An Accident

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Tom gets confirmation of something he suspected and unexpected help with a change of plan.

Submitted: September 21, 2017

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Submitted: September 21, 2017

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Oliver North had been on the television, defending himself by saying that it was just poor judgement, which made Maria more frustrated, Tom thought, than it should. She growled every time she heard it now, and he didn’t understand. What did it matter?

As Maria drove them in the ex-police department Dodge, they didn’t speak to each other, but listened as a band from Iceland, The Sugarcubes, clanged guitars and wailed in English on the college radio station. She smoked, sucking air deep into her lungs and reluctantly exhaling, turning her head to direct the smoke out the window and into the late spring air.

“I thought you were quitting,” he said, eventually.

She grunted, then, after another extended drag, she flicked the butt onto the asphalt and said, “Yeah, well, I need them.” He looked over and past her, at the rows of vines he would soon be describing to the tourists on the vineyard tour.

“If I can do this job and not drink…” Just a quick sideways glance was enough to stop him there.

She parked in the gravel in front of the tasting room, looked at him and raised the corners of her mouth.

“Okay, then,” he said. “Bye.”

“See you tonight.”

He leaned in through the window, kissing his fingers and planting them on Maria’s cheek, and walked slowly toward the rustic wooden building. When the car had gone, he lit a cigarette and held his face up to the sun as he smoked. It was her idea that I get help, he thought.

Since Maria was going to be in the city overnight, he had again arranged for a ride home with Michelle from Group. Her pickup was as warm as her smile and he flushed as he sat next to her. During the short trip, he watched her drive until, finally, he said, “Hey, there’s something I’m worried about.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’m here to help. We’ll get through it together.”

“Yeah.” He paused. “That’s what I’m worried about.”

Her face changed, she smiled a little and shifted in her seat. “Alright,” she said. “I thought maybe that was happening.” She looked over, cheeks rising as her smile broadened.

“Do you? You too?” he asked.

“Glad it’s not just me. I’ve been going crazy.” she said.

They bundled into the house and went upstairs without lighting the fire.

When he came down for water, the light was flashing on the answering machine, so he pressed the button.

“This Doctor Evan Tooley at Riverhead General with a message for Tom Angler. Please call as soon as possible.”

Michelle had to lead Tom to the truck and he sat there in the dark, cracking his knuckles and smoking, all the way to the hospital. As she held him, her arm around his waist, and pushed open the glass door to the trauma center, they saw Maria lying down, looking at them in the fluorescent light and shaking her head.

“I think I’ll wait outside,” Michelle said, and patted Tom on the shoulder as she turned to leave.

Maria was on a gurney, curtain half open around her, face bruised and arm strapped across her chest. From a dressing on her forehead, spots of blood were visible as they soaked through. Her skin was pale and looked dry as paper.

“What happened?” asked Tom.

“Where were you?”

“I was at work.” He didn’t sound convincing, even to himself. “Then I was talking with Michelle, about stuff from Group.”

Maria started to roll her eyes, but it hurt, and she put her hand up to the dressing and closed them instead. “No box of chocolates?” she said.

“We got talking. I came as soon as I heard the message.”

“You’re always talking. I swear, I saw you more when you were still disappearing off on your benders.”

Tom opened his mouth and closed it again. The curtain pulled back and a nurse nodded to Tom as she approached the bed with a handheld device the size of a small transistor radio.

“I’m just going to take your temperature,” she said, pulled out a stylus from the side of the box and placed it in Maria’s mouth, under her tongue. The box, beeped and, after a few seconds, the nurse wiped the stylus with an antiseptic pad and replaced it in its slot in the box.

She said, “That’s it. All done,” and walked away.

“You were supposed to be in the city anyway.”

“What?”

“You weren’t going to be home anyway, so what difference would it have made how long I was out?”

Maria glared at him, and he understood, but she said it anyway. “Not just tonight.”

He exhaled as if he were trying to cool hot soup.

“Honestly, I think you just swapped the bar for the therapy center.”

Tom inspected the blanket that was draped loosely over Maria’s hips and legs, noticing how the pattern of squares changed nearer the edge.

“You spend so much time with group,” stressing the last word derisively, “why don’t you just live with them?” She let a hollow laugh escape, and cringed.

He stared back at Maria, and clamped his mouth shut, as if silence were an explanation, but she was waiting. He shook his head and she watched him.

Inevitably, because, he thought, she always got her way, he spoke. “It was your idea for me to get help.” Hearing it out loud, he was surprised to find it sounded so different from how he imagined it would.

She coughed out another laugh, and said. “You should go.”

He stood, unwilling to move, unable to stay.

“Go,” she repeated. “Go be with her.”

At this, and trying to look offended, as if he were being unfairly thrown out, he exhaled sharply, “Ha!” and spun. He could feel his legs shaking as he headed for the exit and, just before he reached the door, Maria growled and shouted after him.

“It was just poor judgement!”


© Copyright 2019 Ian Hillan. All rights reserved.

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