“This is not what I signed up for.” You say to yourself in frustration as you frantically pull on your shirt while you race down the stairs. It is almost eleven o’clock and almost time for the Leno. “I am tired of having to be the hero all the time.”
But this is what you signed up for; to be the hero. Or as much of a hero that being the head of the neighborhood watch will allow you to be.
Of course, your real ambition was to be a state police officer: To protect and serve the community at the highest level. Unfortunately, you are always too afraid; too afraid to fail, too afraid to succeed, too afraid to raise a family.
That is why your wife left you;You were to afraid to be a man.
Your name is Bronson Pike: “Captain” of the neighborhood watch.
Almost tripping down the final few steps, and then stepping into the front entry, you open the drawer in the small coffee table beside the door. Inside is your bright bronze badge that you just got finished polishing that afternoon, a half pint of malt whiskey, a multi-colored glass pipe and a few other items. After grabbing the badge and pinning it to your jacket, you reach back for one of the other items but then pull back quickly.
“It’s been two months….” You remind yourself and then slam the drawer shut.
You grab the overcoat and fedora hat from the rack standing by the front door, fling your coat over your shoulders and slide the hat over your messy hair so the brim just slightly shades your eyes. That’s how you like your hat: shading you from the prying eyes of others. You open the front door and bolt out into the night.
A phone call just came in that there had been a car accident at the end of the street and all the neighbors seem to be relying on you to gain control of the apparently horrifying situation. Why they didn’t just call the paramedics was anyone’s guess, but this was no cat in a tree-this was for real.
The rain was just beginning to fall and the drops from the brim of your hat were trickling down the front of your shirt. Your overcoat rippled at your heels as you bolt down the street.
People were beginning to emerge from their homes and were standing in their doorways, bundled in their robes and blankets. Each one looking toward the end of the street, whispering to each other but not one person was stepping away from the security of their homes. You are alone in this; you and no one else.
You passed the old widow Gower‘s home. Her lights were not even on. Her house was charming in a way but not welcoming by any means. Next door to that was the bungalow house. Palm trees lined the path to the front door with the four foot bamboo rod fence running parallel to the sidewalk. This couple were outcasts of the neighborhood. The two of them were emerging onto their porch as well.
“Need some help out there, Bronson?” The tall thin man shouted.
“No, thanks. I think I got it.” You respond even though you defiantly don’t “got it”.
“How ’bout a flashlight, Mr. Pike?” The other man yelled after you.
“Nope!” You shouted breathlessly.
“I need to get more exercise,” you think aloud as you put as much distance between you and the bungalow house as possible. That couple makes your stomach turn every time you see them.
“Civil union, Hah!”
But you can’t think about that now. Only one goal in mind, and that is to get to that crash.
You can see the end of the street now as your now thirty yards from where it intersects with Milton Avenue. Passing more and more houses you begin to feel the sweat from under the trench coat. People are standing on their porches at almost every house heads turned in the direction of the accident. A few people have gone as far as to walk down their front steps and stand at the foot of the sidewalk. The rain begins to pick up now with the lukewarm drops falling harder and harder, soaking the back of your jacket-but you keep running.
You can see the crash scene now. It looks as if two cars in opposite lanes of traffic collided head on. There is glass scattered over the entire road and you can see two figures standing outside what looks like a four-door Dodge Neon. The figures are rubbing the backs of their necks and seem to be disoriented.
Now at the scene you can hear the crunch of the glass under your boots and the rain is absolutely pouring now. In no time flat the entire roadway is covered with a thin sheet of water being ruptured with descending raindrops. The sound alone was enough to deafen even the sharpest ears.
“Hey! You there!” Shouted one of the disoriented passengers, “Can you help here?”
You stop with a skid just short of the second car. It was lying on its roof and the windshield was smashed and the tires are still spinning slightly. You can smell the gasoline and see the colorful stream it makes as it mixes with the water. The rain has completely soaked through your trench coat and has mixed with the sweat on your back. The scene in front of you is a mangled abstract mess of glass and metal. You become mesmerized by what you see, what could be, what is…..
