Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
1317 words
SHJ Issue 2
Fall 2010

The Accident

Stephanie Mood

It was 6:00 a.m. and the phone hung limp like a dead bull in her lap, but all Elaine felt was the words she’d just heard: “Angelo’s killed. Car accident. Others critical.” Angelo! Not three hours ago they’d danced with their shoes off, red-faced from exertion and alcohol, Angelo gyrating in tune with Elaine’s hips. All night had passed in a Tijuana fog of hopping from club to club, drawn in tiredly by the boozy music clanging louder than their own throbbing heads.

That slip-slidey feeling of twisting the body languidly; then the band oiling up for a fast one and off you were dizzy from beer reeling around each other in sweet rhythm!

Elaine let go of the phone in a grimace and reached for a cigarette. Angelo’s dark-eyed face drifted through the smoke like a moon. She sighed. “What a drag,” she said softly.

A timid knock on the door. “Mom?”

“Come on in, Charles,” Elaine said to her son, now twelve. A light-haired mousey-lashed child peered in the doorway. Elaine sucked deeply on her cigarette. “Hey, could you get me a water?” she said.

“Okay.” Hop, hop like a rabbit he moved into the kitchen. A hard weight sank in her throat; she coughed, but it didn’t budge. His shadow fell in the light.

“Thanks, pal,” she held out her hand. Charles’ shoulders shuffled. “The guys were in an accident. Angelo’s dead. The others we don’t know. Is Carolyn awake?” Charles’ neck leaned forward as he stared at her little Dutch-boy face.

“Really? How’d it happen?”


“How’d it happen?”

“I don’t know. I think they ran into a parked car. I wonder how they did that?” Elaine gulped some water. “Ugh,” she said. “God, I can’t drink another thing!” She drifted off, then straightened up suddenly. “Here,” she handed him the glass. “Would you run me a bath, Charles?” He scurried off.

Aching feet paddled across the floor. It was barely light coming in off the Pacific where the front windows of her apartment face. Her sister Carolyn was stirring on the living room couch. “Who was on the phone?”

“A friend of Angelo’s. He’s dead. They were in a car accident. The others are in the hospital. Can you believe that?”

“My god,” Carolyn said without opening her eyes. “I don’t wonder, the way they were all drinking, it was bound to happen,” and she settled back into the couch.

“Well, I don’t know. They seemed okay to me. I wouldn’t have left them there and driven back in my car if I thought they were that bad.”

“I did the driving,” Carolyn reminded her sister. “You were pretty drunk yourself,” accusing her.

The water shut off in the bathroom and Charles came out wiping his hands. “Mom, is Angelo really dead?”

“Yeah, that’s what they said.”

“Wow,” he sank into the chair. “Are Fred and Anita dead, too?”

No, they weren’t dead, not yet, but Fred wouldn’t make it past a week on a machine and Anita’s neck was broken in two places. Elaine sat on the rocking chair and together she and Charles stared at the fish tank. Last night no one had really wanted to go to Tijuana. It was raining, they were already partying, Angelo’s pocket full of paycheck money, Christmas presents to play with, Fred’s new stereo bought on time in Angelo’s name. (Send the bill care of the void.)

“You’re not going to ruin all my fun,” Elaine had shouted, arms and voice raised challenging them out, riding herd on them like a cowpoke out of Fred’s and Anita’s next-door apartment. Okay, okay, why not a night in Tijuana to show Carolyn how liberated people live, lie around the place all day passing the time drinking and smoking, someone taking charge of dinner, everybody fall into a stupor early in the day and into bed at a late hour. Carolyn, you see, is from the insane city of New York where all that high power has practically killed her colon, and she should move to laid-back San Diego, one of golden California’s promises. Truth is a whisper away here, so the story goes, and these people are convinced that if you can drink and talk long enough, the magic moment will swim in on a wave and happiness arrive at your door. So to Tijuana, Fred packing a knife, Angelo stashing his money at Fred’s, the lights turned out except for the Christmas trees, everybody high on adventure and romance.

Elaine looked earnestly at the floor and jerked swiftly into the bathroom. She hung over the sink. She breathed in the smell of menthol, Angelo’s smell or that of cigarettes smoking lazily toward the bare bulbs on the ceiling of El Bronco’s. The odor moved up from between her breasts and filled her head. Damn! she thought. Ah, the bath, good. It felt warm and soothing on her skin. Eyes closed. Who else can we get for the New Year’s Eve party, because this accident has torn the heart of the beer drinkers out of it.

“Charles, would you bring me my cigarettes?” Lovely to have him around. I never regretted having him, with my father the only two men I ever really loved. Two husbands too many, but money money from each. Just so they send the checks. I keep up a good reputation around here. Elaine tells everyone in the apartment complex that she hasn’t been fucked for five months since coming to California. Ha, not in my bed, she thinks gleefully, uses Angelo as a convenient flirt while he tries in vain to go further than the lead wall she places in front of her flesh. Elaine likes to hang onto men at arm’s length, a blocker inviting attack, yet thrusting off at contact.

She toweled off and displayed herself in front of the mirror. Still a little fat she frowned, bleached blond hair, short, cut off straight across the forehead, snipped off above the shoulders, squaring her face pixie-like, a real tough kid though, sexy as hell. Empty chatter is her existence and the habit fits in well with her studying the law with its verbalosity no one can understand. Sucking on cigarette, she fingered herself to silent climax.

“Charles, get my jeans and blouse, will you?” Her hips felt liquid. We danced real good, how can he be dead so soon? A black shiver and Charles handed in her clothes, expertly catching her white body in the mirror with his eyes.

“Mom, I’m going out,” he said, off to tell who he could about the accident. Elaine looked at her face. I am good, I am doing the best I can, this was not my fault. She remembered New York and the years of trying to be free of her husbands, her family, her past, her life. The skepticism about her decision to break away, check book in hand, for California. It has worked and is working, she repeats. She grinned at her cigarettes and took a deep breath. This has been a narrow escape, though. Angelo is dead and Fred and Anita maybe dying, and many people will be in and out today. Tears blurred unbidden and Carolyn said, “Can I get you some coffee?”

“Yeah, thanks,” in Elaine’s throaty but raspy voice. She said yeah in three separate voice tones at once. It was a high-pitched voice, almost hysterical, if you just listened and didn’t look. Stone face, really. I need a drink, she thought, but she took the coffee Carolyn handed her.

“I’ve had better vacations,” Carolyn said without interest.

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry this happened.” Elaine flipped on the television. “We were having such a good time. Crimeny, I can’t believe he’s dead. We were just dancing three hours ago. It really makes you stop and think.”

“Yeah,” said Carolyn and picked up a magazine.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury