Life While You Wait


I am in Bruges. It’s in Belgium. They make lace here. I just bought some for Aunt Tess. She knits so I thought she’d appreciate it. She’s married, after a fashion, to my Uncle Lloyd, may he rot in hell. He has a septic tank cleaning business and uses the ten-wheeler during the winter to plow for the town. Two months ago he pounded on my door. It was a typical Massachusetts blizzard outside, at least a foot on the ground, and the wind picking up as the low pressure system swept out to sea. At least it would be a white Christmas.

“Finish my shift; I’m sick. There’s thirty-five an hour in it for you, cash money.”

As much I needed the money, it was pushing ten. All I wanted to do was watch a Law and Order rerun, catch Leno’s monologue, then call it a night.

“Look, I’ll level with you. I may have hit somebody.”

“Uncle Lloyd, the roads are horrible. People shouldn’t be out on them. Nobody’s going to blame you for a little fender bender.”

“It was on Route 119 near the Pepperell town line where that little bridge goes over the Squanacook; one of those foreign Smart cars sitting off to the side of the road. I was in a hurry. Who can see something that small anyway, and there were no lights. I clipped it with the wing plow. It went up and over the barrier like I hit it with a nine iron.”

“Christ, was anyone hurt?”

“I didn’t stop. By the time I figured out what happened I was a mile down the road. I can’t back my rig up that distance so I went up to Hovey’s Corners and used the rotary.”

“And what did you find when you got back?”

“I didn’t go back; I came straight here.”

I was in my robe and slippers. I loved Aunt Tess but had never been crazy about her second husband, Lloyd. He fooled around with Cheryl Sykes who bartended down at the Elks. It had been going on for years. I could smell stale barroom beer and cigarette smoke. “You want me to go with you to the cops?”

“Maybe you could go down to the bridge and check out the scene. It might be they abandoned the car.”

“And what if there was someone? How long ago did it happen?”

“I don’t know, an hour, maybe more. I’m a little foggy.”

“You’ve been drinking?”

“I stopped by the Elks for an Irish coffee or two. I’ve been on the road since early this afternoon. I haven’t had a chance to pee or eat so the drinks made me tipsy.”

“Was Cheryl there?”

“She doesn’t mean anything to me. We both let off steam together. When you’ve been married twenty-five years, you’ll know what I’m taking about.”

I stared at him. He knew how much I liked Aunt Tess.

“Please, Ray, I’ll never ask you for anything. I’ve got some bucks saved up that Tess doesn’t know about. I’ll co-sign a car or school loan, anything if you’ll help me out of this jam.”

“So you want me to drive out there and see what the damage is.”

“That’s it. I’ll be here by the phone. If it’s just an empty car, what the hell, like you said, they shouldn’t have been parked on the bridge anyway. There’s even a sign that forbids fishing from it, for Christ sakes.”

“And if it had people in it?”

He slumped down on my couch, his face in his hands. “You got any aspirin? My head is pounding.”

***

I really like plowing. It’s black and white, chaos then clear pavement. I even like snow blowing my driveway. I’ve got a twelve horsepower Ariens with a headlight and plastic bubble over it. Let it blow, sleet or snow; I’m as snug as a bug which is the way I felt in Lloyd’s truck. You sit way up high and know that nothing can stop you. I’d driven it in the past during his shift so he could take his little sex breaks with Cheryl. I figured he loved evening storms so he could cheat on Aunt Tess. I wondered how he managed during the summer.

I’d never used it with the wing plow attached and clipped my own mail box backing out of the drive. It took a few miles, but I finally got my distances right and was doing a decent job of clearing the road and minimizing the drifts on the shoulder.

I neatened up Route 119 in Townsend then headed for the little bridge. Since I like history I knew it was called the Bass Bridge after Paul Bass, a local soldier who died in World War II. Most people think it’s named after the fish. Even from a distance I could see the flashing red, blue and yellow lights. That meant the police, fire/rescue and local volunteers were there. When I pulled up, Pete Collins, our top cop came over to the truck.

“You notice anything the times you been by here tonight?”

“This is my first pass, Chief, my Uncle Lloyd’s been on duty since this afternoon. He’s not feeling too well back at my place and asked me to finish up. How bad is it?

“Two dead. Looks like they went nose diving off the road into the river. If it had been a bigger car, they could have climbed into the back seat and stayed out of the water. Though the impact may or may not have killed them. Did you know Beth Eggleston, big volleyball star a few years back, went to Northeastern?”

I said I didn’t.

“Can’t figure out why the back end of the car is crushed. Looks like somebody palm smacked it like an empty Bud Lite can.”

I grew kind of weak. “Do you think they suffered?”

“Dr. Sprague is on call. Only he can tell. We don’t have identification on the driver, but we guess it was Beth’s boyfriend. Looks like he tried to scramble out before the water got to him. She might have been dead on impact. Passenger seat’s still a death trap even with airbags.”

I put the truck in gear. I couldn’t stand being there. “Anything you want me to plow?”

“The DPW is calling in all the big rigs. They’ll let the pickup trucks do the mopping up until morning. You have Lloyd’s cell number? I like to ask him if he saw anything when he was on his run tonight.”

I gave him Lloyd’s number and took off. I swung through the Willard Brook Conservation land knowing it was a state job, but I needed time to myself. After an hour I drove back to my place, parked the truck and went inside. Lloyd was nowhere to be found, but he had thoughtfully taped the Leno show for me.

***

Three days later the fecal matter hit the fan. Paint from the death wreck matched the orange of the DPW wing plow which was still attached to Lloyd’s truck. I was brought in for questioning. It seems my uncle had sworn that I’d been operating the plow from five in the afternoon on. His rock solid alibi was provided by Cheryl. When it came down to admitting to adultery or manslaughter, he chose to tearfully beg forgiveness from Aunt Tess as well as beat his breast about how stupid it was to let an inexperienced kid like me out in such a storm . My bail was set at fifty thousand which took a week to put up. I had a public defender who said, if I plead to reckless endangerment and involuntary manslaughter, I might only have to do a year or two. Then there’d be a civil suit, which would keep me in hock for my natural life.

Nobody asked about my passport so I packed a bag, hitched a ride to Logan Airport and took the first flight they had. So that’s why I’m in Bruges. I guess I should have told you that at the beginning, but I’m not really a writer. It’s mostly rain and slush for winter over here. I miss the snow. Even though it’s Belgium they speak Dutch in this part for some reason. And they hate the Walloons, whoever they are.


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