiling, her left hand picking at the peeling white paint on the wall above the bunk.

“Pigwell?”

“You’ll figure it out,” she mumbled, turning her back to me and focusing her efforts on the paint.  I put my things on the floor and sat down on the lower bunk, hearing and feeling the bed springs creak under my weight.  In the corner was a toilet and sink.  Along the opposite wall was a small table with one chair and on the wall above the table was a shelf.  A handful of books were scattered haphazardly on the shelf and two pictures were taped to the wall below the shelf.  One appeared to be a standard school picture of a blond girl, probably about six or seven.  The girl was trying not to smile too widely, probably to keep from opening her mouth and revealing the gap caused by missing teeth.

Looking at that picture, I thought of Jane, my own little blond girl.  There was a school picture of her somewhere, too.  Taken five or six years before I entered the confines of Pigwell, she had been the same age, trying to hide the same gap.  Only in her case, the missing teeth were caused by her father’s fist, not by the normal progress of childhood.

The other picture was of the same girl, a year or two older, standing next to a woman sitting in a chair.  Although I had only briefly seen the woman on the bunk above me, I could tell they were one and the same, and that it had been a long time since the picture had been taken.  The black and white of the picture had begun to fade and the edges were tattered by years of handling.

Alone in the room but for the stranger a couple of feet above me, who had fallen asleep, my reality sank in and I began to quietly cry.  The wall I had built around me, hiding the physical and emotional pain I had endured for years,  for the first time in a long time began to crumble.  I lay down on the bed and curled up into a ball, the tears silently streaming down my face and dampening the thin pillow.  I cried myself to sleep, waking up an hour later to the sound of the door to the room opening.  Before I could get up, two feet, followed by legs and a body appeared from above me, as my roommate slid off the bunk and ambled towards the door.  Quickly, I got up and followed her, knowing that, although she had said barely a word, this stranger was a lifeline I might need.

* * *

My house?  I live in Carrollton, North Carolina, a small town tucked away in an out-of-the-way corner on the western edge of the state.  During much of the early part of the century, from 1908 to 1942, the town was run by Charles Sidwell, the local sheriff.  In 1942, Sheriff Sidwell, good ol’ boy that he was, got himself killed at the hands of his enraged mistress after he slapped her around a bit.  Up until that point, nothing happened during his reign without his stamp of approval and when he died, the respected citizens of the town thought it would be a good idea to name everything they could after him.  In the tradition of the South, they managed to ignore the circumstances of his death. 

There was Sidwell Park, Charles Sidwell Elementary School, and, after obtaining state approval, the Sidwell Women’s Correctional Institution.  I still wonder how they managed to keep from renaming the town, too.  In an effort to establish just the right environment of gentility and class–Sidwell was built in the 1940’s when people still cared about such things–each building was named after a famous woman writer.  Hence, my home, my house.  The Dickinson House at the Sidwell Women’s Correctional Institution.

A couple of months after arriving, I found out why the residents called it Pigwell.  Once the warmth and the humidity of summer arrived, the aroma from the area’s pig farms, one of which was nestled comfortably in the countryside directly across from Sidwell, permeated the facility.  Windows closed, doors closed, it didn’t matter.  Pigs may, in fact, be one of the cleanest animals, but what thousands leave behind on a daily basis sure the hell doesn’t smell clean particularly in the humidity of a sweltering North Carolina summer.

It’s been so long since I stopped counting days and started counting eighteen wheelers I truthfully don’t know how long it’s been since I arrived.  I know that I arrived sometime in April of 1978, but I have no idea of the year or month now.  Days and weeks and months and years don’t mean anything.  All that matters is that twenty-three trucks move past my window and I can close my eyes and begin counting again when I open them the following morning.

My room, on the northwest corner of the third floor, allows me to look out on Sidwell Street, a two lane road that leads to the interstate.  The first morning of my stay at Pigwell, I woke before dawn and, after tossing and turning for what seemed hours, couldn’t get back to sleep.  I rose and walked to the window.  The sun was just beginning to make its approach over the horizon, creating the first glow of the early morning. 

To the south, I saw the headlights of a vehicle coming down Sidwell Street.  I followed the lights as they approached and then passed by my window.  It was an eighteen-wheeler, the first of my Pigwell life.  There were no markings on it.  Just a cab pulling two white trailers behind.  I thought nothing of it and five minutes later another went by.  Five minutes later, another.  And so on.  An hour later, twelve trucks had passed by my window, heading north towards the interstate.  I looked and waited, but no more came.

