Remembering that day, laughter is the first thing that comes to mind. James and I were on our way to an afternoon play – and I can’t even remember the name of what we were going to see anymore. Being the close friends that we were, we made a lot of jokes back and forth about one another, our friends, people we knew, anything under the sun. It was all in good fun and it brought back many good memories. And so our laughter is the first thing my mind conjures up about that day.
We had just turned on to Main Street – I remember this because the sun glinted off the street sign in the most peculiar way – when I heard some shouting from across the street. I looked over and caught James looking at me, the residue of the last joke still on his face. I remember his eyes in that moment. They were the clearest blue you would ever see, clear and deep; inviting, as if he might pick you up and fit you into one comfortably. And his smile! The very reflection of his soul, warm and loving. I remember how he was then so strikingly, if only because I haven’t seen him reach that height since.
I heard the shouting again and it brought my attention to this woman standing on the sidewalk waving her arms about and shouting and it seemed very much as though she were trying to get mine and James’s attention. Her hair was white, or at least I think it was, so I thought she must be some batty old lady escaped from the nursing home. Why that came to mind I am not entirely sure, but it was only making the tide of laughter I was holding back grow ever greater. Just imagine: some crazy old person yelling at random cars as a bunch of white suits search for her. I went to point her out to James to make her the object of yet another joke between us when she seemed to give up on us and began her yelling again in another direction. I don’t think we had the radio playing but for the life of me I can’t recall a single word she said, but something must have registered for both me and James because the two of us looked forward to the road. I think we saw the boy on the bike in the same moment. I think at the same time we also realized there was no way to avoid hitting him. But that sure didn’t stop James from trying to save us all. He slammed down on the brakes and even fumbled for the emergency brake. But there was no stopping us. I think James was crying – when the boy went under our car I could swear I remember hearing a whimper come from James. The sounds were sickening. The light metal of the bike crushing. The small body of the boy breaking. The screams of the people outside around us.
The car stopped ironically fast after we passed over him. For a moment we both sat there, stunned at what had happened. Not a sound from James and his forehead was resting too still on the steering wheel. Rather than sit there and wonder at what was happening outside the car and inside James’s head – and rather than deal with my own feelings just then – I practically leapt out of the car and raced to the boy. I was the first to him and I think maybe if he had been on foot he would have lived. Somewhere under the car and the tires, bits of bike had forced themselves through his body. He looked dead when I got to him. The only consolation – he probably didn’t suffer, and if he did, well, it wasn’t for very long. I can’t remember much about that scene. Hell, I can’t even remember the boy’s name – Roger or Ronnie maybe – or how he looked at all. The only thing that fixed itself in my mind was the red soaking through his yellow shirt. It was an old shirt – I knew from the places where the thread was worn thin and the color was faded. But mostly I knew because one just like it, though worse for wear, was hanging in my own closet. I felt very strongly for a moment that it was me dead on the pavement and not some stranger. The feeling has haunted me ever since.
I don’t remember anyone else walking up to the dead boy. But somehow they got there. I don’t have any of their faces in my memory because I really just remember James holding the limp body close to himself. He didn’t care about the blood ruining his own clothes or about the stench that would probably linger with him all day. He cradled the boy as if it were his son lying dead and not someone else’s. I think maybe, through his tears, he saw something that was similar enough to himself that he could imagine it was his son. I couldn’t understand it then – what made him feel so attracted to this dead boy. And I think I don’t fully understand now. But when the police and the paramedics came over though, he let the body go without a struggle. He looked numb. He looked as though he had died as well. He followed the police dumbly away. A little later they came for me too, but the whole interview is a blur. I don’t remember what I said to them or them to me. I was too busy trying to pretend everything I’d just witnessed was a dream. That it hadn’t happened. And yet, I still have that yellow shirt, filling up with red life, fixed in my mind.
It was hot that day. I remember sweating and thinking how worried I was about it ruining my clothes as if I didn’t have other and finer outfits sitting in my house tucked safely away in a closet. I was walking along the sidewalk – I had been out for ice cream after my lunch – when I looked up and I saw this pretty little car come speeding along the road. It was slick and fast and this wonderful shade of green and I was fixing to admire it – privately, of course; if I let my husband know my love of fine automobiles, why, I’d simply never hear the end of it – when I noticed how fast it was really going and how the driver wasn’t even looking where he was driving. So I looked down the street for him because I noticed the passenger also wasn’t watching the road, too busy staring into whatever dreamland had his attention, and I saw Robert Claybourne, Millie and Jonathan’s son just cruising down the road on his new bicycle without any care whatsoever. That’s when I started with the hollering and the hand waving to try to get that car to stop. I must’ve dropped my purse because I remember later that day seeing scuff marks that hadn’t been there in the morning. Anyway, I saw the car wasn’t slowing so I set about trying to get young Robert to move out of the street. Of course he just looked up at me with this look on his face as though he thought maybe I’d gotten free of the loony bin and thought to myself that he’d make an excellent dinner.
