I watch her as she gets out of her car carrying a plastic grocery bag. She heads to the back door off the kitchen. Entering quietly, she walks with a sort of weird mechanical stride to the kitchen table and sits down, never acknowledging I am there. She fishes out the pack of cigarettes she just bought along with milk and a scratcher.
I watch her calmly undo the wrapper and pull out a cigarette. “Why are you so quiet?” I ask, as she brings the lighter flame to the tip of the cigarette.
She doesn’t answer. She just watches the smoke flow upward from the tip in a hypnotic stream.
Finally, she says, “I was just coming back from the 7-Eleven. It’s a simple neighborhood drive. Two stops. There should have been nothing to it.”
“What are you talking about?”
She draws off the cigarette and then looks at me for the first time. “He was so little. He shouldn’t have been there. He should have been in his yard, helping his dad mow the lawn. But he wasn’t. He was so lit–” Her voice cracks. She rests her head in her free hand for a moment, then draws on the cigarette again to regain her composure.
I put the milk in the refrigerator and lay the scratcher in front of her on the table.
“You know, when something violent happens to someone and it instantly kills them, we say that they never saw it coming, that they never knew what hit them, as if that is supposed to make us feel better. I don’t believe that. It’s like swatting a fly. Even at the last second a fly will sense that something is about to happen and try to escape the danger. It doesn’t get away, but it knows what’s about to happen.”
“What the hell are you talking about. What happened?”
“He was so little. He came out of that driveway on his Big Wheel like he was shot from a cannon. He was going so fast his little feet weren’t even on the pedals.”
“A bush was blocking my view and I didn’t see him until it was too late.”
She looks up at me with a pleading in her eyes for understanding. I wasn’t ready for that yet. I look out the window of the kitchen and I see the damage for the first time. The right portion of the front bumper area is bent in.
“Did you hit somebody?”
“I know I screamed. I think I heard him scream. I just can’t get it out of my mind what he saw just before I hit him. To him, the car must have looked like a giant blue and silver monster. He had to know in a flash what was about to happen. He had to know he must somehow escape the danger, but in the same instant he had to know it was too late. He was probably thinking it wasn’t real.”
She breaks down sobbing. I get her a glass of water and give her some time to stop.
“So you just left the scene?”
She chain smokes to another cigarette using the first one to light the second. Her hands are shaking now.
“No. I mean I didn’t just keep going. I slammed on the breaks to avoid him–.” She begins to cry again, and through that she says, “I don’t know his name. I killed him and I don’t even know his name!”
She draws on the cigarette before continuing with her head down, “I slammed on the brakes, but I didn’t get out of the car. I rolled down the passenger window to try and hear if he was crying or not. That’s when I saw his father mowing the lawn. Somebody had to see what happened. I got scared and left.”
She hits the table with her fist. “How could I do such a thing, leaving that little boy like that?”
Outside, we hear several cars pull up followed by car doors opening and closing.
“Do you have a coin?” She asks, in a calm voice. I realize that her demeanor has relaxed, as though a switch has flipped inside her. No more hands shaking. No more crying. No pleading for understanding.
After a moment of studying her, I hand her a dime. She begins to work on the scratcher.
“The police are here.” I say.
“I know.” she says, almost whispering.
She walks over to where I’m standing and kisses me, wraps my hands around the scratcher, and walks outside.
Image: Bdviets, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons