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by John Lowry

           What was it?  Not paying attention?  Thinking about that blond waitress?  Or maybe fooling with the radio, the music?  Maybe that was it.  Whatever.  You spun out.  Over steering and swearing.  Remember?  And the nurse, in the same car, same color – how strange, people said – expecting to miss you, smashed into you instead.  There was a bang in the trunk.  The windshield broke into an abstract design.  Your loafer came free of your left foot, along with two perfectly good teeth.  Smelling gasoline and grass.  The silence.  No great matter.  That’s you, Beck, two days later, playing softball near the school where you teach math.  A little cheer rises from the ten or twenty people in the stands as you make a hard catch look easy.  Smiling, pushing your unruly hair aside, you look up at the sun, promising to play softball forever, a promise you won’t keep.  Deciding to marry Clara Lee Mitchel, that small girl with dark eyes, excited by the way she stretched out on your bed.  How could you know?  You didn’t love either of them.  Not Clara, shutting off the TV and complaining.  The lawn!  The garage!  The state of the house!  Not Terri, dark eyed like her mother and crying.  Dressed in a dark coat, holding a bag, a dim moon in the20sky, you walk quickly to the car, hidden carefully on a side street.  Driving to a new city.  Two tiny rooms, awakened by screaming voices and breaking glass, a bottle of cheap gin on the table.  Sitting over black coffee, your head in your hands.  Looking back, it was funny, wasn’t it?  Success waited for a man like you.  Everyone knew.  The man, bald and wearing glasses, bred to live in conference rooms, he knew, declaring you perfect, the man they were looking for.  Let’s shake on that!  Let’s do lunch!  Walking the streets, almost delirious, toasting the future at a café, lifting your glass to a passing woman who smiles, her worn face momentarily youthful.  Remember?  Leaving the hotel, walking to your new car, dressed in your splendid suit, seeing a shadow spring to life with a suck of foul breath.  The knife flashing in the streetlight, piercing the hand you throw up as you knock him to the ground with a kick, you always claimed was a punch.  Hailed for a hero, never to be afraid again.  You display your hand like a relic, not noticing the smiles, the sighs.  Sitting in The Pro Bar, a golf club by your side, dressed in knickers and old-fashioned cap, you hold forth to a little group, silent and attentive.  Tipping a young man ten dollars to retrieve your Mercedes.  What does it matter?  Fishing from a yacht the size of an ocean liner; skiing in the Rockies; surfing in Hawaii, falling so hard you bloody your mouth.  You drink with the woman who teaches you to fly, your faces pink in the mountain light.  Your heart leaps.  Looks and a good head; a tourist business on the side.  The right woman for you.  The wedding in the garden of a grand hotel, your daughter in attendance, tall and serious in her glasses.  The past forgiven, she kisses your cheek and calls you Daddy.  One, two, three!  Into the pool with the Old Man of Fifty.  Who sinks to the bottom, shoes like weights a=2 0diver would wear.  You stand unmoving.  Your lungs burn.  But you won’t die!  You won’t!  You drive your legs like pistons, rising to the surface, hearing cheers.  Applause!  You wave. Jumping off your bike, dropping it on the lawn and running into the house, the coffee and buns wrapped in a basket.  Bea laughing, hiding her head under a pillow, pretending to protest the kisses you plant on her cheeks, sharing her lipstick.  Remember?  Writing a check to Terri, a student in North Carolina, love growing in your heart.  Coming back from a vacation, greeted by men in black suits, a meeting of the board.  Low volume, a difficult market.  The verdict is in: a need for change, for new directions.  But you have done a fine job.  There would be compensation, stocks and benefits.  Dinners and speeches, memories of the wonderful times gone by.  Ah, what will you do?  Golf?  Garden?  Learn chess?  Yes, keep the gray matter sharp.  Sitting on the stairs late at night, a drink in your hand, Bea settling beside you, linking her arm through yours.  I’m all right.  It’s nothing.  The bastards!  Dizzy!  Sweating!  I had to sit down!  You explain, the doctor listening to your heart.  Can he hear what’s in it?  You’re fine.  Learn to relax.  Avoid pressure.  An émigré from a slaughter, Boris Patrick, wearing dark glasses and a shiny suit, his office in a factory, two floors above the pounding of metal on metal, outlines your future.  Selling used airplanes.  A new man!  You come home at midnight.  Ride your bike to work on weekends.  So unnecessary, Bea says.  You agree.  But success is near, you know.  Hurry!  Why are you sitting in that car? Your hand dangling from the window.  Hurry!  Your life is waiting.                      

John:  My tracks in the snow: Paper, Fiction, North Ameican Review, Prism International; on-line, In Posse
Review, Apple Valley Review and Danforth Review.  As you can guess, all this has made me rich, fat and self-important.  Contact John.