Part 9: Death on the Highway

This is an excerpt from my novel Caroline. Read the previous chapter here.

As we were eating our ice cream I listened to Caroline’s comments, “You know, it’s a lot cooler out here than inside the house.”

“Yes, out here the wind blows freely and dissipates the heat, inside the house the air’s trapped and thus does not allow the heat to go anywhere.”

“You know Ricky, can I tell you something?” The smile on her face made me suspect she was going to say something important, so I tried in all my might not to interrupt her. “I miss my parents.”

“Yes, and now they’re dead,” I said rather insensitively, then realized I may have made a mistake. I tried keeping thoughts like these to myself but sometimes I slipped and said them aloud.

Surprisingly Caroline was not upset, in fact she was very good humored and laughed. Her laugh was not pleasing to the ear but with familiarity I was slowly finding it to be quite sweet.

“I can’t believe that it has been a month since they’ve died; it seemed like only yesterday that we tumbled off of that hill and dove to our deaths.”

“But obviously you survived.”

“Yes, though life seems so difficult without them I wish I was dead.”

Caroline started to cry, tears flowed from the corner of her eyes as if on command, her face tightened as she was preparing to weep, and her voice became constricted and high-pitched. “After we rolled down the hill we were all still alive. When the car hit a tree, a large majestic redwood, the collision caused the entire left side of the car to crumple, pinning dad inside his seat. I was lucky, I was sitting on the right side and heard my dad saying, ‘Caroline! Caroline!’

“I was elated to hear my father still alive, I said, ‘Daddy! Oh daddy!’

“‘Caroline, my left leg is trapped and I can’t get out of the car, how about you?’

“He turned his neck around and based on the look of agony on his face drenched in large drops of cold sweat, I could see he was suffering from considerable pain. The car door was too warped to be opened; I crawled out of the window to reach him when he saw my face said, ‘Caroline, Caroline!’

“‘What is it now, daddy?’

“‘Go back onto the highway and get help, we’re all depending on you because daddy is too hurt to get out of this car, and be fast because I’m not feeling well…’ At that point daddy passed out and I realized the urgency of the situation, I ran up the hillside, which was difficult because it was steep and my feet slipped under the crumbling dirt a few times. But when I climbed back up on the highway I panicked, I was scared of the cars which were traveling so fast. I didn’t know where to go for help and wandered aimlessly. Cars swerved to avoid me, honking their horns and cursing at me for being such an obstruction to traffic. With nowhere to turn for help I started crying, thinking about how much my father was suffering pinned and helpless inside his own vehicle.

“After half an hour of this a police car saw me and pulled over, two police officers came out and asked me what’s the matter. I told them everything and one of them went down the hillside to take a look at the wreckage while the other took me in inside the police car and called an ambulance, while at the same time attempting to console me. He showed me a picture of his wife and his children, and told me about the first time he tried changing a baby’s diaper he was sprayed with urine. He was quite good at making me lose my worries, and even told me that he was certain that my family will be found alive, that once they use the jaws-of-life on the car that my parents will spring out and give me a big hug. Of course we now know this not to be true, the car already burst into flames killing both of them. Throughout the past weeks I’ve been thinking to myself if I didn’t panic the way I did I might have been cognizant enough to get attention from passing drivers quickly enough to save my parents.”

She continued weeping and hiccuping uncontrollably, and her ice cream was beginning to melt so I did her the favor of taking her cone and eating it. I laid my hand on her shoulder to reassure her and said, “Only your father died in the subsequent fire that consumed the car, your mother died instantly remember? So your failure to procure help quicker only resulted in the death of one person instead of two.”

Apparently such words were of no comfort to Caroline, and she cried even louder than before. Taking a lick of vanilla and another lick of coffee-chocolate got enough sugar into my body to fire all my brain cells in order to think up of a way to lighten up the mood, but then my brain suddenly stumbled upon a paradox which was quite intriguing, and even though I knew better not to further traumatize Caroline I asked, “Wait, how come your father’s body was burnt to a crisp yet your mother’s remained unburnt despite the fact that both of them were inside the same flaming car?”

Caroline’s gasps for air became heavier as more tears spilled out of her large eyes, “Oh my mother, her head split open like a ripe watermelon, pieces of her brain splattered all over my dress!” At that point I was wise enough not to speak to her any further, I only gave her comfort through holding her hand and even conceded my seat right above the storm drain so her salty tears could fall straight in and join the run-off from overwatered lawns and out to the Pacific Ocean.

After fifteen minutes watching my cousin cry, I suddenly realized there was a spare copy of the house key hidden under a pot of petunias on the patio, meaning us being locked out of the house was completely unnecessary. Caroline went crazy after she found this out. Even though I told her it was unintentional, I had merely forgotten that mom keeps a copy of the key hidden outside of the house in case any of us were locked out, it didn’t matter. She heckled me for my absentmindedness, as though I had conscious control over what to forget and what not to forget. Despite knowing it was a lot cooler under the shade of a gingko tree than inside the house, she went back to the house anyway. I guess this is what women are good at, complaining about things which are completely irrelevant and in spite of the fact that they know they are not in the right.


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