It’s Halloween day 1974, sunny and seventy degrees, Indian summer, I toss my books into my locker at 3:21 and take off from school. Yellow buses line the street. Most of the kids come in from rural concessions, bus kids. Their days begin an hour before mine and end while I’m already home eating soda biscuits and watching TV.
A motorcycle screams past me as I walk down Fisher Road. It’s Ned Cooper on his Honda 750 with the gold gas tank. At lunch today in the cafeteria, Ned grabbed a cheese and Miracle Whip sandwich out of my hand, took one bite, and chucked the rest in the trash barrel. Ned has swooping bangs and always wears a denim vest over a white T shirt. I wonder about his home. Are there more Coopers? I picture a car engine in his kitchen, his father and older brothers all with hair like Elvis twisting bolts with greasy hands.
Ned leans into the long curve, his foot almost touching the warm tar. A red station wagon, a Ford Country Squire, backs out from behind a tall hedge. Ned slams into the passenger door without hitting his brakes. He sails over the chrome roof racks like a pole-vaulter, while his motorbike falls slow, like a tree.
The woman in the car lays her forehead on the steering wheel. I’m five houses away, I count them. Everything’s quiet. I don’t move. I can’t see Ned. Storm doors open, people staring, a woman with a dish cloth in her hand and a flowered apron around her waist. An old man on his cement porch shades his eyes with a rolled up newspaper. Silently, they move toward the accident.
“Call an ambulance,” a man yells from the other side of the car. People look at each other. The man says it again. It feels like television except I smell raked leaves and gasoline. I walk slowly past the crowd that’s gathering. I picture Ned on his back staring at the sky, someone brushing his eyes closed with a sweep of their hand.
The lady is still in her station wagon. I start to run, my bell-bottomed jeans flap against my shins. I don’t look as I pass the accident. I cut through the field by my old public school and over to my street.
I’m sure I was the only one that saw it happen, the only witness. I don’t want to go to court and have to say that Ned was speeding. If he has brothers they’ll get me for sure.
I open the side door of our house. I hear the vacuum running in the basement, scratching on the tiles, banging against the metal legs of the bar stools. My mother shuts off the machine. “Jim? That you?”
“Yep.” I jump up the stairs to the kitchen. I hear a siren. I go into the bathroom and climb onto the edge of the pink bathtub so I can peer out the small window. An ambulance wails up Fisher Road, red lights blinking between the houses.
I go to my room and lay on the bed and flip through a Mad magazine. I don’t get up when the ambulance goes back down Fisher making as much noise as before. I figure if Ned died the ambulance wouldn’t speed with the siren on. I imagine Ned with bandages rapped around his body. I always wished he’d disappear. He’s an idiot for driving so fast.
My dad rolls in just as I drop the magazine on my desk. He’s on day shift at Ford. He likes days the best but hates his damn job.
He walks past me and pulls a Black Label beer from the fridge. “Did you see the ambulance? I had to pull over at the bottom of Fisher. He was movin’ at a good clip.”
I shake my head side to side.
“Wonder what happened.” He tips the bottle to his mouth. I smell his sweat. “Somebody probably had a heart attack,” he says and heads out to the porch. I hear an angry struggle with the lawn chair and then a sigh.
My mom comes into the kitchen. “Where’s your father?” I point to the front door. She bites her finger-nail. “Stay out of the fridge. We’re eating at five.”
“What are we having?” It’s Friday and I fear liver and onions. The stink of liver in the frying pan makes my stomach roll. I can’t figure out why my parents like the stuff.
“Cheese and bacon buns,” my mom snaps at me like she’s ready for a fight.
“That’s our Saturday night meal, I always watch Bugs Bunny while I eat them.” I twist the phone cord. “What about tomorrow?”
“What about it?” my dad barks on his way in. He slips his empty into the case beside the cat’s dish.
“We always have cheese and bacon buns on Saturday.”
“So,” he says and pours whisky into a shot glass. The glass is from a set of six that were hand painted, each one with a different bird. He’s using the Cardinal.
“Don’t worry about tomorrow,” my mom says. “Your father and I are going out tonight. Kathy Collins is coming to watch you guys.”
“I’m in grade nine. I don’t need a babysitter.”
“It’s for your sisters. You can stay up as long as you want.”
I don’t say anymore.
I flip on the TV to watch Superman. I’ve seen every episode more than once. That doesn’t matter though, each time I watch it I notice more. Lois Lane’s lack of interest toward Clark always frustrates me. I know he likes her. The characters annoy me, though at thirteen I’m realizing it isn’t going to change.