“Hey! Are you awake?” shouted one of the men still rubbing his neck. He was in his early forties and a bit pudgy around his mid-section, “ That woman needs help.”
You snap back to reality and assess the situation. The Car is a Lincoln Town car and is upside down while the seatbelts hold the passengers captive. The driver, a woman who is in her mid twenties, is screaming. She upside-down while twisting and turning, attempting frantically to reach into the back where you see a booster seat with a small child hanging upside down. You can see the child’s curly blonde hair hanging and twisting in the silence of the Towncar. All this is a bit too much to process in one moment as instinct takes over. You know you need to act.
Dropping to your knees, sliding through the shattered rear drivers side
Window, you slowly pull yourself towards the motionless child you can hear the
Mother’s pleading while the other two crash victims are kneeling outside of the
Town car, peering anxiously inside.
“Is Nathan okay? Please sir, is my baby okay?” She whimpers as she continues to struggles to unfasten her seat belt, “ We hit a slick patch in the road and I lost control.” She then turned to her child, “Nathan, honey, Mommy’s here.”
You finally reach the child and roll to your back on the roof of the car.
Directly above you is the blonde haired child no older that three. You reach up and push your first two fingers against his neck. Your heart begins to pound in your chest as you run your fingers up and down his neck hoping that this won’t be tomorrow’s tragic front page story.
You look at the child, into his innocent face slightly covered by his dangling hair and see something that you have never had: peace and serenity. Time seems to stop at this moment and all the sounds and voices go silent. It seems as if a giant helicopter is pounding its wings in your ears. Your heart beat is pulsating through the skin on your throat. The tips of your fingers running up and down the boy’s neck, and you find no pulse. A voice rings inside your head from your past, surfacing in your mind at this of all moments: “Unless you become like little children……”
Why this voice now echoed in your head was a mystery. But this child was innocent, not worthy of death in the night, upside-down with his mother screaming. He had so much to live for, to discover, to become…..
“I got a pulse Ma’am.” You shout to the woman who immediately starts weeping. You reach up and unbuckle the child from his car seat. You help slide him onto your chest and you hear the most unexpected sound:snoring. He slept the whole time.
At that moment the woman in the front wriggles free from her seat belt and scrambles out of the car. You pass the child forward and then are helped out by the passengers of the Dodge Neon. You stand up and wipe yourself off.
Down the road you see the flashing lights of a fire truck. You can still see people standing on their porches. You’re not sure what to do now, better wait for a while.
“Sir?” Nathan’s mother spoke timidly holding her sleeping child, “I don’t know how to thank you for helping us. We were upside down for three minutes and I could see people standing on their front porches and no one came to help.”
You can see tears streaming down her cheeks as the paramedics arrive on the scene. She turned to walk away and glanced again over her shoulder “ I wasn’t supposed to be able to have children,” she blurted out as she was met by two paramedics. And that was the last you heard from her.
The highway patrol arrived a few minutes later. No one was seriously injured and after answering the patrolman’s questions, you started back up the street toward your house: your empty house.
As you walk up the street the rain stops but the clouds are still dark. Your feet continue to splash in the streams of water flowing toward the storm drains.
People are still standing on their porches watching the flashing lights and Paramedics. You pass the bungalow house and Mrs. Gower’s home. All of the houses seem like silhouettes of real humanity, but, you know that’s not true.
As you reach your concrete stoop you stop and gaze at your boots. They used to be nice, new and clean. Now they are darkened by the moisture soaked inside them. You take them off as well as your socks and throw open your front door. You’re dripping wet but don’t bother to remove your hat or coat. The house is silent. No wife, no children. Maybe if you weren’t such a coward; but…….. you are.
As you step inside you open up the small drawer of the coffee table in your front entry way. Inside is the glass pipe and the bottle of malt whiskey. Also a Gideon’s Bible and a map of Florida. You stand there for a moment and think about what is before you. You know where the answers lie. You think about that small child and how pure his face was. Maybe you were destined to meet that young boy tonight. That could have been your child. That could have been your wife, and life could have been different- but you let destiny pass you by.
You feel your face heating up from behind your eyes and you fight back the tears of your empty life. The drawer is open, it’s calling to you as you reach out your hand and make your choice…….