– Fierce Fiction by Jack Orleans – April 2, 2019
Dave looked at the neon sign in the corner of the bar window: ‘DEAD END.’ Even though the name of the bar didn’t sound the most well-meaning, there was a certain warmth about the sign that managed to creep through the window. He was a few rum-and-cokes in, the busses had stopped running, and he needed Autumn, his wife, to pick him up.
Earlier that evening, they’d had a small argument about their son’s bedtime, and he was doing his usual post-fight thing: sitting at the bar, getting drunk. He could feel Autumn fall out of love with him as the days went on, but couldn’t find the reset button to their marriage. The marriage troubles had been going on for some time now, especially in the ways he’d talk to her and she’d respond with something approaching apathy. He was failing in general, but rather than face it, he chose instead to head to the bar.
“I need you to get me,” he said. He left his cell on speakerphone to feel like she was there with him.
“Or I could walk home,” he said.
“No, I don’t want you walking like this,” she said. “Just wait outside.”
He stumbled outside past the red-hot sign and looked at the moon. It was a full moon and it reminded him of how Autumn had wild superstitions for damn near everything. He always thought they were a bit odd, but cute nonetheless. “Events won’t line up right,” she’d say with a wry grin, pointing at the moon. Right now, it was what he used to guide him toward the bus stop where he could sit. The moon was muddled by clouds; whatever cold glow it had didn’t shine down too bright, so maybe its current fullness wasn’t that big of a deal.
“I don’t know why you just shut down our talks,” she said as she walked out of their house to the car, the phone jammed between her shoulder and elbow. The rest of the words got lost between the raspy seatbelt clicking in and the engine grinding itself awake when she started the car.
“I know, I’m so sorry,” Dave said. The metal bench was burning him with frost. He would’ve stood up if the rum hadn’t numbed him enough to tolerate it. Time stopped, and her voice softened. It sounded like the old days when she had more patience and there was enough silence between words to calm both of them when their patience ran out.
“And I don’t know why you have to be drunk to listen to me,” she said.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, “I’ll try harder.” He was drunk enough that those words were about all he could get out of his mouth.
“I’ll do better,” she said, surprising him because nothing about this was her fault. “It’s from now, onward.”
The sign turned off. The whole block was dark. He dropped the phone and bent to sweep his hands along the concrete to find it. Finding it quickly, he went back to the bench and lay with the phone beside him, slipping in and out of lucidness. He cozied around the speaker, cradling it. A man collecting rubbish accidentally jabbed him with the picker. “Oh, I didn’t see you,” he said before wandering off.
“Are you still there?” she asked. He was, but passed out.
“You always do things like this,” she muttered. He awoke.
“Are you still there?” she repeated.
“Yeah, yeah I am,” he said, and slumped over again.
“I’m way too tired for this,” she said.
Some time later, Dave woke again to the sound of a crash. From where? He didn’t know. Nothing was amiss around him. Everything was where it was supposed to be. Then, he heard the sirens. He remembered the phone and moved his ear closer. He heard the muffled sounds of police cars and ambulances and fire trucks and faint, distorted voices.
“What can we do?” asked one voice.
“Nothing,” said another.
Rising from the bench, Dave stumbled toward the main avenue. The town was small, so anything bright could be seen from any point–including cherry lights. Block by block, he sobered up enough to fight through the weeds and crabgrass on the shoulder until he could see a nest of emergency lights some feet away. Coming his way was an ambulance coasting at cruise speed. He walked toward the middle of the road, and waved it down. It stopped, and out came one of the medics.
“Were you the one who couldn’t do anything?” Dave asked.
“I’m sorry,” the medic said, recognizing Dave instantly–as one does in small towns.
“How?” Dave asked.
“She was riding on the concrete guards and her car flipped,” the medic said. He shifted back toward the ambulance before turning around again. “You can ride with me if you want though,” he said.
Dave grabbed hold of the door handle and hoisted himself up. Through the windshield, Dave could see that the clouds had dissipated and the moon was again a bright white disc. The clouds had cleared a while ago, but Dave hadn’t noticed. He gazed at it, wondering distantly, still slightly drunk how different it could’ve been.
Dave jerked the ambulance door open as it was about to speed off and ran to the wreck just as the tow truck began pulling it away. The car jerked to a stop and the tow truck driver yelled at Dave who grabbed for the driver’s side door and yanked it open. He reached for his wife’s phone, and hesitated, before finally flipping it shut just as the cold wind wrapped around his neck and began to pull.
About the Author – Jack Orleans
Jack Orleans is a Denver writer whose work has been featured in Litro; Suspect Press; Birdy Magazine; SUNY Hopewell’s literary journal, The Finger; Stain’d Magazine; and South Broadway Ghost Society. Few things make him happier than watching a screaming match between two strangers.
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