So I’m sitting here. Doing nothing. Waiting for the worst to happen. Actually, I’m lying on my back on my bed. Most comfortable position for me when I’m lying down. Though it’s not easy getting up from the bed when I’m on my back. Sitting up from that position, I mean, and then standing up beside the bed. Anyway, I don’t want to read anything. I don’t want to listen to anything. I just want to continue lying on my back and think about what happened to me today. About a half hour ago. What could have been the worst thing that ever happened to me. I surely thought I was lost. That’s why I went to my bed so soon after I got home and cleaned myself and changed my undershorts and sweatpants. To think about what happened to me before. And also, no doubt, to calm myself down after the experience. I had just mailed a couple of packages at the post office near my house. I’ve been giving away a lot of things lately and these were two of them: an ice bucket that was given to my wife and me for our wedding thirty-three years ago. To my niece in Connecticut, who entertains a lot and I thought would like having a silver ice bucket from Tiffany’s. It’s badly tarnished–hasn’t been cleaned for years–but that would be easy to remedy with silver polish. I even thought of buying some silver polish and putting it in the package with the bucket. But then I thought she might take some sort of offense at that–I don’t know what. And she also might think when she opens the package: Doesn’t he think I have an ice bucket, though I doubt she has one as good as this one and from Tiffany’s, and that she probably has silver polish at home? The other package was to my sister in California: a set of six VCR tapes of Sid Caesar television shows of the Fifties. My wife had ordered them online about ten years ago. Or maybe she got the phone number of the company that sold them and ordered them that way. She would, about once a month, when she felt she needed a good laugh, as she said, watch one or two of the tapes, and usually I’d join her, mostly to keep her company. When I told my sister I had these tapes and was going to give them to Purple Heart or MS Society or some organization like that when they called to say their truck was going to be in my neighborhood and did I have anything for them to pick up?–somehow this came up in our phone conversation–she said she was a big Sid Caesar fan and she also still had a working VCR player and would love to have the tapes. But about what happened to me less than an hour ago. I was in my car. Had made a right out of the post office parking lot and was waiting for the traffic light at the corner to turn green. One car was in front of mine. The light changed. I was set to move soon as the car in front did. When a car on the road perpendicular to mine sped through a red light–this, just after the car in front of me started moving–made a sharp screeching left toward the road I was on, was past the car in front, which had stopped moving, seemed out of control–the speeding car did–shot up a short steep embankment on its right, so to my left, came down heading straight for the car door I was sitting behind, and at the last second cut right and passed me in the direction of the post office but got so close that it scraped in one continuous line the left side of my car from the front door to the rear fender. I’m not picturing it right. All those lefts and rights. It happened at an intersection. The two-lane road I was on went north and south. The intersecting road east and west. I was facing south and was going to make a left at the three-lane road perpendicular to mine, on my way to the Y to work out in the fitness center there and then swim a few laps and sit in the sauna for about ten minutes and shower. One car was in front of mine. Our light turned green. But just then a car going east sped through a red light, made a sharp left at my road, seemed out of control, drove up a short steep hill across the road from me, seemed about to turn over at the top, righted itself but never stopped moving, came down the hill and headed straight for my door, but just before reaching it, made a sharp right and passed my car without crashing into it but did scrape its entire side, and then continued past the post office and, and this I only heard, disappeared. For a few seconds I thought it was the end. The speed with which it came down the hill, and that it was such a big car–an SUV, compared to my much smaller Prius–and that I had no side airbags, though I didn’t think of the last at the time. I threw my arms up to protect my face. I didn’t think to; I just did it. Through a small space between my arms I saw what looked like a very frightened teenage boy looking back at me, and I think someone–another teenage boy, though this I’m less sure of, sitting beside him. I could be wrong about the second person in the car. It was all so fast, and their car was built a few inches further off the ground than mine, or however I should put it. My directional signal was still flashing. The clicking sort of brought me out of my stupor, and I turned it off. The light ahead was red now. There was a car behind me, when I don’t think there was one before–a pickup truck. A guy. He couldn’t have seen anything of what happened. Or if he did, a little, from a distance. But the driver in front of me certainly did. I somehow expected him–it was