She is speeding, forcing her car to race through blinding sheets of rain, all the while knowing that she can’t possibly get there in time. Refusing to accept defeat, she recklessly accelerates. The rain is falling so hard that her wipers are useless except for the rhythm they slap out as they snap back and forth.
Her mind isn’t on the highway ahead of her. It’s on her daughter and the cell phone beside her. She has it set on speaker phone.
“I’ll be there soon, just don’t answer the door,” she says.
“I won’t Mum, please hurry. I’m so scared.”
“Are the police still there?”
Through the tiny speaker she hears the insistent banging on her daughter’s door and that’s her answer. Frustration and panic roar through her veins as she stomps harder on the gas pedal instead of slowing down.
Her car swerves all over the road as she passes a dozen vehicles that have pulled over to wait out the downpour.
She glances in her rear-view mirror and sees the red and blue flashing lights flying up behind her through the wall of water.
“No, no,” she cries. “Not now, please God, not now.”
The cruiser zooms up beside her, edging her over to the side of the road, trying to get her to stop. He is so close now that she can see his face, read his lips, “Pull over, pull over!”
With a sudden motion spawned by her lifelong enemy, “I’ll save ya” panic, (no thinking required) she shoves the gas pedal to the floor and surges ahead of the cop. She keeps track of him in the rear-view mirror. “Damn it, he isn’t giving up.”
Her exit is just ahead, and she doesn’t dare slow down. As she flies around the sharp curve on two wheels, the steering wheel grows a mind of its own and it is violently wrenched from her hands. The tires scream as she loses control.
Right until the millisecond when her car goes flying over the guardrail, she still thinks that she will save the day; she still has hope that somehow, she can make this come out right.
As the car plunges to the concrete below she realizes that she is wrong. Dead wrong. Her last bit of confidence dies as the car hurtles toward the unforgiving concrete surface.
With so little time left to breathe before she hits the cement, her mind fills with him. He is all that matters now, too late, too late, she knows. How many times has she hurt him by trying to save her kids from themselves, how many grandbabies has she brought home and failed to rescue?
His heart will be broken; but he’ll be relieved too because her war, the war he is always drawn into, the war he claims no part of although he ignited it, her war will finally be over.
His face, his arms, his warm body against her every night for twenty-seven years, the pain he’ll feel when he sees her broken and twisted body, this is all she can see in her mind’s eye as the car plummets.
This is her last battle and she has lost. This is it and there is no way out.
She senses rather than sees the cruiser plunging to the ground behind her. The cop has made the same error in judgment that she has, attacking a wet curve at high speed. Each of them trying to save the day, each with their own agenda.
Her car explodes on impact.
Excruciating, flaming hot pain and then she’s floating above the fiery mess on the ground. She knows she must be dead, but all she wants is to go home, run home to him.
The young cop is floating above his mangled cruiser, shaking his head in disbelief. He glares in her direction. Guilt floods her so hard that she can’t look at him, so she turns away. She closes her eyes and thinks of home.
As soon as she visualizes it, she’s in front of her house. She sees her sunflowers standing proud beside the porch, the Rose of Sharon covered in purple blossoms as it reaches for the sky behind the sunflowers. She wonders if she can go inside and if she can still touch things. She grasps the doorknob and it turns. As she pauses in the doorway, she smiles down at the hand that still works. Stupid movies. They always show the dead person’s hands going through walls and passing through anything they try to touch. Guess the directors never interviewed a real live dead person.
Dinner is on the counter, all ready to go in the pre-heated oven. Stuffed cabbage, his favorite.
She had just finished preparing it when the call came. If only she hadn’t answered the damn phone. She hears her mama’s words in her head, “If only, if only…a bunch of baloney.”
She lifts the pan full of cabbage rolls and to her delight, she can place the pan in the oven, and she turns on the timer.
She sets the table and then she walks out to the garage. She wants to watch him as he works on his racecar. She loves that little boy on Christmas morning expression he gets on his face when his hands are buried in the engine.
He isn’t there. He should be there.
“Where could he have gone?” She asks the empty garage. No answer of course, she might be dead, but she’s not crazy.
She walks back to her cozy little kitchen and plops down in her favorite chair, the rocking chair Mama had bought her when her first baby was born.
She doesn’t even know if he’ll be able to see her when he comes home. She closes her eyes and when she opens them, he is walking into the house with his head hanging down.
He pauses in the doorway for a moment and then he slowly looks up. Stares around at the kitchen, not understanding the aroma of stuffed cabbage as it simmers in the oven and then he sees her sitting there.
Time stops as he rushes toward her, cradling her in his arms like so many times before. Sobbing, he buries his face in her hair, inhales the scent of her and then he holds his breath, terrified that if he exhales, she will disappear.
She sees the horrifying images he has just seen because they are still flashing through his mind as he holds her to his chest. High def at its boldest, the blood so vibrant, the devastation so real.
He holds her tightly, not sure if she is real, but unwilling to let her go just in case his touch is all that ties her to his life.
She feels his grief, she sees her body scattered across the road, her head on one side and her legs on the other.
She sees the tangled, bloody mess that just minutes ago was the young cop. His wife driving home from church and passing the wreck. Slowing down as she approaches the flashing lights. She knows it has already happened, but still she moans, “Oh God, don’t let her stop, don’t let her stop.” But the wife does stop.
The wife screams in anguish when she sees her husband’s patrol car, number 2730 still visible on the twisted metal and she screams even louder when she sees his body entangled with what’s left of his cruiser. She sees it all before another cop pulls her away.
The grief-stricken wife wails, “What happened, what happened?”
Her husband’s commander is there. He manages to tug her over to his cruiser and he gently guides her as she collapses on the passenger seat.
With the car door open, he kneels on the wet, muddy grass in front of her.
“A grandmother racing to save her baby grandson from DHS,” he explains. “They were taking the baby away because the mom is a drunk.”
The cop’s wife always feared for her husband’s life when he left the house to go to work, but she’d always thought a drugged-out teenager’s bullet would take him from her and she had never dreamed that his cruiser would be his casket. She’d never dreamed that a good woman, a mother, a panicked grandmother with what she felt was a just cause, would kill her childhood sweetheart while she sat in church with her babies on a rainy Sunday morning.
The accident scene fades away and the kitchen begins to blur although she can still smell the simmering stuffed cabbage and she can still feel his arms holding her tight. She can still feel his tears burning her as they stream through her hair and down on her face.
She wants to tell him how sorry she is, how she would undo it all if she could.
“I’m so sorry,” she begins. “It was always you, only you.”
Somehow, she knows that it doesn’t matter anymore. Sorry won’t fix this mess.
Still she keeps whispering the words over and over. “I’m so sorry; it was always you, only you.”
She panics when she realizes that she is no longer in the kitchen, she no longer feels his arms around her, or his wet face buried in her hair.
The worst of it all is the sick gut-wrenching knowledge that she didn’t have to run out and drive like a maniac through the rain.
She closes her eyes.
Mama had been right. “If only, if only…a bunch of baloney.”