Read by Silas Hawkins
The Christmas party was next Saturday, and already the caterers had spent two days in consultation, trialling menus and ordering new kitchen equipment. The run-up to the announcement of Mr. Kingsley’s campaign for Town Manager had been flawless, but now their foolish son was threatening to wreck it all.
“He’ll go to jail for this,” Mr. Kingsley said to his wife, who was ashen.
Mrs. Kingsley squeezed her son’s forearm. “Don’t you worry, Rudy. We’ll take care of this.” Mrs. Kingsley had learned many lessons as a parent, but the most important one was that the bigger the boy, the more sensitive he could be.
“Where’s the car?” Mr. Kingsley said to his son. It was a snowy night and he had on his favourite coat, the lime green one with the zip front.
“In the driveway.”
“Show me where you hit him.”
The three of them went outside. Rudy’s Subaru was parked on the right side of the driveway, out of sight from the street. Mr. Kingsley inspected the front of the car, which the garage floodlight illuminated. “Where?”
Rudy pointed at the jagged smear of red paint on the bumper, the dent below the headlight, and the fender scratches.
“That’s not so bad,” Mr. Kingsley said. “We can fix that.”
“Are you sure?” Mrs. Kingsley wet her finger and tried to rub off the paint.
“Leave it alone, Sigrid. We’ll take care of that later.” Mr. Kingsley turned to his son. “Where did this happen?”
Rudy started trembling again. He pulled the drawstrings on his coat hood, causing all of his face to disappear except for his nose.
“Goddamn it, Rudy, let me see your face,” Mr. Kingsley said. “This is no time for hiding in your clothes. Where were you?”
Rudy showed his pinched face. “Out on County Road 9.”
“Anybody see you?”
“How fast were you going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Faster than your usual reckless ninety?”
“Jerrold,” Mrs. Kingsley said, coming over and putting her arm around Rudy’s back. “You know how he shuts down when you yell at him.” She rubbed Rudy’s back in his favourite way, which was counter-clockwise.
“He’ll have plenty of time to shut down in jail,” Mr. Kingsley said.
Rudy started trembling violently and pulled the drawstrings of his hood tighter again. His face faded from view, except for his nose.
“Stop it, I told you. Did you hit a man or a woman?”
“How dark was it?”
“I don’t know,” Rudy said.
“I bet it was hard to see him, right?” Mr. Kingsley knelt and inspected the car again.
“I saw him,” Rudy said, “but it was too late.”
“I hate all these bike riders,” Mr. Kingsley said, standing and looking at his wife. “They’re always hogging the road. That’s the first thing I’m going to do as town manager. Ticket the bike nuts.”
Mrs. Kingsley nodded. “Yesterday, I almost hit a boy crossing Patterson Road. He was dressed in black and came out of nowhere.” She patted Rudy’s shoulder. “It probably wasn’t even your fault. It was dark, it was snowing. I bet the man you hit was in the middle of the road, talking on his cellphone.”
“He was on the side of the road.”
“No,” Mr. Kingsley said. “He was in the middle of the road and not paying any goddamn attention. Repeat after me, Rudy. He was on his cellphone in the middle of the road.”
“Was he alone?”
“How about any reflective clothing? All the cyclists these days wear those stupid stars and lightning bolts.”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you stop?”
Rudy started trembling again and began to gnaw on his lower lip, which made Mrs. Kingsley worry that he’d give himself another canker sore. When Rudy had a canker sore, he suffered terribly. “No.”
Mr. Kingsley turned to his wife. “Get my car keys. I’ll put Rudy’s car in the garage. And bring two flashlights and some latex gloves. Rudy, get in the back seat. Give me your phone.”
“You don’t need to talk to anyone now, and especially not your busybody girlfriend.”
The three of them drove out to County Road 9. They passed the empty school Mr. Kingsley said he’d renovate and the bridge he’d promised to fix one month after he got elected. “Are we close?” Mr. Kingsley said.
“Yes,” Rudy whispered from the back seat.
Mr. Kingsley slowed the car, pulled into a snowed-over dirt track, and parked the car twenty yards from the road.
“What are we doing?” Rudy said.
“We heard there’s a great horned owl out on County Road 9,” Mr. Kingsley said. “Your mother’s a bird watcher, remember?”
Mrs. Kingsley turned and smiled at her son. “Rudy, didn’t I tell you? I’m hoping to get my hundredth sighting tonight.” She squeezed his hand, which was soft and sweaty and made her remember when she used to walk him into sixth grade and tell the teacher about his stomachaches.
The three of them got out of the car and started walking in the dark, the parents leading the way with their flashlights. Rudy pointed to the right, where there was a narrow shoulder and then the land dipped down into a deep gulley. “I hit him here. He flew into the air and then disappeared down there.”
Mr. Kingsley inspected the road. “Sigrid, do you see any skid marks?”
She scanned the road. “Nothing.”
“Good. Now follow me.” He looked at Rudy. “You stay here.”
The husband and wife put on their latex gloves, climbed down into the gulley, their flashlights beams slicing the dark, and came back a few moments later. “Just as I thought,” Mr. Kingsley said to Rudy. “He’s dead.”
“Broken neck,” Mrs. Kingsley said.