a man in a baseball cap, I saw from the back–to get out of his car and walk back to me and I’d lower my window and he’d say something like “Did you see that?” Or because of course he saw I’d seen it: “Are you all right?” Or or and: “It was just a kid. A stupid kid. He could have killed you.” I think this is what I would have done if I was the driver of the car in front, and also said that I didn’t get the kid’s license plate number, everything happened so fast. If there were cars behind us that wanted to get through the light, I would have just waved them around. I just sat there. Still trying to put together what had just happened, but feeling relieved. The light turned green and the car in front made a right at the intersection. I thought I’d make a left at it and continue to the Y. A good workout or swim or both would calm me, and I could look at the damage to my car when I got there. But the front of my pants were soaked. I only then felt it. I quickly shoved my hand down my pants and saw that my boxer shorts were soaked too. I must have peed a bladderful into them when the car came down the hill or when it made that sharp right before it hit me and scraped my side. The guy behind me honked. I waved and made it through the light but he didn’t. Driving home, I wondered if that angered him. It could have. It often does when you’re a little slow getting through the light and the car behind you doesn’t, and I doubt he knew of the near collision I just had. First thing I did when I got home was change my pants and boxer shorts and wash down my thighs with a wet towel. Even my socks were a little wet, so I also changed into a fresh pair and then dumped all the wet clothes into the washing machine in the kitchen. Then I went outside to check the damage to the car. I got lucky there too, I thought, though I know I’ll one day have to get that side repainted, or whatever I’ll have to do to stop it from rusting. Should I call my auto insurance agent? Worry about that later. The scratches aren’t that deep, so maybe it’s not worth it. The premium, or whatever it’s called. And forget the Y, I thought. You can miss one day. Make yourself some tea. My daughter when she was last here left an almost full box of Indian teabags that are supposedly good for stress relief–I think she even bought it especially for me–not that I believe a tea could do that. Maybe just sitting quietly and sipping any hot tea, the stress is relieved. Or pour yourself a drink. Wine or a shot of something. Brandy or rye would be best. No, too early for that. And I really don’t feel like tea and it’s a bit late in the day to have what coffee’s left in the thermos and it’d probably do the opposite of what I’m looking for and make me jumpy. Instead, I went in back and got on my bed. The cat followed me and lay down alongside me. “Sure you wouldn’t rather go out?” I said. He started licking his left paw. Close call, I thought. And it’s gonna cost me a few hundred, with or without the insurance company, but that’s infinitely better than getting crashed into. Real close call. I don’t think I ever had a closer call in a car in my life. Then: Sure I have. In Maine about ten years ago. First summer in a cottage on Cape Rosier with my wife, so exactly ten years ago and a few months. Six months. Car heading toward me on a narrow two-lane road on the Cape. I was alone in the car, driving back to the cottage, probably after going to town–Bucks Harbor–and getting the Times and a few other things at the small market there. The delicious baguette the market made daily and a pint container of their cranberry-walnut chicken salad, which I also always got if they had it. The bread I’d usually tear off a chunk of and eat on the way home. Some days it was still warm. On my right was a ditch that paralleled the road, so I couldn’t go too far in that direction without dropping into it and maybe turning over. I thought all that as I saw the car coming. The car, half on my side of the road, got so close to mine that it knocked my side mirror off as it sped past. Two boys in front–that I definitely saw–about the same age as today’s kids, one driving and the other with his hand also on the wheel and both laughing as they passed me, and one of them keeping his hand on the horn after they passed me, as if it were my fault we got so close to colliding. Or maybe not that. Who knows what was going on in their minds. I also heard loud music as they approached and then passed me. Hip-Hop, if I’m right about what I think Hip-Hop is, or maybe it’s called Rap, though these kids were white and probably locals on the Cape. In other words, it seemed unusual to hear that kind of music around here, on the radio or coming from a car. That’s all. The Toyota dealership in Ellsworth, a town a little more than an hour’s drive from the cottage, put a new side mirror on the car the next day. My wife came with me–if we couldn’t find someone to stay with her, I never left her alone for more than an hour–and we had lunch in our favorite restaurant in Ellsworth. We went to this place four to five times a summer–just about every other week, when we did our big shop in Ellsworth. I always had a fishburger and a side of cole slaw and she usually had whatever quiche was on the menu, and we’d share a cup of New England clam chowder and a plate of onion rings or French fries and a slice of blueberry or