"That was the worst part, somehow," he told me as we sat on his porch, drinking beers -- it was October by then, and although the sun was warm on our faces, we were both wearing sweaters. "You know how high up you sit in one of those dump trucks?"
"Well, she was looking up to see me -- craning up, you'd say -- and the sun was full in her face. I could see how old she was. I remember thinking, 'Holy shit, she's gonna break like glass if I can't stop.' But old people are tough, more often than not. They can surprise you. I mean, look at how it turned out, both those old biddies still alive, and your wife..."
He stopped then, bright red color dashing into his cheeks, making him look like a boy who has been laughed at in the schoolyard by girls who have noticed his fly is unzipped. It was comical, but if I'd smiled, it only would have confused him.
"Mr. Noonan, I'm sorry. My mouth just sort of ran away with me."
"It's all right," I told him. "I'm over the worst of it, anyway." That was a lie, but it put us back on track.
"Anyway," he said, "we hit. There was a loud bang, and a crumping sound when the driver's side of the car caved in. Breaking glass, too. I was thrown against the wheel hard enough so I couldn't draw a breath without it hurting for a week or more, and I had a big bruise right here." He drew an arc on his chest just below the collarbones. "I banged my head on the windshield hard enough to crack the glass, but all I got up there was a little purple knob...no bleeding, not even a headache. My wife says I've just got a naturally thick skull. I saw the woman driving the Toyota, Mrs. Easterling, thrown across the console between the front bucket seats. Then we were finally stopped, all tangled together in the middle of the street, and I got out to see how bad they were. I tell you, I expected to find them both dead."
Neither of them was dead, neither of them was even unconscious, although Mrs. Easterling had three broken ribs and a dislocated hip. Mrs. Deorsey, who had been a seat away from the impact, suffered a concussion when she rapped her head on her window. That was all; she was "treated and released at Home Hospital," as the Derry News always puts it in such cases.
My wife, the former Johanna Arlen of Malden, Massachusetts, saw it all from where she stood outside the drugstore, with her purse slung over her shoulder and her prescription bag in one hand. Like Bill Fraker, she must have thought the occupants of the Toyota were either dead or seriously hurt. The sound of the collision had been a hollow, authoritative bang which rolled through the hot afternoon air like a bowling ball down an alley. The sound of breaking glass edged it like jagged lace. The two vehicles were tangled violently together in the middle of Jackson Street, the dirty orange truck looming over the pale-blue import like a bullying parent over a cowering child.
Johanna began to sprint across the parking lot toward the street. Others were doing the same all around her. One of them, Miss Jill Dunbarry, had been window-shopping at Radio Shack when the accident occurred. She said she thought she remembered running past Johanna -- at least she was pretty sure she remembered someone in yellow slacks -- but she couldn't be sure. By then, Mrs. Easterling was screaming that she was hurt, they were both hurt, wouldn't somebody help her and her friend Irene.
Halfway across the parking lot, near a little cluster of newspaper dispensers, my wife fell down. Her purse-strap stayed over her shoulder, but her prescription bag slipped from her hand, and the sinus inhaler slid halfway out. The other item stayed put.
No one noticed her lying there by the newspaper dispensers; everyone was focused on the tangled vehicles, the screaming women, the spreading puddle of water and antifreeze from the Public Works truck's ruptured radiator. ("That's gas!" the clerk from Fast Foto shouted to anyone who would listen. "That's gas, watch out she don't blow, fellas!") I suppose one or two of the would-be rescuers might have jumped right over her, perhaps thinking she had fainted. To assume such a thing on a day when the temperature was pushing ninety-five degrees would not have been unreasonable.
Copyright © 1998 by Stephen King
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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