By P.A. O’Neil
“I never meant to hurt anyone.” The man looked down and shook his head, damp from the rain, his arms wrapped around his body as if to fend off a chill. “You have to believe me, officer.”
The diminutive woman in the police raincoat nodded as she took his statement. “Yes, sir; just tell me what you know.”
“My wife said her car’s been acting up, so I took it for a drive to understand what she meant. You know women—they don’t know much about engines.”
The officer stopped writing, and with raised eyebrows, looked at the man. His chauvinistic statement could’ve been attributed to shock. With a nod, she asked him to continue.
He put his hands in his pockets and nodded back. “Well, she was right, the car was running hot, and then the engine seized up. Probably a cracked block; gonna cost a lot to replace the engine.”
“Yes, sir, but I need to know why you stopped on a curve. Didn’t you realize you would be a traffic hazard?”
“Sure, officer, but my car is automatic. It was all I could do to get it to stop without going over the edge.” He swayed side-to-side, his body language betraying his supposed calm. He watched as she wrote, but his attention was pulled away by the siren of the ambulance.
“Uh-huh. Continue please.”
“Uh, yeah. Uh, I was on my cell with my wife, telling her to call for a tow truck, when I heard tires squeal. I looked up to see a car swerve off the road. It went down the embankment, rolled once before hitting that tree.” He led the officer to the edge of the drop-off now marred by burnt tire tracks, scattered dirt, and gravel. He looked at the remains of what had been a Buick, wrapped around a tree, covered with fire-retardant foam.
“Did you go down to see if the occupants were alright?”
“What?” Her question startled him. “Oh, yeah. After I told my wife to call you fellas— ma’am.” He looked away from the twisted hulk of metal and hoped he hadn’t betrayed his fear of death. The Coroner’s van pulled up as the fire truck pulled away, while officers directed to prevent another accident from occurring; flares on the road and the swinging flashlights stood out on the black highway.
“And what did you find down there, sir?”
“Huh?” This drew his attention back to the woman. “Oh, well, the others had pulled up by then. I think they were behind this poor fella’s car. They must’ve seen the wreck happen too?”
“Yes, sir, we have officers talking to them. I want to know what you did. Tell me what you found when you went down the hillside.” Her voice was calm but commanding. She knew she didn’t have much time because shock can dull a witness’s memory.
“The rain…it didn’t start until after I was down there. I-I, I don’t have to go down there again, do I?” He shifted from side to side like a boxer, all the while hugging himself.
“No, sir, just tell me what happened and what you did?”
“The boy, he was thrown out when it rolled because he wasn’t too far down. They must’ve been going to a prom of something, because he’s all dressed up. Shame all that blood messing up his tuxedo.”
“Yes, he had a head wound. It’s kinda funny though, his gardenia was still pinned to his lapel, even after rolling like that.” He smiled a silly grin as his emotions began to betray him. “I got to him first and told him to lie down, but he kept calling for ‘Baby’.”
Surprised, the officer asked, “Baby? Was there a baby in the wreck?”
“No, ma’am. I think he meant his girlfriend. She was still in the car, well, half of her was. Her legs were pinned, and she was hanging out the open door.” As in a trance, he whispered what he’d witnessed. “We hadn’t reached the car yet, but, the boy somehow pulled himself up and managed to make it to her. I remember someone sayin’, ‘Careful, son, she’s mighty hurt.’
“The boy just kept sayin’, ‘Baby, Baby, I’m here. It’s gonna be all right.’ Then, she mumbled something like, ‘Hold me, darling’.” Words were failing the man now, “Then he kissed her and—well, she was gone by then.”
The man turned away to spit bile which had risen in his throat while the officer kept writing. He looked up, his attention drawn to a woman running through the crowd of on-lookers. With a newfound enthusiasm he asked, “That’s my wife, can I go now?”
“Yes, sir, you can go. We know how to contact you if we need more information.”
Alone, reviewing her notes, her heart skipped a beat when she was disturbed by a disembodied voice, “Shame, isn’t it?”
Lost in concentration, she hadn’t noticed the fellow officer who had walked up beside her. “Oh, Wayne, it’s you!” she said with a hand pressed against her chest.
“Sorry, Liz, didn’t mean to startle you,” he said with a chuckle, “I thought you heard me coming.”
“No, I was concentrating on my notes.”
“You think there was something wrong with that guy’s statement?” he asked.
“No, no, it seems all here.” She sighed, “It’s just a shame though; two kids on a date, he swerves to miss a stalled car, loses control, and now she’s dead. All the kid has is the memory of their last kiss.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, “tragedy like that is the stuff they write songs about.”
She slipped the notepad into her pocket, “Songs, huh? I’m a music lover, but not at this expense.
“C’mon, let’s go help direct traffic.”
P.A. O’Neil spent her early years in southern California, before her family moved to a small town in Washington. Her father believed her Mexican and Irish heritage qualified for the designation of “Smoked Irish”. Knowledgeable in things urban and rural, young and old, she knows what it means to simultaneously be in the minority and the majority. She has been married to the same man for more than half her adult life and believes, if 40 is the new 30 and 70 the new 50, she is starting middle-age all over again. Follow her on Facebook at: P.A. O’Neil, Storyteller.