raspberry pie. If our daughter was visiting us and we’d go there that week, we’d get two different slices of pie–probably blueberry and raspberry, and I forget what her favorite dish was to order. Maybe she had none. When she was much younger and was with us in Maine all summer: almost always an egg salad sandwich on packaged white bread, never with lettuce or tomato or even a smear of mayonnaise on the bread–I used to say, or said it at the most twice: “I don’t know how you can eat it plain like that, and untoasted,”–and a chocolate milkshake. But there’s a third time. Around six months ago. I was on my way to a dental appointment. I remember that because I remember the dental hygienist telling me, after I told her what had just happened to me on my way to the dentist’s of her own recent close call with a teenager driving in the wrong lane, and she had her three daughters with her, two of them in car seats. I was waiting for the red arrow in the traffic light to turn green. This kid made a left–the traffic was already going on his side–again from the road perpendicular to mine, but got out of his lane for some reason and was heading straight to me. I just stayed there. Couldn’t go to my right because there was a second line of cars there also waiting for the red arrow to turn green. The kid pulled back into his lane at the last moment. But really, just a moment away from crashing into me, like today’s near collision. But no scraping the side of my car, so maybe an inch or two further from it than in today’s incident. But I’m not doing it right. I know what I want to describe. But how do I make it clearer? I was on North Charles Street facing south. Four lanes faced south, the two on the right for cars to go straight ahead down North Charles when their traffic signals turned green, and the two on the left for cars to go left onto Towsontown Boulevard when the red arrows on their traffic lights went off and the green ones came on. Mine was the first car in line in the first turn lane–the one on the extreme left of the four lanes facing south–waiting to make a left onto Towsontown Boulevard, another major thoroughfare, like North Charles Street, near where I live. I was on my way to a dental appointment. The kid, alone, was driving very fast out of the end of Towsontown Boulevard to make a right at the intersection to get onto North Charles and go south on it. I mean north. But he got out of his lane–he may have thought my lane was an extension of his, or maybe, driving so fast and making a sharp turn, he lost control of his car–and came as close to an inch or two of hitting me. I’m still not getting it right. I don’t know why. It’s not as if I can’t picture the scene that day in my head. All those Lefts and Rights and Norths and Souths and Turns, maybe. Though I was always bad at giving traffic directions. Bad at describing almost anything, really. Blond hair, pug nose; that seemed to be all I could do and, after a while, felt I needed. My wife…One time we were heading back to Baltimore from Maine or New York, on the road that connects exit 7 of the New Jersey Turnpike to 295. She was driving, and we passed a gaggle of geese, or whatever a flock of them is called, sitting close to the road in front of an Iron Skillet as if they were sunbathing, and I described them to her and she said “You ought to do more of that kind of description in your writing. It was original and also quite beautiful.” I said “You know me. I’m terrible at it, so leave it to other writers to do, not that I like reading that stuff much or what I said about those birds was so good to begin with. I just got lucky with that one.” Anyway, this time with that kid on North Charles Street, I was the one who gave a long horn blast after his car nearly hit me. He heard it, but what’s the difference if he did? He might even have thought “Boy, close call. Was I ever lucky.” I thought about turning around, if I could find a safe place right away to do it, and following him, if I could catch up to him, and stopping behind his car at a red light or someplace he might have parked, and getting out of my car and going over to him, or lowering my window if I pulled up alongside his car, and if his window was up, motioning him to lower it, but saying either way that he was a menace to the road and, if he hadn’t noticed, he nearly crashed into me at the North Charles Street and Towsontown Boulevard intersection just before. But then thought what would be the use? The kid was going to change the way he drives because of something I’d say? And he looked like a tough stupid kid, two seconds I got to see his face, and he also might have a jack bar, or whatever it’s called, by his car seat or even a gun. Besides, I’m too old to go chasing somebody down and getting into an altercation or dispute that could turn into a fight, and I was already a couple of minutes late for my dental appointment. There was a fourth. 