Things That Scared Me as a Child

Public restrooms

Descending escalator stairs

Submerging my head underwater

Corroded batteries in forgotten toys

Blaring trumpets announcing the Rapture

Dancing potatoes in fast food commercials

Throat cultures with a Q-tip and tongue depressor

Unpronounceable ingredients in store-bought popsicles

Eerie instrumental songs on the easy listening radio station

A sharp pain in my right side that just might be appendicitis

Commander USA’s Groovie Movies on Saturday afternoons

Germ-ridden chewing gum affixed to table undersides

Tight clothing that could cut off my circulation

The state of my immortal soul (or lack thereof)

Sleeping without the overhead light on

A friend’s dead cousin Victoria

Grape-scented laughing gas

Stranger danger

A Gradual Deprogramming

With your fingertips you traced
symbols upon my forehead,
uttering indecipherable prayers
to protect me until we met again.

You said I was one of your favorites
and made me promise to tell no one.
You brought me a ring from Tibet,
a souvenir of your spiritual pilgrimage.

You listened to my favorite songs,
read my early poems and stories.
For an hour each week, you fed me
the praise I so desperately craved.

But over time, my loyalty wavered.
I stopped wearing the ring from Tibet.
Just as I began to question God,
I also grew to doubt you.

Fatalities

 

 Carrie picked at her nails, littering the passenger seat with flakes of red polish. “I told you I didn’t want to go to this party,” she said.

Brandon gripped the steering wheel. “Don’t start, Carrie.”  

The country road sprawled out before them, and the sky to their west took on a charcoal hue. Carrie tugged at the hem of her simple black dress. “You know I’ve been having a hard time.”

“And I’ve been extremely patient,” Brandon snapped. “For Christ’s sake, your dog died. Yes, it’s sad, but it’s been two months. The dog was sixteen years old. You need to get over it.”

Carrie winced at the mention of Bess, her stubby-legged dachshund and unwavering companion. One morning in early May, Bess could no longer rise from her bed. Every time Carrie remembered holding Bess while the vet sedated the dog and then administered an overdose of anesthesia, it was like worrying at a scab until it began to bleed. 

“You’re an asshole,” Carrie told Brandon. She opened her eyes wide to prevent tears from spilling over and smearing her mascara.

Brandon snorted. “And you’re a selfish bitch.”

Her heart thudded, a distant drum urging her to hold her tongue. “Turn this car around. I’m not going anywhere with you.”

He shook his head. “You’re going to smile and be polite at this party for my boss, because you know I’m the one keeping the roof over our heads. Your office job barely pays the electric bill.” Fat drops of rain spattered against the windshield, and Brandon flipped on the wipers.

Carrie leaned back against the seat. “Maybe I’ll have a little too much to drink at this party and slip away somewhere with your boss. I think he’s always had a thing for me—”

Brandon’s hand shot out and slammed into her mouth. Carrie gasped and touched her swelling lower lip. When she saw the blood on her fingers, she began to laugh.

Brandon gaped at her. “You’re crazy, you know that?”  

Carrie peered through the windshield and caught sight of mangled metal. “Look out!” she shrieked.

Brandon slammed on the brakes. “Holy shit,” he said over the squeal of skidding tires.

On the right-hand side of the road, a car had sailed from the pavement and struck an enormous oak tree. The little sedan’s front passenger side was crumpled like a grotesque accordion. Brandon eased onto the shoulder behind the wrecked vehicle. Carrie unfastened her seatbelt and threw open the door.

“Call 911,” she said, scrambling outside. Her heels sank into the wet earth. She hurried to the car and found the driver’s seat empty. Her gaze traveled from the hole in the windshield to a body lying a dozen feet away. It was a man, his frame twisted at impossible angles.

A soft moan drew her attention back to the car, and Carrie saw a young woman slumped in the passenger seat. Carrie swallowed back vomit when she realized the wreckage had practically severed the woman’s body at the waist. Her lower half wasn’t visible, and blood trickled from her mouth.

Brandon ran to Carrie’s side, clutching his cell phone. “I can’t get reception out here.” He spotted the woman and muttered, “Jesus Christ.”

Carrie pointed to the man lying in front of the car. “Go check on him,” she told Brandon before darting to the passenger side.

Through the open window, Carrie could hear the woman’s shallow breathing. “Honey, we’re going to get you help,” she said.

The woman stared at Carrie vacantly. “Where’s my husband?”       

Carrie looked at Brandon kneeling beside the figure on the ground. He met her eyes and shook his head.

“My husband’s checking on him,” Carrie said. “You just hold on, okay?”

The woman raised her hand; it was covered in blood. Her eyes cleared for an instant. “Your mouth is bleeding. Did you hurt yourself too?”

Carrie began to weep as she held the woman’s icy hand. “I’m fine. What’s your name?”

“Jocelyn,” the woman said. “My husband’s name is Dennis. We were coming back from my parents’ house in Ridgeview. I’m really cold.”

“I’m still not getting a signal,” Brandon called, huddling next to Dennis’s lifeless form.

Jocelyn’s hand squeezed Carrie’s. “This isn’t good, is it?”

“You’re going to be fine.” Carrie hiccupped on a sob.

Jocelyn closed her eyes again as her breathing slowed. “Will you pray for me?” she asked.

“Oh, shit.” Carrie staggered and leaned against the passenger door for support.

She didn’t notice Brandon standing behind her until he touched her shoulder. “Pray for the woman,” he said in a voice only Carrie could hear.

She shook off his hand and closed her eyes. “Dear God,” she began, her tongue tripping over the words, “please send help quickly for Jocelyn and Dennis.”

Jocelyn’s grip on Carrie’s hand loosened. Carrie opened her eyes and saw the woman slouched in the seat, chin resting on her chest. Carrie dropped Jocelyn’s hand and stumbled backward. In the distance, she heard the wail of a siren.

As the firemen worked to extract Jocelyn’s body from the car, Carrie and Brandon answered a policeman’s questions.

“A man drove by and saw the accident before you did,” the officer told them. “He went up the road to the general store and called for an ambulance there.” He focused his attention on Carrie. “Ma’am, do you need to see a doctor?”

Brandon put his arm around her. “She’ll be fine,” he said.

As they drove home, Carrie rested her head against the passenger window. Jocelyn’s blood stained her fingertips.

“Carrie, that could have been us,” Brandon said. “I wasn’t paying attention. I could have gone right off the road there at that curve—”

Carrie gingerly touched her lip and thought of her suitcase in the bedroom closet. “It was us,” she said. Ignoring Brandon’s bewildered stare, she nodded toward the windshield and added, “Watch the road.”