Memories are always hardest in the night.

 

night-road-2Several Years ago, I discovered that a long, winding bus ride through the South was not unlike living inside a novel. Old characters get off and new characters get on every time the bus stops. This is the story of my trip from Dallas to Atlanta. Part 4.

***

For the past sixteen miles, the basketball player has listened to Love Those Jugs quote passages from the two-bit tabloid about living and dying and what may or may not happen when there are no more breaths to take.

Personally, he doesn’t know if there is life after death.

He only knows there I pain for those who survive, and he did.

The basketball player came to Dallas from West Virginia, and now he’s headed home.

It will be the first time in three years that he’s walked on the old rundown front porch that reminds him so much of the poverty he is trying to escape.

He didn’t believe it would ever miss it or the bad side of a bad town, but he’s homesick to see those he hasn’t ben around in a long time, the ones he’s suddenly fears re being stalked by time and fate and circumstance.

Death does that to a man.

It makes him think sometimes, and it almost always makes him think of home.

It had been at nine o’clock on a sunny spring morning whe the basketball player and a friend – a co-worker – had eased into a North Dallas intersection.

Bright day.

Bright sun.

Bright hopes.

An eighty-seven -year old man, trying hard to beat a yellow light, slammed into them before they had time to make it across.

“I saw him coming, and I saw he wasn’t gonna stop,” the basketball player says softly. “I yelled my friend’s name, but e never had a chance to look.”

Their car tumbled through the air for thirty-five feet, then struck a light pole.

It snapped and smashed into the basketball player’s door, trapping them inside.

“I woke up,” he remembers, “and I was wrapped with metal.”

Sweat glistens on his ebony forehead.

“I prayed hard.”

“God listens.”

“I didn’t pray hard enough.”

“Was your friend still in the car?”

“He was lying beside me.” The basketball player shook his head.

When he closed his eyes, he saw it again.

Every day.

Every night.

Awake.

Or asleep.

He saw it again.

The old man kept coming.

He felt the car coming apart.

He heard the explosion.

It sounded like death.

“My friend, he was crying for help,” the basketball player says, “and I couldn’t move.

The basketball player pauses and stares out into the darkness of the night, passing just beyond the stains that fingerprints and hair oil have etched upon the window of the bus.

“His neck was broke.” The basketball player’s voice is hoarse, a whisper. “And I couldn’t move.”

Sirens screamed their mockery of a bright and sunny day.

Engines roared and whined.

Crow bars were ripping away the twisted metal.

His friend was loaded in an ambulance.

The emergency vehicle raced away.

The basketball player told his friend goodbye.

He would be all right.

They got him free.

They were having a hard time tearing the metal away from the basketball player.

Pain ricocheted through his bottle.

“Am I all right?” he asked the paramedics.

“Why?”

“I can’t move,” he said.

He wondered if he would ever move again.

The basketball player was checked into the hospital, and his eyes searched the emergency room.

They were looking for the face of his friend.

His friend must be there somewhere.

So crowded.

So much pain.

The pain had left his friend.

His friend had been checked into the morgue.

“He only had two real friends,” the basketball player says. “Me … “

For a moment his voice leaves him.

“… and Jesus.”

Outside, the closed and empty fireworks stands and bait hops are swallowed up by the night.

The headlights of the Greyhound bus glare off a “beer to go” sign, but no beer has either come or gone from the roofless, decaying building in years.

Nailed to the pines are boards scribbled with hand-painted messages: Posted, No Hunting, and Jesus Is Coming.

We slip through tiny, deserted-street hamlet that look as though He may have already come back and overlooked them.

Or maybe he took them all and forgot to sweep the streets.

Memories are always hardest in the night.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    You sit anywhere and watch strangers, and you never have any idea about the demons inside them, the grief and guilt and conflict that are tormenting their souls.

    • And the same stupid human mistakes, over and over.

      Why is it so hard to get people tested for drivers’ licenses until they’ve killed someone?

      • Caleb Pirtle

        We live and die by our mistakes and those committed by others.

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