At 4:30 I turn off the TV. I forgot about the accident for a half hour. I cross the street and knock on my friend Steve’s door. He lives with his mom. His dad left a few years ago. He married another woman that looks just like Steve’s mom except she doesn’t lie on the couch after work and drink wine.
“Enter at your own risk,” Steve calls from the kitchen. He sees me look at the over-flowing litter box. “I was supposed to scoop that out,” he says as he spreads peanut butter on a slice of white bread.
“Where’s your mom?” I study the pictures that are taped to his fridge. There’s none of his dad. Most of them are his fifteen-year-old brother tap dancing on the high school stage wearing a straw hat and farmer clothes. My dad says Steve’s brother is a sissy boy but I think he’s okay, and he’s smart.
Steve shrugs, “Shopping I guess.”
“Did you hear about Cooper?”
“What about him?” Steve chews on his bread.
“Hit a car on his motorcycle. Over on Fisher.” I point out the door. I don’t mention being there.
“Let’s ride over,” he says. He goes out front and jumps on his Mustang bike. “Get your bike, we’ll check it out. There might be skid marks.” Steve stuffs the bread into his mouth. “Come on.”
“I have to go for supper.” I can’t risk it in case the police are still there. I’m already tired of worrying. I think that I shouldn’t be happy that Ned got hurt or maybe died.
“I’m going over.” Steve rides away standing on his pedals.
I go home and sneak through the side door and down to the basement. A few snooker balls are on the pool table. I shoot the pink ball with my hand and it bounces over the side onto the tile floor. It hits with a smack and rolls behind the bar.
My father thumps down the stairs. “What the hell was that?” He stands across from me with his hands squeezing the cushioned edge of the table.
“Nothing.” I lean my head back and stare at him thinking that he probably stole sandwiches from kids when he was in school.
“It didn’t sound like nothing. What was it?”
“Just a pool ball. No big deal.”
“If you break one of those balls I’ll break yours.” His fists are clenched. “Where is it?”
I scoot behind the bar. The ball is between more cases of empty beer bottles. “Here,” I say and sit it back on the table.
“Be careful with those from now on.” He glares at me and takes a cue stick from the rack behind him. I glare back. He holds the cue with one hand and swings it like a sword fighter. I pull in my stomach barely avoiding the hit.
“Supper,” my mom calls.
Dad hesitates. I look at the shelf of knick-knacks behind the bar. The little drunk man hanging on the lamp post looks like he’s about to let go and fall on his face.
“You heard your mother. Let’s go,” he says, places the cue back in the rack and goes upstairs.
I wake up at five-thirty the next morning. I can hear my dad stirring his coffee and flipping the pages of the newspaper. I lay there staring at my model cars on the dresser until he leaves at six. I go straight to the table and open the newspaper. On page four there is a picture of Ned’s motorcycle beside the station wagon. The story says that a neighbour had seen the accident from her living room window. The report also says that the rider was taken to the hospital with possible broken bones. I let out a breath, my body relaxes.
It’s raining on the last Sunday in November. We’re going to my Grandparent’s place for dinner. I’m in the back seat of the car watching the grey neighbourhood drift by. My sisters are beside me playing Barbies.
“Oh, Jack we need bread,” my mom points at the plaza, clicking the window with her finger nail.
My father lets out a breath as though every change in his day is an effort. He stops in front of the Beckers store. Mom jumps out with her purse under her arm.
Dad is looking down the row of store fronts. “Poor bastard,” he says.
A woman is pushing someone in a wheel chair. It’s Ned Cooper. It must be his mother, she looks tough. She’s wearing a brown bomber jacket and her tight jeans flare below her knees. Her hair is frizzy and yellow. Ned has a red plaid blanket over his legs, like the one we use on the beach. He looks skinny and sad. I feel bad for him. His mother wheels him into a store that I never noticed before. The sign has a red cross and the words ‘Ambulatory Supply’ in plain black letters.
“What kind of store is that?” I ask my dad.
“That’s where you get fake legs, arms, shit like that,” he says and smirks at me in the rear-view mirror.
Jeffrey Griffiths lives in Hamilton Ontario. His short fiction has appeared in The Nashwaak Review, Qwerty, Front and Centre, The Danforth Review and The Puritan. He received the Arts Hamilton short fiction award in 2007 and 2008. He instructs Creative Writing 1 & 2 and Dynamics of Prose for Mohawk College’s Writing for Publication program. He very recently (and happily) received an OAC Writer’s Reserve Grant.