“That window is hell, aint it?” the woman on the upper bunk said, interrupting my new-found obsession with eighteen-wheel trucks.

“Why?”

“It lets you see the real world.  A world you aint gonna ever touch again.”

Her words stung because they were the truth of a harsh reality.  The rest of my life would most likely be spent in that room, or somewhere else behind the fences, locked doors, and barred windows of the Sidwell Woman’s Correctional Institution.  But, somehow that first day I thought the window wasn’t so bad.  Having a view of the world would allow me an escape from the confines of Pigwell. 

“My name is Betty,” she said. 

“Ellen,” I responded.

“Whatcha in for?” she asked.

Mustering the strength to say the word, I whispered, “Murder.”

“Yeah?  Me, too.”

Instantly, I was scared.  I was sharing a cell with a murderer.  Somehow, I didn’t equate what I had done with being a murderer.  I had killed because I had to.  It wasn’t my fault that the jury hadn’t seen things my way.  “Who’d ya kill?” Betty asked.

“Phillip,” I sighed.  By this point, I had turned from the window and was sitting in the room’s lone chair.  I was facing the bunks and Betty was still lying in her bed, but with her head perched on her hands as she looked down at me. 

“Phillip?” she asked with a quizzical look on her face. 

“My husband.”

“Oh.  Me, too.”

“Huh?”

“Killed my husband.”  Some small amount of relief spread through me.  Maybe she wasn’t the horrible monster I thought she might be when she first said she was in for murder.  “Stabbed the bastard.  Twelve times.  He got what he deserved.”  We were two of a kind.

“I shot Phillip,” I said.  My voice had returned to a whisper.  I had never spoken those words, not even to my attorney or at trial.  I didn’t get to testify.  Back in those days, people didn’t yet care about battered women.  Particularly, in the old South, and my attorney thought it best that I not say my piece.  Good ol’ John Ralston, he of the soiled shirt collar and liquid lunch, also thought it best that he not know what really happened. 

“I shot Phillip,” I repeated, warming to the words.

And, suddenly, the wall came tumbling down and words came out in a torrent, “In the head.  I’d had it.  The years of hitting me, kicking me, calling me a bitch, locking me in our room for days, raping me, and thinking that buying me flowers and saying he was sorry were enough to make up for it.”  I stopped and took a breath.

“He had a shot gun in the garage, fully loaded.  ‘Just in case,’ he would tell me with that damn twinkle in his eye.  Sometimes, he would remind me about the gun after beating me.  I don’t even remember anymore why he would beat me.  It got to the point where he just did it because he could.  One time, he kicked me and hit me and then dragged me out back.  He went back inside and came out with a watermelon under one arm and the shotgun in the other.  He put the watermelon against the fence and stalked back towards me.  He said, ‘Look at this,’ and then turned and shot the watermelon, obliterating it.  Turning back to me, he said, ‘Just in case.’ 

“My only regret at that moment wasn’t that he beat me black and blue, again, but that little Jimmy saw the whole thing.  His high chair was in the kitchen and he was eating Cheerios as fast as he could shovel them in his mouth while Phillip threw me around the kitchen and family room.  After Phillip destroyed the watermelon and stomped back into the house, I looked up and saw Jimmy, still in his high chair, looking out the kitchen window.  Watching it all.

“Well, ‘just in case,’ finally came.  Only it didn’t come the way he thought it might.  I got the shot gun and crept into our room where he was asleep in his crappy Fruit of the Looms that were more yellow and brown than white. No amount of bleach could save those things.  His gut sticking up in the air, quivering while he snored that way that he did.  Hell, that snore could have woke the dead three counties over.  Just didn’t wake him. 

“I didn’t give myself time to think about what I was doing.  I’d done enough thinking about it over the years.  I jammed the shot gun up under his chin.  Hard.  His eyes shot open and he looked at me.  I waited long enough for him to realize what I held in my hands.  I wanted to see terror in his eyes.  I did, so I pulled the trigger.  He ended up looking a lot like the watermelon did.”

