((FREE PREVIEW OF NEW NOVEL))
There is a foot long crack in the windshield of a 2006 Hyundai Elantra. Its front is crumpled against metal of a bridge in between two small towns. A blur of a blue car – or was it green? – had driven away from the scene. The heap of metal holds a shaking woman, who reaches quickly for her purse and a fresh cigarette. With the driver’s side door jammed, she uses a sudden burst of fear and energy to kick it open.
“Are you alright?” She hears.
Blue blinking lights are almost blinding to her, even in daylight.
“I’m Officer Hank Rutman. The medics will be here shortly. I’m going to need as much information as you can give me. Why don’t you sit down for a moment?”
Shaking in her bones, the woman sits on a flat rock at the end of the short bridge. She lights her cigarette. Everything is surreal. Everything is hazy.
“Tell me your name, please.” Officer Rutman says.
“H-Holly. Holly Leanne Keeting.”
A fire truck arrives, followed by an ambulance. The blinking red, white, and blue lights remind Holly of the Fourth of July. Fireworks in her stomach explode. She is being felt by EMT hands and interrogated by police and firemen. It is all too overwhelming. Somehow, her mouth speaks comprehensive words despite her lack of focus. There are notes taken on her recollection of the accident. Though her body trembles and is weak to stand, she is unharmed other than a seatbelt bruise along her chest.
A fireman brings a black purse to Holly.
“Thank you,” she says. “I need my phone.”
“You’re going to have to put your cigarette out now.” Officer Rutman orders. “They need to take you to the hospital for evaluation. Make sure no internal injuries came from this.”
“Alright.” Holly says, crushing the cigarette under her heel.
Holly is strapped to a stretcher and feels more nerves bubble in every corner of her stomach. The EMTs try to make small talk but it is useless. Holly is silent and rapidly building a wall of defense around her shaken spirit.
* * *
Ceiling lights are not very fun to stare at. They pass every second, laughing at me. I’ve counted twenty-nine so far since entering the regional hospital in a stretcher. I have a neck brace strangling me right now for safety reasons. How in hell did I not see that car trying to pass me? They sped up behind me, tailgating for a bit. Just as I checked my rearview mirror again, the car started to pass me. They slammed into my rear driver’s side bumper and sped off. My car was sent spinning into oblivion until it hit a guardrail.
How strange it was in the car before it came to a stop. While spinning, I could only pray to a god I didn’t have faith in. I saw outside of myself. The back of my hair swaying uncontrollably as my body jerked from side to side. I feel as though some force unknown to existence pushed me back into life. Perhaps it was a glimpse of a possible black-out. Unsure what, but it is intriguing to say the least. Especially since I was suddenly the world’s semi-strongest woman kicking my broken door open. I still cannot comprehend everything that went on - or why for that matter.
Doctors are poking and prodding my body. I do not enjoy being touched by anyone I don’t know personally, especially doctors. They say they will be taking x-rays of my chest, spine, and arms to make sure there are no fractures. Supposedly some injuries can take months before feeling after these sorts of accidents.
The nurse preparing the x-ray says, “We’ll leave your bra on.”
Aren’t I lucky? Gee, thanks Nurse. I can’t feel more humiliated right now. Might as well take it off and show everyone how imperfect I am.
I am no ideal woman. A few extra pounds permanently latch themselves on my stomach no matter what diet I try. I have come to terms with my average breasts, muscular legs of a dancer, and even my slightly round face. There is nothing to truly complain about except for my freckles; my right arm has the Big Dipper constellation on it and has always boggled my mind. Then there is the freckle on the smack dab center of my neck. If any mugger tries to slit my throat, he will have a perfect target.
The stretcher begins to make me feel antsy. I watch the machine go to work and divert my eyes to the nurse. She is in the upper level of the room, flirting with a doctor. How sweet . . . Now pay attention to me!
Nurse No-Name tells me everything looks normal. Since the air around me has fallen heavy, I am not listening to a word she says. The stretcher finally unbinds me and I am sent on my way. I gather my purse, cigarettes, phone, and venture to the bathroom. The exit is unsatisfying. None of my nerves have been settled. My head is still spinning even in fresh air and sunlight.
“Ma’am,” A voice says. “You cannot smoke here. Please go down further.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” I scowl and walk down to a lower-level parking lot.
Three phone calls are made: One to my mother Lia, one to my workplace, and one to my boyfriend. Work doesn’t believe me and my mother doesn’t answer. I can’t imagine if something worse had happened to me. Would Mom answer the door if an officer brought terrible news? Would work fire me if I never showed up again?