1969, so almost fifty years ago. Probably the worst and scariest near collision of them all. On the Connecticut Turnpike going north. It was winter, night. Ten o’clock, eleven, maybe as late as twelve. I was heading to the studio apartment in Stonington from a woman writer I’d met at an artists colony that summer and whom I was sleeping with, though she lived with her husband and two young sons in another house they owned in town. She said he didn’t mind. That he had his own flings going. I’d spent the day with my parents. Took them out to lunch. How do I remember that? I always took them out to lunch when I visited them. Pushed my father in his wheelchair to the same restaurant we always went to a few blocks from their apartment building. Later: dinner at home, giving my father his weekly medicine injection–my mother was afraid to do it so I drove in once a week to do it for her and of course to see them and do whatever chores I could for them–helping her shower my father and get him into bed. The injections were always on Wednesday. So it was a weekday night. The highway was almost empty. Just a few cars and trucks on it. So it must have been closer to twelve than ten. I was in the speed lane. I shouldn’t have been–it made no sense to and my old VW bus could barely do 65 and even that was a struggle for it–but I was somewhat of a reckless driver then, weaving in and out of lanes and passing cars if my bus was able to, sometimes driving up close behind them in the speed lane and flashing my lights till they moved over–when it seemed heading toward me in my lane was a car, or a vehicle of some sort–I could see it in the distance, maybe a mile away, maybe half a mile–its headlights gradually getting closer. I thought, for a few moments, the lights might be from a helicopter or low-flying plane. There was an airport nearby. Possibly some police aircraft with its searchlight beaming down to the road, looking for something. For a brief time I wasn’t believing what I was seeing. The driver must have been drunk. Or high on something. That wasn’t what I thought then but think now. Or just so stupid or unaware of his surroundings and what he was doing, that it’s hard to believe. Did he think he was in the slow lane of the turnpike going south? He must have entered the highway from an exit ramp and was completely turned around. But didn’t he see the concrete barrier he was driving beside and the cars on the other side of it going in the same direction as he? The barrier was only about three feet high. Maybe he thought…Whatever he thought, he was now just a few hundred feet from me and definitely in my lane and probably doing 60 or 65. I started honking the moment I realized what it was and kept honking. The horn of my bus wasn’t very loud and it’s possible he didn’t hear it. I’m assuming it was a guy. I never saw his face. And because it was winter, I’m sure his windows were closed, and that if he was high on something, his car radio or tape deck was playing loud raucous music, more reasons he might not have heard me. But what to do, I thought, what to do? Quick. Think of something. If you smash into him head-on, you’re dead. Center lane? He might, suddenly realizing the danger he was in–seeing my headlights coming at him; all the cars on this side of the turnpike going the opposite way he was–move at the same time as me into the center lane to avoid hitting me in the speed lane. And if I dart into the slow lane to avoid possibly crashing into him in one of the other two lanes–there were three lanes on the turnpike going north there; I don’t know why, but I remember and can picture that clearly–he might at the same time move into it to avoid hitting me in the center lane, and from the slow lane he can pull onto the shoulder and stop. I got into the center lane and was about to pull into the slow lane, when he passed me. I was honking like mad again and kept honking till I could no longer see his taillights in my side and rearview mirrors. I rolled down my window, expecting to hear a crash or thinking there might be one. There wasn’t. Or else I didn’t hear it because it was too far away. Last I saw in my car mirrors, he was still in the speed lane. I don’t know if he even slowed down. And it’s not called the speed lane. What is it called? I did hear some car honks from far off, before I lost him in the mirrors. Probably from cars passing him going the opposite way. I remember all that. Forty-seven years ago. It’s true. I do. It’s so odd. I can have a vivid dream and be unable to recall it right after I wake up from it except, maybe, things like I was in a trenchcoat, with the belt ends hanging loose. Or I was walking down some version of the Grand Staircase in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But that near crash on the Connecticut Turnpike…it’s as if it happened an hour ago. Not that I thought of it much since then, where I sort of drilled it into my memory. I don’t know what happened to the guy in that car. I didn’t get the Times in Stonington, so I didn’t–or any paper but the Sunday Boston Globe–read about a crash on the turnpike a little south of New Haven, if there had been one that day. I suppose I could have gone to the Stonington library to read the Times and local newspapers, but I didn’t think of that then. Or maybe I did but forgot about it by the time I got to the library, or remembered but forgot or got distracted by something else once I was there. Because I’m sure it would have made the papers. A short article in the Times. Two cars, or a truck or bus and a car involved in a head-on collision on the Connecticut Turnpike at high speeds, with probably two or more people killed. I’ve read articles like that in the Times. And why am I comparing it to a dream? I can light a flame under a tea kettle, pour myself a mug of tea and leave the kitchen