That was all I could tell her.  I was arrested a couple of days later when Phillip didn’t show up at work and his boss called the police.  His body was still in our bed.  I was arrested and convicted of murder.  Sent away for life.

“Good for you,” Betty said quietly.

We spent the rest of the day in uncomfortable silence, both knowing too much and not enough about each other.  The only other exchange we had that day was when I mustered up the nerve to ask her how long she’d been there.  “Twenty-three years, seven months, and sixteen days,” came the answer

That evening, after dinner, I stood at the window again, looking out as the day turned to dusk and the sun went down behind Pigwell.  The lights of a vehicle approached from the north.  A cab pulling two white trailers approached and blew past.  Every five minutes, another followed, until eleven had made the journey past my window.

The next morning I woke before dawn again.  I got up and looked out the window.  As the sun rose, twelve eighteen-wheelers began to make their way to the interstate.  I counted again.  And, after dinner, as the sun went down and the lights of Pigwell were slowly extinguished, I stood before the window and counted eleven coming back from the interstate.  The headlights announcing their approach, the roar of their engines announcing their arrival, and the gush of air stirring the trees and grass on the roadside signaling their departure from my world.

The window became my escape.  The trucks, my puzzle.  I have spent the days ever since wondering about them.  What’s at the end of the road?  Where do they come from?  What are they delivering?   Where do they go?  And, most importantly, what happens to that twelfth truck?  How is it that every day, twelve leave in the morning and only eleven return in the evening?  How is it that over all these years, there’s never been any change to the schedule?  Progress apparently never made it to whatever is connected with those trucks.

I probably could have asked somebody at Pigwell about the trucks.  I could have got answers to the questions, but pondering the answers gave me something to occupy my mind.  Every twenty-three trucks was a cycle of my life, to be repeated again the following morning. 

* * *

The days and weeks and months rolled by.  I lost track of those.  I was never been able to count the days the way Betty did.  The number is too big.  Too much to handle. 

Somewhere along the way I learned that Jimmy, at the ripe age of fourteen, was sent to an institution for juvenile delinquents.  While playing one day, in a fit of anger, he managed to fire a gun and kill a friend.  “Just in case,” came way too early for Jimmy.   He probably wouldn’t have got in too much trouble if he had owned up to the shooting and claimed it was an accident.  But, instead of seeking help, he dragged the boy’s body into some bushes and then went about his business, ignoring the search that went on around him and initially denying any knowledge about how his friend’s body ended up where it did. 

And Jane, whose front teeth were knocked out by her father in a fit of rage over a glass of spilt milk or something of equal insignificance?  As she entered adulthood, she wrote me letters that described her life.  A succession of battering, abusive men of her own.  The letters were filled with tears and anguish over the pain of her life and her inability to escape the violence that had begun when she was so young.  Although I want only to throw out her letters when they arrive, I force myself to read them.  It is part of my penance.  I allowed a man into my life who was brutal and abusive. 

The tentacles of that abuse have spread out and affected others.  Too many others, including the family of an innocent boy gunned down by my son.  And, most likely, the children Jane brings into this world as she bounces from abusive boyfriend to battering husband.  I am powerless to stop it.

I still count the trucks that go by.  Twenty-three.  Twelve, one way.  Eleven, the other.  As those stupid trucks go by, I have needed them more and more.  The mysteries they offer me have provided me with a haven from the disaster of my life.    

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Can We Care Again?

It was a grisly crime. The kind that required the television reporters to warn viewers that the “footage may be disturbing.” The kind that had all sorts of things blurred in the videos that showed up on the respectable websites. 

The fear in the eyes of the two victims. The tears coursing down their cheeks as they pleaded to their captors. The pain. So much of it. And then the blood and the dying. All recorded by the perpetrators and broadcast on-line. Not just broadcast, but live-streamed. 

In the initial moments of the live-stream, there were only a few eyeballs on the thing, but as such things are, soon there were thousands watching. Tweets were sent, Facebook posts made. Eventually millions saw it. All of it. The thing went viral, a pandemic of violence that spread around the world, infecting those millions with the anguish of the thing. Regardless of the admonitions and blurred portions on television and in other locales. 

Dogged detectives began to investigate, narrowing the location of the crime down to Portland, Oregon. But they couldn’t get any further than that. Tips sent them scrambling from empty warehouses to vacant buildings to dusty, dank basements. They found nothing anywhere. The tracks and trails left behind by the internet dried up, led them nowhere.

