By David White
David White is an 8th Grade English teacher. His stories have been published in Thrilling Detective, HandheldCrime, Hardluck Stories, and Shred of Evidence. His story “Down to the River,” a notable entry in StorySouth’s Million Writers Award, was published by SHOTS in June 2004. He lives in New Jersey.
Tonight reminded me of the night Reggie died. The kind of night where the sky is clear, the roads are dry, and nothing is supposed to happen. Those are the nights everything always goes to hell, aren’t they?
God, even the first light we hit, two kids started to cross the street while the light was only yellow. I slammed on the brakes and stopped just short of the crosswalk. One kid was ballsy, flipped me off. His buddy laughed and they continued across the street.
“Who crosses on yellow?” Rebecca asked. Like she had been reading my mind. She paused, as if something struck her. “You know, you never told me what happened that night.”
“That was what? Ten, fifteen years ago?”
“Something like that. I was in sixth grade, so twelve years. You guys were freshmen, right?” She adjusted the strap of her black dress with her left hand. She shook her head and brown bangs fell over her eyes. After adjusting the dress a little more, she brushed the hair out of the way. Finally, she made sure her seatbelt was tight enough, tugged on it just a little.
She smiled. “Yeah.”
The light turned again and I gassed the engine.
“Anyway,” I said, “that thing with Reggie was a long time ago. By the time I met you it was already ancient history.”
“No buts. Ancient history.”
“You watched your friend die. That affects you. If we’re serious about each other . . .” She trailed off, and looked out the window.
“What?” I said.
“I just think it’s a part of your past and I should know about it.”
I hit the radio, flipped the channels trying to find something she could sing along with. Settled on Liz Phair.
Rebecca didn’t sing.
“It’s like you were doing good until then. Your mom showed me that old scrapbook, remember? It had your old reports cards in it. Good grades, good comments from teachers. Then it all just stopped.”
That familiar sensation started to kick in. I felt it well up inside, and I had to push it back down.
“Now,” she kept going, “you work at your dad’s pharmacy. You didn’t go to college. You didn’t get a real job. You stock shelves. It had to affect you.”
“Jesus, Rebecca. Why don’t you just pick at all of my flaws?”
I was driving faster now. I couldn’t slow down if I tried.
“It helps if you talk about it, that’s all.” Rebecca was looking at me now. Not out the window. One hand on her knee, the other hooked into her seatbelt, like she was intent on listening to me.
I took a deep breath and waited to see if she would look away. She didn’t. She wouldn’t let it go. It wasn’t the time to deal with this. It was never going to be the time, but she wasn’t going to let it go.
I took a deep breath. “You really want to know?”
I told the story so many times twelve years ago. It became second nature. To the police. To my family. To Reggie’s parents. It was natural now. It just came out.
“We went to Burger King after football practice. The one on 46? Just wanted to grab a bite to eat. Reggie’s parents weren’t home so he had to take care of himself for dinner. We ate, hung out for a little while. When we left, we had to cross the highway to get back to his house. We waited at the light. You know? Pressed the crosswalk button and waited.
“The light turned yellow. And like those kids back there, Reggie just started to walk. We thought traffic would stop, it always did. I was a second slow, but Reggie wasn’t. He stepped into traffic. There was a lady in a -- God -- what was it? It was like a blue LeBaron, and she didn’t slow down. She just tore through that yellow light. I was still on the corner, and Reggie, he didn’t even have time to flinch. The car hit him and he flipped up in the air, right over the top of the car. Like it was some movie. Man, he must have been dead before he hit the ground.”
I felt the same way now as I did that night. The tightness in the pit of my stomach. The strange sense of curiosity awakened again.
“Oh my God,” Rebecca said. She took her hand off the seatbelt, put it on my thigh.
It was something I’d been able to bury for so long.
“Did you ever get help? Did you ever talk to anyone about it? A psychologist or something?” she asked.
I always thought it was a healthy feeling, even scientific. Wanting to know what happens to something. Experimental. Pull the wings off flies. Set a beehive on fire. Skin a cat.
“Did you, Greg?”
There was something else I was always curious about. Wanted to experiment with.
I reached down and clicked her seatbelt loose.
What’s it like when someone dies?
“What are you doing?” Rebecca asked. Her hand came off my thigh.
I slammed on the brakes. My belt locked. Rebecca went forward. The windshield shattered. I could hear the crack of the glass, the screech of my brakes. Felt momentum pull at my body. Felt the cool, night air on my face.
Everything was in slow motion. The way her body moved, floated in midair. It rolled once, twice before feeling the pull of gravity. Exactly like Reggie did. Women didn’t react differently to physics than men. The bodies snapped and twisted like limp puppets tossed toward a trash can.
I felt a sense of satisfaction as she hit the ground. I didn’t feel curious anymore.
Like twelve years ago.
When I pushed Reggie out into the highway.
You know, just to see what happens.
David White ©2005
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