with it and then almost immediately forget if I turned the burner off. Long-term memory and short-. I often forget things I’ve done a few minutes after I do them, sometimes twenty seconds after I do them, ten, five, but can remember things from fifty to sixty years back as if they happened half an hour ago. Well, lighting a stove top and being seconds away from getting into a possible head-on car crash aren’t the same thing, of course. Aren’t equal for why one and not the other gets stuck in your memory bank. Whatever I mean. For the moment I just can’t word it right in my mind. And same thing? Same things? And now that I’m thinking about it, on the subject, whatever I am–oh, I really do make it hard for myself–I had another close call in a car, this one with two people with me. The woman I was living with and her four- to five-year-old daughter. California. On a major highway going north, 1966 or -7. I remember we could see Mt. Shasta from where the accident almost took place. On our way to visit her folks for a couple of days in Eugene, Oregon. I hadn’t met them before. Never spoke to them much, either. Just her mother, on the phone, when I’d pick up, a few words, and then “I’ll get you Cynthia.” Her father never called, though did speak to Cynthia after her mother finished, because he didn’t want to speak to me if I answered the phone. So her father didn’t dial, I should have said, or if he did, handed the phone to his wife to ask for Cynthia if I answered the phone. Because we were living together but weren’t married, Cynthia said. And probably also because I was Jewish, she said. Though we’d been sleeping together for one or two years–I think it was two–her parents wouldn’t permit it in their house, and she was even warned by her father not to sneak into my bedroom, or me not to sneak into hers, once everyone had gone to bed. When a car shot out from where it was parked across the highway and made a sweeping, I think I can call it, U-turn to get in front of us in our lane. He was crazy. He could have waited till we passed. There were no other cars anywhere near either of us. I didn’t picture that well, either, but the hell with it. We were driving along peacefully in my old Plymouth station wagon. Or maybe it was a Mercury; that’s what it was. It was a long car, and old as it was it could get up to a good speed. Cynthia and her daughter were playing some kind of card game in back. The back seat was down. They were sitting on a twin-bed mattress. We’d put the mattress down in case her daughter wanted to nap during the long trip. When we heard the racing-car noise and saw this car, a regular car, not a racing car, make the U-turn and get where it ended up in front of us–I think it had to cross a wide grassy median strip–and miss hitting our car by a few feet. The driver must have done something to the muffler to make it so loud. Removed something in it–someone once explained it to me–that reduces the noise. And it was a man, ten or so years older than me, it seemed, and I was thirty or thirty-one at the time, depending if this happened in ‘66 or ‘67. So many years ago. Rosie, Cynthia’s daughter, must be fifty-three or -four. Cynthia could be a great-grandmother by now. I honked, or beeped, because beep’s the only sound that car’s horn made, several times. I felt that’ll be the extent of showing my displeasure. I’d moved into the right lane to get away from the guy. Cynthia told me to speed up till we were alongside his car so she could give him a piece of her mind and the finger. I said “Let’s leave it.” Something like that. “Even my honking him was wrong. You don’t want to mess with someone in a hotrod who’s obviously a nut.” She rolled down her window–I didn’t speed up, so he must have slowed down–and yelled out–it was summer but chilly at that high elevation, so all his windows and ours were closed–”You fucking moron. You could have killed us, you goddamn bastard,” and gave him the finger. He gave her the finger back and sped on with that racing-car noise. He must have been doing 80 or 90 when we last saw him disappear over a hill. Cynthia said “If I see that car again at a rest stop or somewhere–I’ll remember it and that guy’s puss–I’m going to give him a lot more than a piece of my mind and the finger.” “Please don’t,” I said. That we should feel lucky nothing worse happened to us and we’re still here and can talk about it. She called me a weakling. “You weakling.” Nobody else, man or woman, had ever called me that or even close to it. It hurt. She said do I know what her father would do if this happened to him and her mom and Rosie were in the car? If he saw that guy again? He’d punch him in his ugly face, and if it was just his car parked out somewhere, he’d rip the windshield wipers off and probably the driver’s side mirrors too. I said something back to her like “That’s your father. He was a logger and telephone pole lineman. I’m just a writer and schoolteacher.” She laughed her head off at that and said she’d never forget what I said. She did make sure to bring it up a few times after that. We didn’t see the guy again. And I made sure not to stop at a rest stop or in one of the small towns we passed in the next few hours. I remember one of the towns had a doll museum, a sign on the road said, and Rosie wanted to go in it and I said I’m sorry. We should just go on if we want to get to her grandparents