by Joel Howard
Kneeling upon the gravel berm, he wished he’d worn jeans. His bare knees were in agony, the small stones digging hard into flesh. Yet he dared not leave the young woman who’s hand he held.
“I don’t know what happened. I came upon you right afterwards.” He offered the words in softness.
“Am I dying? I think I’m dying.”
Her words were gulped, crying out for reassurance. He’d never been one to comfort, yet he managed best he could.
“No, no. I’m gonna make sure you get out of this okay. I’m Rob.”
“Leeza. I wanna live. Please.” The plea ended on a wet cough.
Her car was upside down, the exposed wheels coming to a stop just as Rob happened upon it.
An upside-down turtle, seeking traction, turn right-side-up, continue life.
He focused on the one part of her that he could see – her hand. The rear of the small sedan had sustained the worst damage, the roof crushed to the seat. Even up front, things were tightly squeezed together.
“You’re gonna live, Leeza. I’ve called 9-1-1, told them to hurry.”
He listened to hear muffled weeping, wishing he’d not opted to take back roads, instead remaining on the interstate.
Some scenic break, Rob.
“So tell me about yourself Leeza. How old are you? You married?”
“Twenty-three.” Gulped moan. “Not married, not, no. Twenty-three… yes.” Coughing, ragged and bone-rattling.
“Smart young lady. Divorced – twice, that’s me. Two kids. Well, they’re both teenagers now.”
Where the hell is the fucking ambulance?
His thoughts touched upon his two children. He’d not been a good father, begrudging them simple things. He only made time for them with reluctance, acting peevishly during their scant time together.
“… still there? Rob… ” Her voice waned drastically, “there” a guttural whisper. His knees were going numb.
“Yes, yes, I’m right here. Not going anywhere, promise.” He squeezed her hand as he spoke. In response, he felt a slight shake.
Wonder if she’d been texting when she lost control? Damned need for constant connectivity.
“Leeza, you have plans for your future? Job or kids or marriage? Talk to me, keep talking.”
“Hmmm. No… not… A baby… yes, yes…”
“Hey, hey, hey! Keep with me, Leeza. It’s impolite to not answer my questions.”
A throat-deep groan came in answer to his demands. He pumped her hand. Nothing.
“Leeza! Leeza! I hear the sirens! Leeza, help’s almost here!”
He’d not heard anything but the rustle of the wind.
It’s okay to lie when it’s life and death kinda shit. Sure it is, Rob. Like you don’t lie all the time anyway. Liar, liar, pants on fuckin’ fire.
Finally, he heard the faint ear-tremor of a siren, echoing in and out of range, the far hills casting it back and forth. And between the wails of the emergency vehicle, another faint sound surfaced, much closer this time. He turned his head toward its source, the eviscerated back seat of the car, the nothing-left-bent-metal wasted section of the shattered vehicle. The noise seesawed its intensity.
A baby’s mewling cry had fallen upon his senses as certain as the nearing sirens.