The public began to scream for action. There were murderers on the loose. And then there was a coded letter delivered to a Portland newspaper. Well, not really a letter. More like a short note. A very short note. Experts cracked the code quickly. The very short note read, “We will do this again.”

The screams grew louder. Crowds gathered downtown and circled police stations. Mothers showed up at City Council meetings and demanded action. Fathers showed up at the State Legislature and threatened. 

Another note was delivered to a local news station. A very short note. It read, “Seriously. We will do it again.”

The din was tremendous. Marchers marched through the streets. White ribbons showed up on trees throughout Portland, and on the lapels and blouses of the city’s residents. Out of the noise grew a sense of purpose. A unity. The city would get through this. The murderers would be found. The crime solved. And Portlanders would care about each other again.

After several more weeks, a video showed up on the internet. It showed a young couple frolicking on a beach in Australia. It was the couple in the video. The ones with the tears, the ones who screamed for mercy. The ones who died. Only they hadn’t.

It was all a joke. A sad, sick, twisted joke.

Unfortunately, not all horrors are jokes. Sometimes, they are all too real. I think you know what I’m talking about. The question is … can we care about each other again?

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Pillow Lips

The first line of this was a writing prompt from last night. There was, and remains, a lot I wanted to do with this, but this is what I managed last night. There may just be more later.

She had purple eyes and pillow lips

Blue hair and baby-bearing hips

He had fuzzy chains and lashing whips

Faded tattoos and graying tips

Esmerelda and Chuck had no guilt trips

Just love and lust filling their memory chips

At least at first, then came the blips

The hurdles, the stumbles, the skips

She left with the chips and the dips

Leaving behind a box of paper clips

He yelled after her, “You’re bigger than a ship!”

Muttering more, “I don’t give a god-damn flip.”

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A Prized Possession

When I was in kindergarten, I didn’t talk much. In my report cards from that year, my teacher, Ms. Philippi, commented on my silence and encouraged me to speak up more. Well, that was a bad idea. My report cards from first grade on included not so gentle suggestions that maybe I should pipe down a bit.

Once I got out of school and entered the world of adults, I still had plenty to say, but as the years went by, I found the written word as an outlet. I write stories now. Sometimes full-blown novels. And every once in awhile, I may even publish a thing or two. I’ve yet to find much of an audience for my books though.

What I do have are some friends and family who are incredibly supportive of my efforts. They buy every book, some post reviews, others don’t but tell me they really enjoy my writing style. These friends and family also, if they buy the paperback versions, find a place for my books on their shelves and ask me to sign them.

One of those friends is a guy I worked with years ago. My sons and I affectionately refer to him as Fartman. Why? Because at work, he played this game with a couple of our other colleagues. When he had to let one rip, he’d walk into an office, fart, and then walk out. Hence … Fartman was born.

We only worked together for a couple of years before he was off to another job, but our friendship endured. Lunches regularly, text exchanges, the occasional phone call. Fartman is the type of guy who is always laughing, sometimes in conjunction with some absolutely brutal words he uses for somebody else, and he always brought laughter out in me too. Isn’t that a great thing to have in a friend?

When I started publishing things, he became one of my biggest fans. He has a copy of everything I’ve put into print and as he has gone from job to job to retirement over the years, his stack of my books has gone with him to each office he has occupied. He has repeatedly referred to my books as prized possessions. Things that he treasures.

Which brings us to today.

A former co-worker has a side business. She makes beautiful cookies, decorated in whatever theme you want. I asked her for a dozen cookies made to match my son’s favorite football team. While we were messaging about my order, she mentioned that she used to enjoy reading but hasn’t read much lately. She added that seeing me post about my books had inspired her to start reading again and she would start with my books. We agreed that when I picked up the cookies, I’d sign whatever she purchased.

This morning was pick-up and autograph day. She had purchased two of my paperbacks. I signed the first one with a note thanking her for her friendship and turned to the second book. I opened it. There was writing on the first page. What? I thought to myself. Somebody sold her a book after writing in it? Doesn’t sound like Amazon to me.

I looked closer. Wait a sec. That’s my handwriting! That’s my signature! That’s the note I wrote in the copy I signed for Fartman!!!