before dark. There was even another one. Maybe more than just one. What is it, the fifth, the sixth? I was with my mother and sister and her young son. In my VW bus. I’d moved out of the Stonington apartment–got into a row with the woman writer; she’d complained I was smelling up the entire house by cooking with too much garlic and onions and the smell would stick to the walls–and rented an old farmhouse in Old Mystic for three months and invited my parents and sister and nephew to stay with me. I thought they should get out of the heat in New York. I felt guilty, that’s what it was, that I was out of it and they weren’t. I had a beard then, the only one I ever had, big and full, and the house next door was owned by a state trooper and his family. They wouldn’t talk to me or even wave. They would to my family. I’d wave to them when I was outside and saw them, and they’d look away. They thought I was a hippie, I was sure, what with my lumberjack beard and VW bus I’d painted red, yellow and blue. Till I shaved the beard off–did it because the weather got hot and muggy for a few days and the beard itched. And next day, or next time I saw them–I think they were hanging up laundry on a clothesline and I was putting in a garden a little late for summer–they came over to me and introduced themselves and the man said “You look much better without your disguise. We weren’t sure what had moved in next to us, though the women in your household both seem normal and nice. Now if you’d only repaint your car a neutral color or park it behind your house.” That was just about what he said. The gist of it. Same day, they sent their son over with a pie the woman had baked. Day later, or so, my mother baked some bread and sent my nephew to bring them a loaf. A challah. They had trouble pronouncing it. But we were driving to a lake to picnic and swim. Left my father home sitting under a shade tree, we called it, because we didn’t know what kind it was. In his wheelchair, where he’d read his dental journal and nap for a couple of hours. When a boy on a bike–a big burly kid–was being chased by several boys on bikes and weaving back and forth across the country road and looking behind him and heading for my bus. Bandoliers and a toy rifle and toy grenades strapped around his chest and a real army helmet on his head and an American flag on a pole fastened to the back of his bike. I braked and steered right. There was a metal barricade there, I forget what it’s called, no shoulder, so I couldn’t get on my right any further without hitting it and knew that wouldn’t help anything. I was thinking very quickly then. I don’t know if I could make decisions like that so fast today. The kid, while I was coming to a stop but still moving, slammed into the front of my car–my mother, sister and nephew were in the rear seat–flew over the top of it and the bike smashed the windshield on the passenger side. So it wasn’t really a close call. Well, it was for him, that he wasn’t that hurt except for a concussion and broken arm. And for me, that the bike didn’t go through the windshield on my side and where I ended up with just a single glass cut on my face, which I didn’t even know was there and my mother wiped away with a tissue. I looked in back. Nobody was hurt; everybody was screaming. I told them “Take it easy. It’s over,” and after a minute of just sitting there, got out of the car to see about the boy. I didn’t want to look but knew I had to. He’d landed on his back, eyes were closed, wasn’t moving. I thought he was dead. His helmet and rifle and other things–a canteen–were strewn around him. Just then–cars were stopping on both sides of the road–a man came down the driveway from his house. An old man, at least old to me at the time, sixty, seventy, and with a cane, shouting “I saw it all. I saw it all.” And pointed at me and said “This gentleman was doing forty miles an hour over the posted speed limit and because of that lost control of his car.” I said “I wasn’t,” and I wasn’t. There was a curve in the road and I’d slowed down to twenty-five or even lower and I never drove over the speed limit when my mother was with me. She was always telling me to slow down on these country roads, even when I was going under the posted speed limit. One of the cars that stopped had a doctor in it. He was already kneeling beside the boy, holding his hand, taking his pulse. The old man went back to his house to call for an ambulance and the police. Several men were directing traffic around where the boy was lying. The doctor said he didn’t think the boy was hurt that bad. “He has a lot of extra flesh on him. That might have softened his fall.” I went back to the car. Car? Bus? Neither seems right. So either, though I know I just used to refer to it as a bus then. My mother seemed anxious to leave. She said “How long do you think this is going to last?” I said we have to stay here till I’m cleared. She said “I told you you always drive too fast. Now look what it brought you.” I said something like “Mom, what are you talking about? I was going slow. But is that what you’re going to tell the police?” She said “Of course not. I’ll tell them you were driving so slow, it seemed dangerous. We want to get out of here, don’t we?” My sister stuck up for me. She said she was dozing when the accident happened but she’ll tell the police she was awake and I was