A woman tapped the cartoon cherries and blue diamonds on the cellphone screen as she steered through town with her knee. The game went gling gling gling and then there was a bursting sound, meaning she’d won.
She looked up as a man in a camel-colored jacket wandered into the street on a diagonal. The woman slammed into him with the car and then stomped the brakes.
He’d flown into a pile of cardboard boxes and discarded fake floral arrangements outside the florist shop and was now just crumpled there, wheezing and bleeding.
She forgot to put the car in park. As she jumped out to run to the man, the car with its dented steel and blown out glass kept rolling down the hill towards the foggy sea. But no one saw any of this. And soon she was crouching at his side.
“I messed up!”
He spun his lacerated face and his bright blue eyes looked so familiar. But the mouth was full of blood and the mouth of a stranger.
She wasn’t crying, but he panted, “Don’t cry.”
“I’m so so sorry,” she said.
He wiped his mouth with his coat and said, “I’m sorry, too. My phone went flying. Can you get it?” He motioned up the sidewalk and the woman stood like there’d been a gunshot at the beginning of a race. The final wishes of a dying man, to tweet about his simple fleeting life or to post a final goodbye selfie. Maybe retweet something religious to ensure entry into questionable Heaven.
His phone had a cracked screen and she apologized again when she handed it to him, but all he said was, “I’m the dumbass who should have been looking at the —” He tapped his phone and finished a text he’d been trying to send to his kid.
“I’ll call an ambulance …” she said.
“Nah.” He hacked red. “Don’t call an ambulance. I don’t have health insurance and that’s too much money.”
“I get it, I don’t have health insurance, either.”
“Help me up. This is embarrassing.”
She held his hand. It was already blue.
He kept bleeding and bleeding. Most of it was from somewhere in the middle. She had the bright idea to stuff fake flowers where the blood was coming from. An entire bouquet of plastic roses and artificial ivy, pushed into his wound. She wrapped him in bubble wrap around the torso. There was twine in a trash can nearby. She tied him up tight like a package. He said, “I’m fine now. I really am. It was nice to meet you. Which way is the cemetery? I’ll just go die now.”
“It’s up there,” she said, squinting past the sun, motioning upward through the steep town.
He laughed. “I’ve never walked uphill in my life. Why start now?” He shook her hand. Did a little bow.
“No. No. I’ll fucking drive you … fuck fuck fuck fuck.”
They got to their feet, and she looked back but the car was gone. She ran down the hill, now in a panic. Cars were parked on either side of the street and her car had plummeted down the hill like a pinball, pounding into Chryslers and Toyotas, Hondas and even a Maserati flying an Italian flag. Her car had been stopped somehow by a parking meter, that was now bent back, way back, twisted like a noodle.
The sun came out from behind a cloud. The day was revealed, all shadows gone poof. And here were these ordinary little people stuck in permanent lightning flash. Sweat rolled down her face. The dying man inched down the street, perfectly cool. He was weak and shaking, but perfectly cool. The hem of his coat was now dripping red. She called for him. “Wait there, you stubborn sonofabitch! I’ll come to you! It’ll be alright.”
She was able to get her car in reverse. But the parking meter ripped out of the cement and remained imbedded in the nose of the car as she drove up the hill. For a little while there were sparks but the sparks stopped after the asphalt ground down the bottom of the parking meter. Then everything was fine, was normal.
They felt guilty about the damages. So they scribbled quick notes, and left the notes stuck to all the cars, except the black sedan that was his. He wrote notes on paper from a notebook he carried in his breast pocket. She jotted her apologies on lavender post-it notes that were kept above her sun visor. The man left his contact information on some of the notes. The woman left her contact information on the rest of the notes. They stuck the notes under windshield wipers, to the passenger side windows, on gas caps. They drove away.
“Actually, besides the funeral home. I have a few errands I was trying to run,” he said. “Can you help me?”
“Anything you need.”
“I don’t wanna mess up your day though.”
He put his head back on the headrest and stopped breathing. She shook him as she drove and said, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”
The man shuddered and his arm shot out. He turned the radio on. He shouted over the noise of the radio, “What are your plans for the afternoon?”
She turned the radio down.
“On my way to a job interview,” she said. “I’m almost late.” She pointed at the clock. “But that doesn’t matter. We should be getting you to a doctor.”
“I don’t do doctors. Take me to the bank,” he said. “I want to deposit my paycheck. Then, I don’t care, we can go to your interview. If you need a reference …”
“They might call two weeks from now though. You won’t be around in two weeks.”
He laughed, “You just answer my phone and speak on your own behalf. Pretend you’re me.” He handed her his phone.