I took a picture and texted it to him with a note. You have some explaining to do …

We spoke a few minutes later. We couldn’t stop laughing about this. Fartman has absolutely no idea how his prized possession, a copy of my first novel, ended up being sold on Amazon via a third party seller. As far as he knew, it was in the stack of my books he kept in his home office ever since retiring.

Apparently not.

Our favorite theory of what happened is this. He and his wife are very orderly. They de-clutter frequently. Somewhere along the way, the book got mixed up with other books and went into the donation pile. From there it went to Goodwill, who included it in a bundle of stuff they offloaded to somebody else. The Amazon third party seller who sold it to my cookie-making friend? Orange Zebra, a company based in Texas. We are definitely not in Texas.

Think about the coincidences that had to occur for all of this to happen. It’s just so bizarre and worth a laugh.

By the way, I liberated his copy of the book by offering a new, clean copy to the cookie-maker. I’ll return it to him the next time I see him. And we’ll laugh some more.

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I Want To

A little poem in response to a writing exercise last night …

I want to

I want

I

I want

I want to

Words of such power

Words of such weakness

Words that speak

Words that breathe

Is a want a need

Is a want a desire

Is a want something more

Is a want even real

I want to

Love

Laugh

Cry

Feel

I want to

Feel the wind

Feel the sun

Feel the waves

I want to

Feel your touch

Feel your warmth

Feel you

I want to

Walk the world

Swim its rivers

Share its rhythms

I want to

Talk to you

See you smile

Hold you tight

I want to

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The Dime … Again Again

A stolen Yankees t-shirt. A deal to avoid punishment. A date to a dance. A few moments that change the lives of Lily, Sophie, and Pete forever. Pete, who stole the t-shirt on his 16th birthday because his neglectful mother and abusive father haven’t celebrated his birthday in years. Sophie and Lily, sisters orphaned ten years before as a result of a car accident that killed their parents. Lily offers Pete the deal. He can keep the shirt if he asks Sophie to the End of Year Dance.

The Dime explores how three young adults form a social family when their parents, either through the accident that killed the girls’ parents or the abuse and neglect of Pete’s, are not available or present to provide them with the love and support they need.

The Dime JPEG

When I originally started this story, it was a short story that was initiated with a prompt — tell about a shoplifter who is let off as a result of a deal made with the store clerk. Just a little 1,500 word piece that I thought I was done with. Then I went to the Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference and submitted the story for the morning workshop I participated in. By the time that three-day workshop was done, I knew I needed to write more.

I ended up with a 30,000 word novella that I thought was it. My teenage son read the final draft of the thing in one night and told me in the morning that he liked it, but he was unhappy with it … because he didn’t feel like the story really ended. Basically what he says about every story of mine that he reads.

I thought about it and pretty quickly came up with an idea for a three-novella series about Pete, Lily, and Sophie. I set out to write the next two parts and, as I seem to do all too much these days, got bogged down in the writing of the second part. Until recently. Yesterday, I wrote the ending to Part Two. I need to run it through another round of editing and then have a couple of people read it. Maybe run it by my favorite editor, too.

Once that’s all done, I’ve decided to try to get an agent for this — to pursue traditional publishing for what is done, and for what may continue to come out of me when it comes to these three crazy kids. If I can stand it, I can see multiple stories spinning out as they go through the next few years of their lives. But there are other things I want to write as well. Whether I write more of this story likely depends on whether it gets published and whether it develops any kind of audience at all. One issue is that the ending of Part Two pretty much begs for more … again.

In addition to finishing Part Two, I have now posted all of Part One on WattPad. I’m not entirely thrilled with the outcome so far on that site. As near as I can tell, nobody other than a handful of social media friends have read it and nothing I’ve done on the site has produced eyeballs unknown to me to give the story a try. So, if you’re so inclined, head over here, give it a try. The more views, comments, and votes for the story, the better the chance of others noticing the story and giving it a try.

 

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The Dime … Again

I keep adding chapters to The Dime over at WattPad. It’s up to 18 chapters now. Here it is if you’d like to give it a try.

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The Dime

The roll out continues on Wattpad. Five chapters posted today. Fifteen chapters in total up and the crescendo builds!!!!

Go here to read, comment, vote for. The more eyeballs, the more comments, the more votes the better.

The Dime JPEG

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Jumping. Flying. Dying.