My boyfriend answered his phone. He cared. He would come and get me.
Trevor pulls up in his 2004 Pontiac Grand-Am, red as a Cardinal and just as fast. I stumble inside, not caring about a new dent on his front bumper.
“Babe, I was driving up to get you and some guy ran me off the road. I drove over an island and hit a sign. I’m so bullshit right now. Gonna have to fix my front bumper and headlight. It’ll cost me a fortune.” Trevor starts driving away from the hospital and I suddenly wish I hadn’t left yet.
“That’s not good,” I say. “My car is totaled. I need to call the insurance company soon.” I light a cigarette. The orange glow winks at me.
Trevor ignores my comment and adds, “I’ll find that ass and have his head. Ruin my day, but don’t ruin my car. That’s all I ask.”
I flick my cigarette out the window. It doesn’t make it all the way out. Some ash falls to the edge of my seat. I wipe it off, but it leaves a streak.
“What the hell? You smoke in my car and let ashes go everywhere? C’mon, I’ve already had a bad enough day. Just get rid of it and stop smoking in here.”
After I toss my cig out the window, Trevor lights his own up.
How I wish my mom had answered the phone.
“Like I was saying,” Trevor continued, “I will catch that moron who threw me off. What a day. Hey, you want to sleepover tonight?”
I zone out, not listening to what he is asking me. I suppose a night alone would be good for me after an accident, but my head nods anyways. Our destination is now Trevor’s downtown bachelor pad.
His Pontiac pulls in a narrow driveway littered with cigarette butts and wilting dandelions. Even the weeds can’t survive the dark alleys of downtown Hushlan, Massachusetts. This area is where the hopeless go and continue to drown in anguish, poverty, and drug addictions. I never asked why Trevor lived here. I am very empathetic towards people with misfortune weighing down their dreams, but I would not want to live near them. Downtown Hushlan echoes with gunshots, crying babies, and the occasional moans of the neglected and forgotten. Downtown is a place to feel bad for from afar. Sure, I am all about food drives and donations, but no one can donate listening skills to the majority who knowingly throw it all away.
“Here we are, babe.” Trevor shoots me a fake smile.
We walk up the metal staircase on the side of the apartment building. The third floor porch greets me with its plain appearance. There is a pot of dirt sitting next to the metal door. It looks as though there is a sprout, but Trevor is not one to garden. Perhaps it’s the downstairs neighbor’s and needed the extra space.
“I don’t think I will stay long,” I say. “Since my car has passed away, I’m going to have to get my bike out for work tomorrow.”
“No problem. Did you meet my plant yet?”
He points at the flower pot.
“What is it?”
“I call him Herby. I am finally growing my own weed.”
I sigh. I should have known.
I remain silent, but Trevor thinks I am too excited for him to speak. Sometimes I forget he smokes. I prefer not to be around when he does. Weed has never been on my list of things to do in life. The smell alone gives me headaches the size of Nebraska. I am allergic to it, I’m sure. Even in high school I would decline offers. I’ll just stick to my beer, I’d say before taking a swig of Samuel Adams Lager. Come to think of it, I never drink more than once every couple of months. My body prefers to be sober.
“So, you wanna watch a movie?” He asks.
Trevor puts his sixty-inch Panasonic TV on and flips through the TV Guide. I wonder what this messy one-bedroom place would look like if he had spent the extra money on storage and cleaning supplies. Instead, I find myself putting cd covers back in a plastic bin and tossing clothes in a hamper misplaced in the kitchen.
“Are you going to sit down or act like a maid?” Trevor snaps me out of my cleaning stupor.
I reply, “It’s confusing to me how everything is messy again since I cleaned for you last week. Can’t you keep up with a little Windex here and there? A little dusting and laundry?”
“Hey, I don’t come over to your place and rummage through your messes. I like my mess. Just sit down already.”
He is right. He doesn’t come over and rummage through my clean studio apartment. Actually, he doesn’t come over. We usually sit in this filth, watch movies, have sex once in a blue moon, and do nothing.
Something in me feels different tonight. Tonight, I have my eyes wide open.
“Listen,” I say. “I’m not really in a mood. If you could bring me home, I’d really appreciate it.”
Trevor stands up and approaches me like a tiger creeping up to prey. He kisses me hard and wraps one arm around my back.
“Maybe we can play a game?” He asks.
