One in Motion
Rockwall could not decide between the cyclist and the squirrel. He saw the squirrel first, and started to swerve around it. The girl on the bicycle came into view next. His instinct got the better of him, but the squirrel paid the price.
He cringed, chided himself, and said a silent prayer to Saint Francis. He considered the ongoing problem of suburban wildlife. He thought about the three cats milling around his property, the skunk that cost $175 to have removed, and the groundhog that was currently living under his porch. He thought about deforestation, over development, and the lumber industry. It called to mind the Whitney, a high priced Detroit restaurant made entirely of pink jasper which, he thought he remembered hearing, was originally owned by a lumber baron. He had never dined there.
The girl on the bicycle was young. She rode one of those cruiser bikes, blue, with a fat seat and a wire basket. She wore dark jeans and a light blouse that hugged her body in front and fluttered in the wind at the back. Her hair, long and straight, followed the curve of her top, and the whole of it made a pretty picture in the morning sun. She might have been on her way to work, or going to the beach, or to a friend's house.
Rockwall made a point not to look into the rear view mirror, and the devil on his shoulder silently cursed the girl.
Karlie sensed the car behind her and turned around just in time to see it swerve. From the corner of her eye she saw something scuttle in the road. Something small and brown and furry. She knew what happened and immediately cursed the SOB who went out of his way to kill a squirrel. Sick, she thought, and pedaled as close to the yellow line as possible without veering onto the gravel shoulder.
She should have been driving. Her parents had bought a car for her the year before. It was nondescript but functional. She was fortunate, she knew, but resented all the little expenses of it. Today the car was in the shop, an annoyance temporarily filed away as she pedaled toward work.
Her parents were adults and knew about car ownership. They knew about flat tires and broken headlights, the price of gas and the inevitable oil change. They knew what they were getting into, she thought, and while she was grateful (more or less,) it was a hassle sometimes, and they should have realized she was too young to have made a commitment like that.
There was a mirror on her bicycle, but she knew better than to look. She was a sap for little furry things, bringing home stray cats since she was old enough to carry them. There were several in her neighborhood, strays she had been feeding in secret because her parents did not find this behavior cute anymore and wouldn't allow animals in the house.
By the next day Karlie had forgotten all about the squirrel and the SOB. She dropped off her co-worker after a particularly slow shift at the grocery store. She appreciated having a summer job, but looked forward to the school year. Besides, everyone from school came to the store, even teachers. Only that morning she bagged for one of the science teachers, who looked her over like a creep when he said she looked familiar. Like she would even fall for a stupid line like that.
Between the daily creep-encounter and the monotony of the work, Karlie was already tired of the work, and she still had seven more weeks before school started. The other day as she was bagging, she overheard a couple talking about their son getting an internship at the State Capitol. Why didn't her family know people? Why did she have to live such a ho-hum life? She really had to get out of there.
Karlie pulled out of the driveway and headed toward the town's main street. She stopped behind a blue pickup at what must have been a red light. Her little car couldn't see anything beyond the jacked-up Ford. It was nearing the end of rush hour, and Concord Drive was still pretty backed up. She flipped through a few radio stations. She checked her makeup in the rear view mirror. She adjusted her seat. Finally, she saw a gap in the traffic to her right. A large SUV was just far enough away. If she floored it - and she knew her little car could do it - there would be plenty of time. She did, and it was fine.
Next to the SUV, however, driving just in its blind spot, was a small gray Toyota. Warren slammed on the brakes when he saw a car cut off the SUV to his left and swerve into his lane before righting itself and speeding through the yellow light. Janet, though tightly strapped in, jerked forward and yelped in both surprise and fright. Before Warren could speak, he felt a smash from behind. Two airbags deployed, immediately followed by a series of expletives wholly uncharacteristic of both driver and passenger.
Rockwall saw the brake lights too late, as he was rather close behind the Toyota. He tried to veer away, swiped a white Kia and then veered back, all the while screeching the brakes, but too late.
The hood of Rockwall's red Honda, having once violated the Toyota's trunk, could not be coaxed out. It took a wrecking truck to separate them. Several police cars, an EMT and a Fire Truck all visited the scene. Traffic came to a dead stop, as Google maps could not find an alternate route for any of the long line of commuters. Some drivers tried to peek around the car in front of them; others veered onto the shoulder, causing further mayhem when the EMT – tasked with driving Warren and Janet to the nearest hospital – tried to back away.
The people in the Kia drove off and spent the evening in quiet silence. They would have to stay home from work the next day, to deal with the insurance company. The red Honda was determined to be "totaled" by its insurer and the gray Toyota – with its bumper practically sitting in the back seat - had to be towed to Stan's garage, where it stayed for two weeks.