And then the awful screeching noise of the car’s brakes filled the air up, for just a moment, until they stopped at the sound of a loud thump and the scrape of metal. For a brief second, I’ll admit I thought our poor little town was being attacked by the Japanese finally but once I realized what was really happening I got my eyes out of the air and back to the road. I was just in time to watch Robert be sucked under the car and spat out at the other end. And then he just lay there, mangled, while the car sat a few feet away, engine rumbling. That’s the last that I remember of that day until I came back to my surroundings, face wet and head pounding in the way only a good cry can induce, sitting on the dirty concrete. Someone helped me home pretty soon after that – I’m thankful. I couldn’t have sat around to watch the aftermath. I might have died if I had tried. I have enough memories anyway. Almost nightly the scene replays, slowly, through my head. The car impacting the bicycle and crushing a leg. Robert falling and the sound of his skull against the asphalt. His gasp as the bumper hit his head a second time. And the scraping of metal as the bicycle broke and ripped into his skin. Sometimes I remember the driver. He is always different. In some memories he is handsome and caring. In others, ugly and unkempt. But in the all versions that I see of him, his eyes are the same. They are shining like diamonds and they are mourning. Sometimes I feel there was enough sorrow in those eyes to encompass the whole nation. Why couldn’t he have just looked ahead?
All I had wanted to do was go see a play. I knew the leading lady and I wanted to be there so I could surprise her after and maybe start a thing between us. I figured if I brought Richard along we could all have a good time together. And if those plans didn’t work out, well then, Richard and I were young and attractive. Who knows what could have happened? I suppose my foot must have been pressing pretty hard on the pedal. We must have been going pretty fast, but I didn’t notice at the time if we were or not. But I know we were making great time. And we had a good time of it too, visiting old memories and new ones, telling stories to one another as though we were already grandfathers with the experience of generations.
Though I don’t remember my speed, I do know I wasn’t looking ahead I should have been. I was too caught up in what I wanted to do and what was important to me. It was so fast. We turned onto Main and pretty soon I hear this yelling. Then suddenly a little boy is out on his bike in front of me. He had no helmet, no pads, nothing. And he was staring at me just as I was staring at him. I knew the brakes were pointless. But I had to try. His face came closer and closer to mine and time slowed incredibly. I feel like, if I tried, I could map out his face in perfect detail. He was so young. His skin was smooth with the youth of him. His eyes were bright with the innocence that only a child could carry. I could just see his dreams radiating out from his soul – a war hero, a big senator, a rich capitalist. The eyes were green, on either side of a crooked nose – it looked as though it were broken once or twice – and they were the perfect space apart. A smattering of freckles lay across his high cheekbones that created a nice ceiling to the floor of his flat chin. His red hair was ridiculously curly – it looked like something I might have done on purpose as a young boy to mess with my mother, yet here he was having it done naturally for him. He wasn’t by any means attractive, but he looked smart as Hell. I think, had things gone otherwise, we might have got along swell. I remember spending a lifetime just taking in his face.
And then I hit him. The car stopped seconds later. Richard bolted and left me alone in the car. Soon I left too, but I moved slowly. I felt the weight of mountains on my feet and of planets on my shoulders. People were already beginning to crowd and I remember Richard standing off to the side, staring, wide-eyed. I pushed past a few people. Some protested but gave way. Others felt me coming and moved subconsciously out of the way of my aura of death. I remember holding the boy – Robert Claybourne, I learned – to my chest. I remember sobbing over him and trying to find his soul inside of his eyes again. But it and he was gone with them. I don’t remember much of anything after that. I know I spoke to the police. I know I was taken to jail. I know I told the story of what happened. But beyond that – nothing. Nothing but those eyes, dead and cold.
I remember music in my ears. Good music. Music I enjoy – enjoyed. It was hot, but on my bike there was a cool breeze across my face and arms. I don’t why I was in the street. I don’t know why I was so fixated on my shoe. I don’t know why any of it happened. But it did. I looked up and I saw the car. My mind was blank. I don’t remember anything about the car or the people in it except for the color green and loud noise that I could hear even through my music. Being hit hurt. But not for long. The pain in my leg drowned the pain that should have been there when the metal sliced and stabbed into me. I could feel the metal going in and the blood coming out. But it was all painless. I got very warm, I remember. I felt like the underside of my skin was tingling. Then nothing. Nothing at all.