“Concussion and then probably cerebral hemorrhage,” Mr. Kingsley corrected. “Didn’t you notice the blood coming out his ear?”
“Oh!” Rudy looked as if he were going to fall over, Mrs. Kingsley tried to catch him, but he was so heavy that he almost knocked her down. Her latex gloves stuck out from under his armpits.
“This is not the time for passing out, Rudy,” Mr. Kingsley said.
Mrs. Kingsley helped Rudy lower himself onto the verge. Just then they saw car headlights across the small valley, a mile away. They moved slowly and made a pasty glow in the dark.
“Quick, Sigrid!” Mr. Kingsley said. “Give me a hand!” They climbed down into the gulley and came back carrying the bike., cleaned of its dusting of snow. Its front wheel was bent, the brake cables were broken, and underneath the seat, a canvas equipment sack hung like a belittled testicle.
“Rudy,” Mr. Kingsley said, “go over there behind that boulder. Sigrid, take my flashlight.”
Mother and son hid behind the rock while Mr. Kingsley picked up the broken bike and joined them. The car wasn’t going fast, so it took forever to climb the hill and come around the corner. Just before it got to the boulder, Mr. Kingsley swung the bike back and, with a grunt, threw it forward in front of the car. It hit the bumper hard, made a harsh clang, and flew down into the ditch.
“Perfect,” Mr. Kingsley said. He smiled at the two of them. “And it’s a red car,” he added. “I can’t believe our luck.”
Rudy started shaking again.
“Stop it,” Mr. Kingsley whispered. “Sigrid, get him to stop it.”
The car slowed down, speeded up, and then came to a jerky stop. The door opened with a creak, and an elderly woman stepped out.
Mr. Kingsley appeared from behind the boulder. “Whoa!” he said. “Didn’t you see that cyclist?” He shined his light at her.
The woman held her hand up against the light. “What cyclist?” Her voice was high and weak, she had frizzy white hair, and she wore black pumps.
“The man on the bike. You hit him.”
“Oh my,” the woman said. She clutched her chest.
“We were out for a walk, looking for a great horned owl, and we saw the whole thing.” Mr. Kingsley motioned for his wife and son to come out. “Right?” he said to them. “Didn’t you see her hit the cyclist?”
“Rudy and I tried to wave to you,” Mrs. Kingsley said. “But it was too late.”
The woman leaned against her car for support. “Oh, Lordy!”
Rudy started shaking harder, pulled his hood back over his head, and drew the strings. His face shrank to an oval of wet nose.
“Stop it,” Mrs. Kingsley whispered at her son.
“I think he fell into the gulley down there,” Mr. Kingsley said. “Do you want me to see how he is?”
The woman, who was now ashen, nodded. “I heard something but I didn’t know what it was.”
“You’ve got the other flashlight,” Mr. Kingsley said to his wife. “Do you mind helping me?”
“If you insist,” Mrs. Kingsley said.
While they were gone, Rudy and the old woman looked at each other, even though it was dark between them and there was no moon. Rudy started to speak to the woman, three times, but after a few words he kept stopping and hiding his face. “What?” the woman said. “What do you want to say?” Below them, the flashlight beams sliced the darkness.
The parents emerged from the gulley. “I’m so sorry,” Mr. Kingsley said. “He’s not breathing.”
“Oh please,” the old woman said. “Don’t tell me.”
“His heart has stopped too,” Mrs. Kingsley said. “He must’ve died instantly.”
“Oh dear, oh dear.” The woman slid down the side of her car and slumped in the road.
“Rudy,” Mr. Kingsley said, “can you call an ambulance?”
“You have my phone.”
“That’s right, I do,” Mr. Kingsley said in a bright voice. He reached in his pocket and took out Rudy’s phone. “But I should probably inspect the car before I call, don’t you think, Sigrid?”
“Just take a quick look,” his wife said. “We don’t want to waste any time.” She sat down on the pavement next to the woman. “There now,” she said. “It’s not your fault. We inspected the bike and we didn’t see any headlight or taillight. I’m sure the police will rule it an accident.”
“What have I done?” the woman wailed.
“And he was wearing a flimsy helmet,” Mrs. Kingsley said. “I don’t think it could have protected a child. Rudy here wore better helmets than that when he played football, even though he had a terrible coach who humiliated him all the time. Isn’t that right, Rudy? Wasn’t Mr. Texeira horrible?”
Rudy’s hooded head went up and down.
“Texeira should’ve been fired!” Mrs. Kingsley spat out. “That man damaged so many boys!”
“I just went out to deliver a few jars of my stewed tomatoes,” the woman cried, “and look what happened.”
“There now,” Mrs. Kingsley said, calming down. “We all make mistakes.”
Mr. Kingsley leaned over, inspected the front of the car with his flashlight, and touched the paint.
“Leave it alone, Jerrold,” Mrs. Kingsley said. “They can take care of that later.”
(c) James English, 2015
James English teaches in the Department of Foreign Languages at The Community College of Rhode Island, USA.
Silas Hawkins (left) is continuing the family voiceover tradition (he is the son of Peter 'Dalek' Hawkins and Rosemary 'Emergency Ward 10' Miller). Favourite voice credits: Summerton Mill, Latin Music USA and podcasts for The Register. For countless voice clips see www.silashawkins.com. Agents: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org