--ONLY A FOOL GOES FOR A WALK IN A MINEFIELD TWICE
The Sound of the Cars on the Bridge
Overhead, vehicles cross the great bridge at astonishing speeds, race car fast. Their collective echo shrieks like audible horror trapped in a jar, the noise bouncing between girders. The concrete joists shudder as if the bridge itself is suffering a seizure, convulsing weak-kneed.
He’s late but not really. He’s been watching her for half an hour from the west end while his conscience battles a flight impulse, a survivor reflex.
He’s not a brave man and he knows it.
She’s as pretty as in newspaper photographs. Her hair is wavy, marmalade-orange, same as her brother’s. She’s been sitting near the river’s edge, oblivious to the sound of the cars on the bridge. She’s hunched over, clutching her knees like a shivering child, a nervous date. She stares at the pockets of light hitting the green water and wafting away. He can imagine some of the things she’s thinking but not all of them, of course.
He stumbles down the slope of the riverbank. Stumbles, not staggers. There is a difference.
The ground is filled with tall scratchy weeds. They’re brittle and toast-colored and the earth is uneven and soft from recent rains and his shoes get sucked down and he thinks of quicksand and rescue scenes from old Tarzan movies he’d watched when he was a boy and not yet a murderer.
She hears the soupy sound his shoes make and turns, using a hand to shield her eyes from the glare breaking across his shoulders.
He nods. There’s a fist stuck in his throat and it’s knuckles ram his neck bones and he gags and swallows with a combustive cough.
They shake hands and exchange names, his fictitious.
She pats the ground. “Sit.”
She has her brother’s heart-shaped face, his eyes.
“This is where his car landed after he swerved,” she says.
That night is a blur. He’s tried to recall details but he can only get as far as the edge of a memory.
“The other driver was going a hundred in the wrong lane, Sean’s lane.”
He nods again. It’s easier this way but he realizes he’ll have to come clean soon and he wonders what that will feel like.
“Our parents were killed by drunk drivers, too,” she says.
He tries to steady his eyes. His mouth tastes like bleach. “I know,” he says. “There was a story on the news.”
Again he recalls being a boy: his first drink at age thirteen, Uncle Roy egging him on, claiming it would free him, make him a man, and so he drank and when it didn’t deliver he took another and another, but all these years later he’s still searching for that release, the freedom Uncle Roy had promised, only what he feels now is ensnared and shackled, taken to the same damp cell, night after night, even when it’s day, the cave barren of sun, void of any tactile reference save for the gassy fumes of whiskey and sound of the cars on the bridge screaming hostilities.
She tosses a twig. It wobbles in the air, landing shoreline. Together they watch it swivel and sway against the foamy skirt of a jutting boulder before it sinks and disappears.
“Anyone you know ever get killed?”
He shakes his head.
“Good for you.”
When she begins to study his face and take in his features, he turns away.
“It was impossible after Mom and Dad died, so I don’t know how I’m going to be able to survive this.”
He wants to say, “You will.” It seems appropriate and necessary, but he can’t.
“Sean wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend.”
He feels his mouth shaping a supportive smile, showing no teeth, his lips on fire.
“I never dated. Sean did--now and then anyway--but he was moody and sucked as a conversationalist.” Her laugh is frail, breathy and without lilt. “Whenever one of his dates would find out about our parents and the accident, she’d split. It was as if they thought death could be, you know, contagious. Does that make any sense?”
Nod of the head again.
“Not that it mattered terribly, because I was always there for him. We had each other. And the cool thing was, lately Sean seemed to be making progress, as if he’d found a way to put some of the sadness behind him.”
She uses the tip of her worn boot to loosen a stone from the soil, and once it’s freed she bats it back and forth soccer style. She watches him watching her and stops.
“So, you said you had some information about the accident.”
He reads her mind. She’s thinking: stalker, maybe psycho.
His conscience falters for a moment. He thinks: I have options. I can lie. I can run. She doesn’t know my name, doesn’t have my number.
As he stands and pats the back of his pants, a shredded ghost-pattern of dust slides into a slanted breeze and dissipates. He takes the stone from between her boots and rubs it clean. It’s as flat as a cookie, so he side-arms hard and the rock skips one…two…three…four…
“Hey,” she says. “I don’t want to be rude or anything, but this meeting was your idea. If you don’t have any information, then stop screwing around and say so.”
He listens to the final plops of the skipping stone. It takes a second for him to realize that—however briefly—he has successfully drowned out the sound of the cars on the bridge.
He turns to the girl, facing her sorrow flush. “I do,” he says.“ I do have something to tell you.”
In the distance the sun is a flame of infinity.