driving very slow. The boys who had chased the kid on their bikes told the police it was their fault. “He’s retarded,” one of them said. “We were chasing him for fun and he got on the wrong side of the road and this man did his best to get out of the way.” The police took my name and current address and the rest of it and said I wouldn’t be charged. The ambulance was here by now and the boy was taken to a hospital. I drove back to the house, very very slowly because of the smashed windshield. Soon after that–I got their phone number from the police–I called the boy’s parents. I forget who I spoke to. I think the boy’s mother first and then she put her husband on when I began speaking about my broken windshield and their auto insurance company. First I asked how their son was. She said he’ll be all right and is coming home tomorrow. Then I said I hate asking them this, but since the police cleared me of the accident, I guess it’s okay to. Could they give me the name of their auto insurance agency so I can try to get reimbursed for a new windshield? They said it wasn’t wrong to ask that at all. The police report said I did everything I could to avoid hitting their son short of driving the car over a wall. And they feel responsible for some of it by allowing their son to ride his bike with all that junk on him. They asked if there were any other damages to my car from the accident, which their insurance policy will probably take care of too. I said there was, the front of it, but it’s an old heap and the other damage to it is just cosmetic, so I won’t bother about it. They said that’s very fair of me. It’ll help keep their insurance costs from going up too high. They’re sorry this had to happen and it must have been frightening for my family in my car. Their son gets picked on a lot because of his mental condition. They sometimes hold their breath every time he leaves the house alone. This is the worst that’s ever happened, fortunately. They just thank God it wasn’t worse than it was. He could have been killed. “He flew over my car,” I said. “That’s what it looked like. He was pedaling very fast to get away from the boys. I thought for sure he was a goner. I’m so glad he wasn’t more seriously hurt.” I called their auto insurance company, made a claim. An agent came out the same day–I lied that my father needed to be strapped into his wheelchair in the bus; a rented car wouldn’t do–and I got a hundred dollars or so to replace the windshield. To save on the cost of having the car dealership put it in, I did it myself. It turned out to be easier than I thought. After I cleaned all the glass away from the rubber gasket, it just popped in, and I came out fifty dollars ahead. Is that the last of my close calls? There were more. When I was a kid in New York City a couple of times. Rounding third base in a game of punchball on my street and trying to beat the ball home, and running into the side of a car coming down the block. I was knocked out for a minute, but otherwise unhurt. Oil on my legs, I remember. And once I was sitting on the handlebars of a bike ridden by a much older boy in the neighborhood–”Bottleneck,” we called him because he had an unusually long neck–when a cab jumped into the lane we were in on Columbus Avenue. I wasn’t hurt that much, but I could have been. Just a few scratches and a bruised knee. The older boy wasn’t hurt at all, but his bike was destroyed. But that should really do it. I sit up on the bed, get my cellphone off the nightstand and call my daughter. “Don’t be alarmed at what I’m about to tell you,” I say. “Everything turned out okay,” and I tell her what happened with the car today. She says “That’s awful. And it could have been so much worse. Teenage boys are the most reckless drivers. I’ve had a number of driving encounters with them myself. Oh, Daddy, you have to be careful.” “I am,” I say, “but it was in no way my fault. There was nothing I could do to prevent it.” “I know, but you still have to be careful.”

 

 


artwork by Stephen Dixon

 

 

Stephen Dixon (1936-2019) grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with six siblings. Before he became a college professor at the age of 43, he lived a life, working as a school bus driver, a bartender, a systems analyst, an artist’s model, a middle school teacher, a department store clerk, and a reporter in Washington, D.C., where he interviewed John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Nikita Khrushchev, and L.B.J., among others. He wrote his first short story in 1959 and attributed to his older brother, Jim, a fiction writer, the best advice he had ever gotten: “You have to finish them.” Which advice, having subsequently written over 500 short stories, he decidedly took. His first published short story, “The Chess House,” appeared in The Paris Review in 1963 (#29). He taught at Johns Hopkins University for nearly three decades. He was also a two-time National Book Award nominee—for his novels Frog and Interstate—and his work was selected for four O. Henry Prizes, two Best American selections, three Pushcart Prizes, one Best Stories of the South, two stories in the Norton Anthology of American Literature and possibly others he was too modest to list. He hammered out his fiction on a vintage typewriter. He passed away on November 6th, 2019, at the age of 83.

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