I’d gone across the bridge countless times. During runs, on bike rides. Each trip across, I had the same thought. What would it feel like to jump? Hell, I think that every time I cross a bridge.

The thing is … this bridge was different. It’s one thing to cross a bridge in a car or a bus, or on the rare train trip. In a cocoon of steel it’s not as easy to stop and go to the railing. But on foot or on a bike? It’s all too easy when the railing is mere feet, only a couple, from my unprotected self.

This bridge spanned a river that rushed along 40 to 50 feet below. Downstream were some mild rapids. Upstream was a lake, dammed decades ago. The water that rippled beneath my feet, continuing its constant course through the cliffs and canyons from the foothills to the sea, seemed deep and dark. There were secrets down there, ones that no human really knew.

Bodies long forgotten, whispering into the watery shrouds. Treasures lost and never found. Boats abandoned and sunk with their own tales to tell.

It wasn’t the secrets that lurked under the river’s surface that intrigued me though.

No, when I thought of stopping and going over the edge, it was something else I envisioned. A dream, if you will. Where I could flee the gravitational bounds of Mother Earth, leaving my worries behind, escaping the chains of despair I felt, salving the pain that wracked my body.

One day I decided I had to give it a try. I got off my bike and leaned it against the railing. I looked left and right. There were no witnesses present. Lifting my leg over the railing and propping myself up for a few seconds, I looked into the dark corners of my mind and gave myself a chance to decide otherwise. There was no light in there. There was no turning back. I lifted my other leg over and rested my ass on the railing and my feet on the edge of the bridge.

Between my toes I could see the murky, dark green water race by below me. A light breeze at my back felt like it was nudging me forward. And so, I followed the wind’s command and pushed off, leaving the railing behind me as I reached my arms out and sought to soar with that breeze.

At first it lifted me and I began to fly, I really began to fly over the river’s surface, between the walls of the cliffs that stood guard. The sun beat down on me, the blue sky offered to open itself for me. Trees along the river whispered in the wind, “Look, he’s flying. A man, not a bird, in flight.” The leaves quaked as though thrilled with my effort.

In my mind I soared along the course of the river, on towards the dam several miles away, where I would be able to fly high and watch the boaters and jet skiers and sunbathers as small as ants on a shiny, glittery, blue ball. And at some point, I would keep going. To the mountains, snowcapped and cold, across the vast plains on the other side, and eventually to the ocean and the world on the other side.

I was free. Unencumbered. Weightless. Giddy.

I crashed into the river below the bridge. I was dead.

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Trent Was Right

When I started writing this last night, I wanted it offbeat. But I don’t do offbeat easily. So I wrapped up The Dream Story with a cliched ending. Trent pointed out that the pregnancy was too cliched. And I agree. So …

 

Molly always did this thing when she was nervous. She would rub her left eyebrow with her right hand. I guess it’s why she didn’t see the accident as it was happening.

We were walking down Brittany Park Drive. At the corner of Elk Grove-Florin Road, we turned right. On our way to Taco Bell. A chalupa or two for me. Soft tacos for her. Maybe we’d split a Nachos Supreme. I loved their Mountain Dew Baja Blast.

I looked at her rubbing her eyebrow. Her hand covering her left eye almost entirely. Why was she nervous? I had no idea. That’s when two things happened.

First, she stopped walking and said to me, “Joe. There’s something I need to tell you.” I was about to ask her what when the second thing happened.

Two cars came through the intersection almost simultaneously. The one in the far lane, just slightly ahead, tried to change lanes. But there wasn’t any space to do so yet. All there was was the other car. The one clipped the other, pushing it up on to the sidewalk and into a utility pole, mere feet from us.

I saw it coming, but Molly didn’t. Her hand covering her eye, the other focused on me while she swallowed deeply and took a breath. She had to have heard it though. The squeal of brakes. The crunch of metal. The breaking of glass. The sounds of the accident caused her to drop her hand. The sight caused me to jump back. Not once, but twice. I tried to grab her, but my hand slipped off her elbow.

She felt it too, just as she turned to the noise. Part of the car’s bumper tore off the car and flew through the air, slamming into her side and knocking her to the ground right in front of me.

“Molly!” I screamed, trying to ignore the glass that fell around us, the sound of her breathe exploding out of her, and the crack of her head hitting the sidewalk.