Officer Morris took very accurate notes, but the driver of the SUV, a tall redheaded man (42 or 43, he guessed,) wasn't very observant. He couldn't tell what kind of car the girl was driving, though he remembered it was gray. She was somewhere between 17 and 25, he said. Long brown hair. Bangs. Morris sighed noisily and kept scribbling. Nondescript car, he thought. Nondescript girl. Unknown age. No, the redheaded man couldn't remember if it was a two door or a four door. No, he didn't know if there was a passenger in the car. Useless.
He hoped for more information from the bespectacled driver of the red Honda, who did not see the driver, but confirmed the car was small gray Chevy. It wasn't much, but Officer Morris tried to be kind, reassuring the driver that the police would do everything in their power to find the culprit, and gave him the number to Stan's garage. He smiled as best he could, even though the nerdy Honda driver only smirked when he mentioned Stan. Idiots and ingrate, Morris thought, and walked back to his police car. He turned the key but the car wouldn't start. His feet hurt. His head hurt. It was an hour past the end of his shift. And now this. He tried the key again and this time the car started without a hitch. He looked at the clock and knew he had missed dinner. Well, he thought, it could have been worse.
Rockwall's red Honda only had about 90,000 miles on it. It was nearly new and, he delicately explained to the voice on the other end of the phone, any idiot who knew about cars would know that he could easily get another 300,000 out of it. Rockwall did his best to maintain his composure, but the circular conversations got worse with every new “managers” he spoke with. The last of these promptly ended the call when Rockwall inquired whether the manager's mother knew that her son worked for a criminals, that he was – basically – whoring himself for a twelve-dollar-an-hour job?
To no one's surprise, Rockwall lost his car to the insurance “rapists” and spent the next day combing the classifieds for a replacement. In the meantime, he would have to borrow his brother's motorcycle, a large Harley that he had wiped out on the year before. He hated it. And he hated driving it to the high school where his colleagues would give him grief and the kids pretended not to be impressed by yelping and otherwise being obnoxious.
His brother, Stan, owned a garage, always had a brand new car, and never seemed to have insurance problems. Rockwall's nephew, however, was a different story. Jesse got the second hand cars, could barely maintain a 2.0 in school and was too unreliable for Stan to hire him at the garage.
It was Jesse who delivered the bike that evening, but insisted on being taken to his girlfriend's house in return. Did he have a choice, asked Rockwall. Do you want the bike? Rockwall replied with a sigh loud enough to travel by phone. Jesse's snarky question betrayed his excitement about driving his father's Harley, which he was never allowed to do. He was at Rockwall's house within the quarter hour.
Karlie walked through the front door with a phone to her ear, complaining about the traffic that evening. It was the worse, she said with as much drama as she could muster, and was pretty sure she heard a smash as she turned off Concord. In the kitchen, she made herself a peanut butter sandwich while her mother – hunched over the oven – chided her. Karlie asked if the boy on the other end of the phone could join them for dinner to which he mother replied of course, there was plenty to go around. Yes, a pot roast. Yes, rosemary potatoes. No, nothing green. No, we won't wait for your father. With his job, who knows when he'll be home.
By the time Jake arrived it was after dark but the pot roast was still warm in the oven. He climbed the stair of the porch where Karlie and Jesse were saying goodbye. Leaving so early? Poker! Just for fun, right? No money in these games, he hoped.
Jake liked Jesse but worried that he might be a bit of a slouch. He suspected Jesse was skipping a night shift at the restaurant where he worked. Karlie was a smart girl, and he trusted her. But she was his only daughter, and he couldn't help worrying that she was getting a little too serious too soon.
A motorcycle revved its engine across the street and Jesse kissed Karlie goodbye. Jake looked away, but the motorcycle driver made his stomach turn even more.
Rockwall revved the engine of the Harley to catch his nephew's attention. Then he caught sight of the girls father. He was still in his officer's uniform. He looked at the girl, whose long hair shimmered under the porch light. It was 9pm, but still light enough to see. Wasn't that the girl bagging at the grocery store the other day? He looked hard, but she was half hidden behind the father's considerable heft and, now, smashed into Jesse's face. Feeling like a peeping Tom, he looked away. There were a few rows of flowers in the front yard, a lawn gnome and, leaning against a tree, a blue bicycle with a wire basket. Where had he seen that bike before?
In a few minutes Jesse was in the seat behind him, nudging his uncle to go. Rockwall slowly drove the bike forward,, glancing once more at the bicycle, the police officer, and the young girl with the long brown hair, now moving toward a small gray Chevy in the driveway. With the image embedding itself on his memory, Rockwall's mind began to race, and as his mind raced, so his speed increased. Jesse let out a whoop and urged Rockwall to go faster, which he did. Just before the motorcycle turned the corner, Rockwall came back to himself, but not before he recognized his mistake. Jesse, oblivious, but with a new appreciation for his uncle, thrust his arms in the air. Finally, he thought, someone who knows what to do with a Harley.