Marla sits quiet inside her dead son’s Audi coupe. His over-sized door. His leather interior. His Christmas-tree scented air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. An intruder of sorts, she shimmies the bucket seat backward and forward, the seat creaking from unfamiliar shape, size, and bend. She touches the dashboard—hello love—drifting to the autumn day she bought and drove it home for his sixteenth birthday. “I wish I didn’t have to let you go.”
Stillness is all she knows anymore. No more funeral bills. No more phone calls from the youth pastor and school counselor. No more neighborhood wicker baskets filled with cards, fruits, vegetables, and candy. The bed and kitchen table are her truest friends. Stasis personified.
She pushes the garage door opener. Snowflakes land and evaporate on the rear of his car. In the driveway, she puts the car in park and scans the three-story house, undecorated this Christmas. No white lights in the windows. No wreaths on the doors. No blue, metal mailbox propped up in the middle of the yard counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Santa fly’s by. Her, and his, favorite.
“I’ll be super careful, mom,” he’d told her, begging for a skeet gun for Christmas. “Jack, Carl, and Donnie’s moms let them have one.” Jack and Donnie also had absentee fathers. And they seemed well-adjusted. They always smiled and said hi. They ate her cookies and drank her the hot cocoa. They told jokes and played video games—normal boys doing normal things. Not one anomaly detected. She’d always thought she possessed the rare ability to listen, see, and understand things, especially in boys, that others missed. Clearly she didn’t. Had she, without realizing it, succumbed to the one parental mistake she vowed never to make: to only see what she wanted to see.
She drives down Valley Crest Road. Seven houses on the left side of the street. She’d always thought there were eight houses. The right side, her side, the nicer side, have eight: Mueller’s, Wagner’s, Voight’s, Maddow’s, Yami’s, Shoeberg’s, Matthew’s, and Tanabi’s. How could she have missed that? None of the neighbors on the left side came to the church funeral to sing hymns, pray in unison, and eat lemon chicken at the reception in the basement. The Yami’s brought their granddaughter, Amy, who placed an 8x10 photograph of her son’s car and a single yellow rose atop the casket. They must have been good friends; maybe more than friends. She should have asked. But her lips, like the clasps on the casket, were shut tight.
She turns right onto Clifton Drive. The clearly printed directions sitting on her lap tell her to turn left. The potential buyer over the phone said he’d pay cash if she got there before 10pm, especially if the car was in the same pristine condition as in the online-advertisement. “My son’s super excited to take it for a test drive,” the man of the phone had said. But she always turns right onto Clifton Drive this time of year, following her and her son’s Christmas-lights-tour-route tradition.
A pearlescent-yellow Hyundai honks and tailgates. A pretty girl driver swerves into the other lane and comes to idle beside her at the stoplight. Valentina Hayes? Her son’s last girlfriend. At least that’s what he’d said. When he was honest and happy. And alive.
She powers down the passenger side window, and yells, “Valentina. Valentina.” Nothing. Valentina’s too busy talking on her cell phone and tonguing a lip-ring in the visor-vanity mirror. Before the light turns green, Valentina speeds off, snaking in and out of traffic without using brakes and turn signals. How dare she be so careless with the future?
A moving van honks—gunfire—pellets sprayed across the wall—incalculable blood spots—discordant fault lines—stop for a car wash at Mobil—rain, cleansing rain—tunnel vision—tears--
--Skeet guns are harmless, Mr. Geddi had told her on Black Friday, his big gut standing in front of the cash register as he puffed a stinky cigar. --Just a harmless toy, he’d said. —So easy to assemble, a child can do it.
And she’d believed him. --You’re positive it’s safe?
--Nothing to worry about, ma’am. I’ve sold hundreds of skeet guns. Not one complaint yet. If your son wants a good skeet gun, this is the one he needs. She’d smiled at Mr. Getti, who carefully handed her a long, narrow, white cardboard box with bold, red font emblazoned on both sides. They’d touched thumbs. She’d wrapped the box with silver paper and tied it off with a blue bow. His favorite colors. She’d set it upright, beside the Christmas tree, for her only son, to find, to open, to fit in, to love.
--Did you know he had a skeet gun in his room? the investigator had asked her, cradling like a baby the skeet gun while a baby-faced coroner examined the body.
--The man at the store said it was a toy, she’d told the investigator. --He said it was harmless.
--This is not a toy, the investigator had said, pointing down at the driveway through the bay window. –Someone’s gonna have to move that Audi before the hearse arrives.
She turns right into Berry Shore Estates; large houses elaborately decorated. She stops in front of a sprawling rambler. It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year flashes above the portico. Santa, Rudolph, and the other reindeer illuminate the rooftop. Jesus in swaddling clothes, lying in his mother’s arms, spotlight the lawn. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas booms from speakers she can’t see.
--Just bring it back if you have any problems, Mr. Getti had said.
She throws the directions out the window and speeds away. No car sale today. Geddi’s Skeet & Supply Shop is open until midnight. Plenty of time to hit it just right.
She takes Juniper Street to Farwell’s Path to Tipton Drive, pushing the car to work harder, faster, pressing the accelerator down, down, down. Her Tarsal bones throb. Her ankles are on fire. The speedometer tips into a zone she’s never seen before. 75. 80. 90. She leans forward, as if she’s in the greatest race of her life. She holds her breath at 95. Closes both eyes at 100. Down, down, down.
She hears the airbag deploy and feels the fabric hit hard against her breasts: a ragdoll, a marionette, a bulbous physique in premeditated commotion. Like her son, she imagines, now riddled with blind conjecture. Glass and steel lodge into her flesh. Blood runs down her arms. Broken fingers display themselves errantly. She slips in and out of consciousness, screaming expletives at Mr. Geddi who flops like a fat, slimy, greedy fish on her son’s hood—acceptance, she believes, belongs to everyone.
Samuel E. Cole lives in Woodbury, MN, where he finds work in special event/development management. He’s a poet, flash fiction geek, and political essayist enthusiast. His work has appeared in many literary journals, and his first poetry collection, Bereft and the Same-Sex Heart, was published in October 2016 by Pski’s Porch Publishing. His second book, Bloodwork, a collection of short stories, was published by Pski’s Porch Publishing in July 2017. He is also an award-winning card maker and scrapbooker.