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Left Behind

by Chris Castle

She went back each year to the place where it had happened. She sat on the brick wall and looked out to the road and imagined. The police told her on the day it happened how her son had stepped out into the traffic. She could see the policeman trying not to say ‘wanted’ even though he thought it. They filed it as an accident, even though they knew he had meant it. She knew and that was enough to kill her slowly, without thinking what anyone else guessed.

She arrived at the scene an hour after and a lot of what had happened had been removed. The truck, her son, even the glass and broken bits of wreckage. In her head she wondered, even as she fought against it with every thought, why she could not see any blood on the concrete. All that was left behind was a sprinkling of crushed glass. Soon that would be swept away, too, she thought. Then all that would be left behind would be her. But even then she willed herself not to cry.

That was three years ago. The first year she edged towards the road, wondering if anyone knew why she was acting the way she was. She sat for an hour looking at the road, following the traffic, until she felt herself on the edge of tears and managed to walk home hurriedly before she began to cry.

The rest of the day she spent looking at photographs of her son, pulling the cardboard box from the attic that was stuffed full of his school things, his ties and school reports. They still vaguely smelled of him but she knew that would not last, no matter how well she packed them tightly in the box.

The second year she did the same, but this time let herself cry where she sat on the bricks. She didn’t know if the people in the cars looked out of their windows to look at her and she did not care. One old lady stopped close by to her but she couldn’t pretend to care and instead simply waved her away.

She made her way back to the house and unearthed the box. She noticed the box itself was starting to give way and the books that held his handwriting were beginning to curl at the edges. She held his school tie up to her face and imagined that she still detected him somewhere on it, though she couldn’t be sure if she was lying to herself.

And now to this day, on the third year. She made her way to the brick wall by the road and noticed the bricks themselves were starting to chip away. On the corner was a sign stating the house was for sale. She knew the people who had owned the house; they had lived there for twenty years. Soon, she knew, she was all that was going to be left behind.

She could not focus on the road. She looked for the signs that it had once been ruined, marked with blood and tears and crushed metal, but she could find nothing. The road itself had been recently resurfaced and looked... perfect.

She pulled herself off of the wall and found herself walking towards the road. At first she looked to see if there was traffic coming. The lights were red a little farther down the road and the stretch of road seemed empty for miles.

She looked at the road from the kerb again, saw how beautiful it seemed. Without looking she stepped into the road and walked towards the spot she knew so well. She crouched down and laid her palm against the tar. It was warm from the traffic, she knew, but she tried to convince herself otherwise, that somehow, in some instance, there was part of him fused to this place now, that he was somehow linked to it all. She stared down to the smooth black surface for a while and she smiled. Then she gently closed her eyes, feeling the heat of the road rise up into her skin. Somehow this made her feel safe. It made her feel happy.

There was a snap and a jerk as she felt herself pulled out of the road. She opened her eyes and everything was a rush, a blur, as she was dragged away. She was aware of a sound in her ear, of someone talking in a hurried voice and then stumbling back onto the pavement. She knew it was only a few moments ago, but it suddenly felt an impossibly long time. She stumbled, aware that she would have fallen to the ground if not for the arms holding her up, and scrambled to the brick wall.

“Are you alright?”

She looked up. It was a young man, in his twenties, looking over her.

“Did you slip over? Are you having some sort of attack? I saw you kneeling on the pavement and thought you must have been having a seizure or something.”

Now that it was over, she could see he was becoming more upset. She didn’t want that. She shook her head and looked to him. “I’m fine. I must have lost my bearings for a second or two. I’m sorry.” She patted his hand, felt it shaking. She found herself holding it, until it steadied.

“I’m sorry. I just saw you and got so worried. There were other people. They must have seen, but they just ignored you. I ran as quickly as I could.” He moved his hand away and ran it through his hair. He pinched his eyes and when he brought his hand down, his eyes were red at the edges, on the verge of tears.

“I’m fine, dear, really. I might not have been if not for you. But... I’m okay.” She wanted to reach back and hold his hand again, as much for herself as for him. She knew it was selfish, but she felt the warmth running through her now, just through that simple contact, and she needed more.

Instead she folded her hands over her lap and looked to the boy as he steadied himself. When he looked back to her she motioned for him to sit by her on the brick wall. He did, putting his hands out, feeling the brick, the way a blind person would.

“I’m sorry. I’m a mess right now. It’s my father... My father died recently and I’ve just been thinking about him a lot, you know?”

He looked over to her, then back to the road. He shrugged, as much to himself and then coughed, as if readying himself. “He always talked about this one accident. He was a long distance lorry driver, you see and one time a man stepped out in front of him. Right here, along this road. On this day.

“The way he told me, he remembered everything, the time, what was on the radio. He never told me about... you know, he held all that back, I know he did, but I could never ask him. But I could see it in his eyes when he spoke.” He waved his arms, like the next set of words were in front of him, waiting to be grabbed from the thin air.

“I had to buy a tie for the funeral. I went to a shop, a clothes store to buy one.” He brought his hands to his mouth, and then put them to his throat. “I bought it and then I looked at the girl who’d served me. I... never learnt to tie the knot in the tie. My father had always done it for me. From school, right up to when I started work. It was a standing joke between us, you know? I’d bring a new batch round each few months for him to knot for me.”

There was a burst of traffic and for a minute the cars drowned him out. He stopped and repeated what he’d just said.

“I had to ask the girl in the shop if she could do it for me. She looked at me like I was insane. I explained why and she nodded or agreed enough to do it, I guess. But then she couldn’t do it over my neck, she had to do it herself and then hand it back to me. It’s just... nothing makes sense now. Not even buying clothes in a store.”

He stopped talking but his hands were round his throat now, like the tie was still on him. She looked at him, trying to take in this new story, still drowning from the first.

“Not a lot of things do make sense, anymore,” she replied. “But he would have been proud of you today, your father. What you did... taking me out of the road. Sometimes not making sense is okay, too.” She looked at him, hoped to bring him back to her. He looked at her, but his eyes were glazed, his fingers not wanting to let go of his own throat.

“I studied abroad one year, in Greece. When I went there I didn’t know anybody, anything. Not a word of the language. I walked the streets some days and the cafes were so busy, people drinking coffee in the morning, talking so loudly. None of that made sense, but it was okay. The noise, all those words, it sounded like music to me. It sounded like singing and it didn’t scare me, all that noise. All that chaos. It was a good thing.”

She kept looking to him, watched as his hand slowly came down from his throat. His eyes cleared a little, colour came back into him.

“That... okay...” he tried to talk but could not manage it. Instead he looked back out to the road and the traffic. She followed him, looking at the black tar, still untouched. Traffic moved through, and then there was a time when it was empty. She looked at her watch. It was the time when she would begin to make her way home, to the box, the memories.

“Would you like to go for a cup of coffee? There’s a place nearby. I think you should drink something. Maybe eat something, too,” she said.

“I think that would be a good idea,” he said and smiled weakly to her. He stood up first, pushing himself up off the wall. He held a hand down for her to grab onto and she pulled herself up. The two of them faced the empty road. They crossed it without speaking, over the place her boy had once been, to the other side.

They walked to the cafe, into the empty shop and ordered. She sat facing him, both of them taking turns to steal glances back to the road and neither of them saying any more about it. Instead they sat with their drinks, the steam rising from them both, and after a while they began to talk.

Copyright © 2011 by Chris Castle

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