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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #1726424
Ronald falls asleep while driving home from work.
Driving home after a ten-hour shift, Ronald did not feel sleepy at all as he unlocked the car door in the brisk night air of the parking lot. He thought about Laura and the kids snuggled safe and warm in their beds at home and smiled to himself. Multiple breakdowns on the line tonight had demanded his full attention, and his mind was still working at warp speed as he slid into the bucket seat of the old Falcon. He worried about Al, a fellow employee who had lost part of his finger in the cutting machine a couple of hours ago. He reminded himself to call the hospital and check on him when he got home.

Life was good for him and Laura. He had worked for the Company for eight years now, earning good wages and basking in the knowledge of a secure job. He and Laura signed the papers for their new house only a month ago, just a two-bedroom bungalow in an ordinary neighborhood, but it was a mansion to them after living so long in a cramped apartment. The kids were wild over the big yard, and Ronald thought about the swing set still boxed up on the back porch. He would get a few hours sleep when he got home and start putting it together as soon as it got light.

Chilled by the forty-degree temperature, Ronald turned on the heater and within minutes a blast of warm air ran up his cold legs, tickled his fingers on the wheel and brushed lightly against his five o’clock shadow. Remembering a little bit of coffee left in his thermos, he slid his hand along the other seat until he felt the cold metal cap that served as a cup. Bracing the thermos between his legs, he unscrewed the top and, keeping one hand on the wheel, he set the cup on the dash and poured the lukewarm black liquid into it. He felt the slight warmth of the metal on his cold hand as he tilted the cup and drained it. The tension from the night’s work flowed from his warming muscles just as the coffee flowed from the cup. He relaxed and settled in for his ride home.

Lebanon Road connected the industrial area, where he worked, to the residential area where he and Laura now lived. It was curvy, hardly wide enough for two-way traffic with one shoulder dropping off into the River. Clay deposits under the roadbed continually kept it in disrepair and this problem held traffic to a minimum, especially early on a dark, foggy morning.

Ronald turned the knob on the radio and hummed along as old blue-eyes sang one of his favorites. Lost in thought and comfortable from the warm air blasting out of the heater, Ronald’s eyelids drooped and his breathing slowed, exhaustion from his demanding shift overwhelming him. Overtaxed muscles refused to keep his hands clutched around the steering wheel.

Without a human grip, the bump in the road whipped the steering wheel hard to the right, catching Ronald’s left wrist, drawing it into the spinning circle and cracking the bones. For only a second, Ronald’s eyes opened wide, fraught with the unbearable pain. The Falcon plunged down the bank, sliding into the muck of the Murderkill, stopping abruptly as its nose met the sticky claylike underbed. Ronald’s face, unrestrained, bashed into the steering wheel, creating a hairline separation in his right mandible and loosening the roots of several teeth. Blood oozed from his nose and mouth. Minutes ticked by on the dashboard clock as the radio light dimmed into nonexistence. Water seeped into the car from holes in the vehicle’s floorboard and wet Ronald’s unmoving feet inside their workboots.

His motionless body lay crumpled over the steering wheel of the 1963 Ford Falcon, his left arm twisting through the wheel at an incongruous angle. The foggy night air seemed foreboding, mixed with the scent of gasoline and cut by the beams of two waning headlights. Murky water from the creek insidiously crept around the sinking tires, licking the rubber with faint lapping noises. After the impact of the crash, the silence became deafening. The lonely stretch of road curved along the Murderkill River, appropriately named for this night. A muskrat slithered close by but scurried off in the opposite direction as the oily film brushed its paws.

Reacting to the frigid wetness, Ronald’s body shook convulsively bringing him to an elusive state of consciousness. Even before feeling his discomfort, he thought of Laura and his children. He had to get home to put together that swing set still in its box on the back porch.. He envisioned Jess and Jenny swinging high in the air, he and Laura pushing from behind. Laura had a doctor’s appointment next week. She suspected she was pregnant. Life was not something he would give up easily. Aware of his pain and his desolate situation, messages surrepticiously crept along his nerve endings. His awakening brain calculated the zero possibility of a passerby finding him in the dark at the bottom of the bank. To have any chance of seeing his loved ones again, somehow he must get back up to the roadway.

The pain in his left arm as he tried to move it from the steering wheel almost made him black out again, but he thought about Laura and the new life that might be growing inside her. He struggled to slip his right arm out of his jacket. Dragging the sleeve over his right shoulder and across his chest, his trembling fingers captured the button on the left sleeve into the buttonhole on the right sleeve’s cuff, forming a makeshift sling of support for his useless left arm. He forced himself to sit still and take deep breaths, thinking of nothing but his goal of getting home to Laura.

Feeling his wet, cold feet, he inched them back toward him and realized nothing else was hurt. He twisted just enough in the seat to open the door with his right hand and lifted his left leg over and out, his boot sinking into water and mud. In excruciating pain from his broken arm, salty tears burned his torn lips as they tracked down his broken face. Concentrating on how he would put together the swing set, he mentally lifted the metal bars from the cardboard box, laying them out in their swing set design, focusing on which screw went where. He pushed the tortuous pain wracking his arm and shoulder behind the thought of home.

Fully turned to the outside in the bucket seat, he slid his right foot beside its mate into the water. Holding onto the car door, he stood on legs not yet supportable and fell forward into the watery mud and clay at the edge of the Murderkill. He lay there motionless for several minutes until the biting cold jerked him conscious again. Reaching out with his right hand, he grabbed for shrub, weed, anything to pull himself upward to the edge of the roadway. Sliding his knees up one at a time and digging in with his toes, he inched higher. Without a true sense of time, he could not tell how long his journey was taking, but he knew he was making progress because his feet were no longer in water. The next time he searched for something to grip, he felt the little cutting pebbles of the asphalt. He lay still and waited.

He heard the noisy muffler and smelled the oil burner long before he saw the bouncing headlights. Summoning all his remaining strength, he rolled onto his back and waved his good right arm as high as he could reach, casting a ghostly apparition into the beam of one of the oncoming lights. The vehicle stopped just inches before hitting him, piercing the night with the metallic squeal of worn brakes. Ronald listened to the noisy screech of the opening door and the sound of running footsteps on the asphalt The brim of a Philly's baseball cap swam before his eyes as the driver leaned over him. Only then did Ronald allow the peaceful sleep of oblivion to swallow him, satisfied he would see Laura and the children soon.
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