“That’s nice of you, how much was the phone, I want to reimburse you. Or your estate or whatever. Your kids …”
“It came with the phone plan. De nada. It’s nothing. You’re sweet, you should take my kid to tee ball. Can you?”
“Of course!” she said. “I love tee ball. I take full responsibility. They’ll call me Mrs. Tee Ball, okay?”
“Make my kid wear sunscreen.”
“I hit somebody with my car last year,” he said. “I, I didn’t even stop. Just kept going. Vrooom. You. You’re a better person.”
The man refused to go through the drive thru so the woman helped him into the bank. He couldn’t walk. His organs were shutting down and his legs didn’t work now. She held onto him at the counter, supporting him as he filled out the deposit slip and passed it to the clerk behind the counter in the flowery dress shirt, who insisted on giving them three bottles of mineral water and a ridiculous amount of lollipops.
Next they went to the post office and sent off a couple Easter cards. The envelopes had started out pink and only one of them had gotten slick with blood. That envelope was now shit brown, and the postal clerk refused to take any money for the stamp. This one is on the house, sir.
The man also refused to sit in the car when the woman went in to her job interview. She popped the trunk and found two beach towels in the back and wrapped them around him to cover up the mess that his body was making through the bubble wrap and twine and artificial flowers. He was starting to smell. It was his idea to be doused with air freshener from a forgotten bottle next to the spare tire.
Even though she was late and even though she had a dying man with her, the job interview went pretty good. It looked like she’d get the position. The only part of the interview she had thought was a touch too personal, was when her future boss(?) had pried into whether or not she had children. She’d tried to skate around the fact that she medically could not have children of her own, and the man frowned, as if—one demerit. But when she said she did not smoke cigarettes, and did not feel the need to see much of the world, and therefore that meant less vacation time, he’d nodded happily, like, alright—two bonus gold stars next to your name, well done, gling gling gling.
On the paperwork for references, she wrote the dying man’s name and cellphone number. It felt good to have a friend in the world, someone to count on.
When she went back into the lobby he was dead.
The receptionist hadn’t noticed. One of the other job applicants walked in, late for his interview anyway, and made a whole scene about it, like he’d get brownie points for noticing or something. But the woman dragged the dead man out to her car. She softly wept as she drove farther down the hill. Directionless on a sunny afternoon.
She noticed some bloody books had fallen out of his coat. She reached down at his feet and grabbed them. Library books. She’d return them for him. A book about black holes. A novel about nazi gold in a sunken submarine, treasure hunters scuba diving down to steal it, but you know, there was also this mutated nuclear warhead octopus. How preposterous. She threw the books out the window into traffic.
The dead man’s cellphone rang on the console.
She picked it up.
“Hello, I’m calling because you are qualified for a free vacation …”
The woman screamed. The scream turned into a shriek of sorrow. The telemarketer said, “Everything okay?”
“Oh my lord—guy you’re calling is kaput. I’m looking at him right now. He’s no longer of this mortal coil and he’s in my car.”
The telemarketer stuttered, “In in in your ca-car? Who is this?”
“I squashed him with my car.”
“Lady, just stop it.”
A silver bus turned in front of her on the boulevard that went down towards the sea.
“I hit him with my car …”
“You said that, yeah. Okay, you’re on the no call list now. Point made.”
“But I—” She was out of words. Out of words and staring at the train bisecting the highway on the elevated bridge. The telemarketer blabbed on about the free vacation.
A park flashed by as she drove. Kids playing soccer in the park. She stopped at a red light.
A cop car pulled next to her. He looked in the car. The car was wrecked. There was a parking meter stuck to the hood. There was a dead body in her passenger seat. She was on the phone.
The cop rolled down his window and leaned over. He was hot about it. He looked like a bull in a Bug’s Bunny cartoon. Red faced and steam coming out of his nostrils.
She hung up the phone.
The cop changed into a smiling boy. His eyes became kind. He gave her a big thumbs up.
The cop looked twice each way and then rolled through the red light.
Traffic swarmed around her, she remained motionless. She ran her hands through the dead man’s hair, clearing it away from his forehead.
She did a k-turn and headed back up the hill, away from the sea, towards the cemetery.
Her car was shaking and she wasn’t sure she would make it. But she had Triple A and if Triple A had to tow her to the cemetery then they would just have to. She didn’t know how much it cost to bury a person. She would finance it. She would charge a deposit to her credit card. She’d get a second job if she did indeed get the first job. Tax returns were coming.
In the parking lot of the cemetery, his phone buzzed again. A text from the dead man’s kid, who was finished with school and needed a lift.
The woman texted the dead man’s kid, she texted, I love you, be there soon. Give me some time. Stay in the shade.