I push away. “Not right now. I was in that accident today and all of my muscles are sore.”
Trevor rolls his eyes. “Fine. Be that way. I’ll bring you home. After work tomorrow let’s get your muscles working again, k?”
I nod and smirk. We descend the metal steps and I glance at Herby the Plant. There is nothing I can say about such a strange situation. I just hope Trevor doesn’t get in trouble or found out. Sometimes, I think Trevor was dropped on his head a lot as a baby – he is just stupid. There is no nicer way to say it.
Take last month for example: I was working at Jumpin’ Java, which sits a few miles south of mid-town Hushlan. Trevor came in to visit me on lunch break as high as the Empire State Building. I mean, his eyes were red like volcanoes erupting and he smelled as if a skunk had gotten run over by a diesel truck in a desert heat wave. I still have no idea what kind of pot he smoked, but my boss Lynn gave me an evil glare for the rest of the week. Trevor doesn’t seem to understand that even though I work at a coffee shop, I still have to look – and smell – professional.
On the ride home, I poke my head out of the window. A summer breeze cools my frustration. The sky is adjusting to night rather slowly so hues of purple, pink and navy swirl in front of the naked eye. We pass through downtown. Different night creatures are coming out of the shadows so you can barely see their faces caked with filth and sin. Some sit on the sidewalk and smoke cigarette after cigarette while some pace back and forth crying out loud for a fix. Often I see children playing on dark roads while their parents fight inside over how much the booze budget is for the month. Downtown is a frightening place. It slaps me with reality of how lucky I am now and was growing up.
I am tugged out of my deep thought as Trevor raises a rock song’s volume. Here in his car, there is no tranquility.
“I love this song.” He states.
Metallica drowns my voice out as I reply, “It’s a good one.”
Trevor yells over the music, “Look at this asshole.”
A boxy car in front of us is driving five below speed limit.
“Please don’t.” He won’t hear me.
No more than three seconds pass before Monster Pontiac is speeding, passing the innocent car. My heart almost jumps into my throat and I see a flashback of my Hyundai taking its last breath.
“Jerk!” I shout.
Trevor smiles and turns the music lower. “What?”
“Why would you drive like a maniac the night of my accident? I’m still a little shaken up.”
As I sit in his car, I remain quiet. There is nothing more I need to say.
In ten minutes, a safe driver would reach the duplex I reside in. Trevor reaches it in six minutes. I never understand how cops don’t pull him over. He lets me out of the car with a single kiss on the lips and I thank him for taking me home.
My half of the duplex is on the bottom floor. My coworkers often wonder how I can afford living in this spacious, once-Victorian house on a four-hundred dollar weekly check. I never reveal that I pay probably thirty-percent of what the real rent amount would be. My Aunt Joan actually lives upstairs from me and owns the building. After I finished high school, my parents were not able to afford sending me straight to college. Aunt Joan took me under her wing so I could live on my own to learn about the real world as I worked full time and saved for college. I pay her two-hundred bi-weekly to keep me from going broke.
Four years later, I hold a guitar instead of a diploma. Music had been my savior on lonely nights. I just couldn’t break the habit of making coffee to go to school again. Guess it was never my destiny to go. Now, I just write music during free time and study other forms of writing on my own. A little self-teaching never hurt anyone.
“Are you alright Holly?” Aunt Joan greets me at the door. “Where’s your car and why didn’t you call me or Lia or Frank?”
“Relax,” I reply. “My car was totaled today, but I’m fine. And I did call Mom and Dad but no one answered.”
She hugs me tight. “At least you weren’t injured. Obviously your car insurance will cover the damage and hopefully help towards the cost of a new one.”
I let go and sigh. “I have my bike for now. Ol’ rusty has gotten me through some hard times. This is no different.”
“True. Come upstairs I made some pork and mashed potatoes – the garlic ones you love so much. Oh, and I suppose Trevor drove extra careful tonight to be considerate?”
I can’t lie to my aunt. So I nod. No words required.
“He needs to meet me soon.” Aunt Joan says, “All this talk about Trevor and I have only seen him and that scruffy beard through the window. You get in an accident today and he helps you. It’s time for him to come to dinner.”
I reply as we walk into the house, “Yeah. Soon. Maybe next week sometime.”
We walk upstairs to Joan’s upstairs home and I am immediately invited by scents of garlic and Italian herbs. Nothing makes my stomach happier than homemade food. The mashed potatoes are delicious.
Live, Laugh, Love