“Molly,” I whispered as I fell to my knees and looked her over. The good news was that her eyes were open, she was breathing. She was going to be okay. Right?

“Joe,” she whispered to me. “I don’t feel so good.”

“I know.” I wasn’t sure what to do. They always say you shouldn’t move somebody until you know what their injuries were. But this was Molly, my wife. I needed to comfort her. I gently lifted her so she could rest her head on my lap, hoping I wasn’t causing more damage as I did so. “Sssshhh.” I gently stroked her hair with one hand while I dug my phone out of my pocket with the other. “I’m going to call 911.”

“Honey, there’s something I wanted to tell you,” Molly said haltingly. She lifted her hand to her eyebrow again.

“Not now. Just be quiet.”

A crowd began to form. Some were trying to help the driver in the wrecked car. Others were talking angrily about the fact that the driver who had caused the mess had kept on going.

“Did anybody get the license plate?”

“Nah, man. What an asshole!”

“What kind of car was it?

“A Sentra.”

“No, no, no. It was a Corolla.”

“You’re both wrong. It was a Honda. Something like that.”

“It was blue, wasn’t it?”

“Nah. Gray.”

“Again, you’re both wrong. It was silver.”

“Shit man, gray. Silver. There ain’t no difference there.”

“I think I saw part of the license plate.  Maybe something like 5JW and then I didn’t get the rest.”

“That ain’t gonna help none.”

“Maybe it will. We figure out the make, they can run those first characters and maybe get a match.”

“Is she okay, dude?” a teenage boy asked me, leaning over at his waist, hands on his knees.

I looked up at the kid and said the only thing I could because I didn’t want Molly to know I was worried. That I was scared. “Yeah, she’s fine. Just a little knock on the head. That’s all.” And who knew if the bumper hitting her had caused any damage to her hip, or anything else for that matter.

As the sound of sirens finally reached my ears, Molly reached her hand to mine. “There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you, but I don’t know how.”

“What? You can tell me anything. But now may not be the time. You’re hurt. Just take it easy.”

“No. I need to tell you now. I can’t hold it in any longer.”

“The ambulance is almost here.” I could see the flashing lights coming down Elk Grove-Florin. an ambulance and a police car were on their way. “We can talk later.”

“Listen, Joe.” Molly tried to sit up but grimaced before resting her head back in my lap. “Trent was right?”

“What? Trent? Who is that? What are you talking about?”

Molly sighed and began rubbing her left eyebrow again. “You are so … never mind. Trent. He was our server last night.”

“Yeah. So.” I wanted to take her hand away from her face. “Where the hell are the paramedics?” The sirens had stopped with the ambulance parked behind the damaged car. I wasn’t thinking about the driver in the car. I was only concerned about Molly.

“Wait a sec.” I forgot for a moment about the paramedics. “Trent? You mean the guy who got our order totally wrong.”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“Yes, it was. You ordered the jumbo shrimp. He brought you a cubano sandwich. I mean, it’s not even the same meat type.”

“Okay. You’re right. He got that wrong. But he was right about something else.

That’s when the paramedics finally got to us. Who I would later learn were Frank and Mick.

“She’s my wife,” I told them when they were checking her out. “Is she going to be okay?”

The one who I’d later learn was Frank replied, “Should be, but we need to get her to the ER and get her checked out. Have the doctors take a look at her head. The good news is it doesn’t appear to be anything else. No other damage. Just her head.”

“Just her head …” I mumbled to myself. The head could be a big deal though. I knew people who had concussions. Bad ones. Skiing accidents and skateboarding accidents and falls from bicycles. Knocking their heads on something and, sometimes, it took months and months for them to get right. To get past the headaches, the fuzziness, the grayness, the memory issues. All sorts of things. So … just her head. Yeah.

Frank and Mick put Molly on a gurney and rolled her into the ambulance. Just before they slammed the doors shut, Molly told them to hold up. “Joe, I need to tell you what Trent was right about.”It’s not that big of a deal. It can wait.”No, no. Hold on.” She propped herself up on her elbows. An effort I could tell wasn’t easy. “You didn’t like your burger. Too dry, wasn’t it? You should have got the manicotti like Trent suggested.”

“What? That’s it? That’s why you’re rubbing your eyebrow again? Molly?” I said as Mick slammed the ambulance doors shut. “Molly?!”

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