I heard a story once that explains how I know. There was this missionary visiting some African tribe who observed a native mother. Children out there were carried around by their moms all the time. Every so often, with no verbal clues, this tribeswoman holds her diaperless little boy out at arm’s length over a bush. The little wiener relieves himself, just like that.
After a day of following them around, the missionary can’t keep her mouth shut. She asks, “How do you know when your baby has to pee?” The native mom looks at her, surprised for a second, and then bursts out laughing; perfect teeth flashing, her eyes squeezed shut. She doubles over and can’t breathe; finally wiping her eyes and says, “How do you know when you have to pee?”
That’s kind of how it is here. I just know. I’m dead, and that’s that.
Now, how I got here? That’s a horse of different color.
I drive, or, drove a cab in Manhattan. I was rushing this fare to Idlewild– that’s Kennedy International to all you kids – up the B-Q-E when traffic, for no apparent reason, comes to a complete standstill. This happens with nauseating regularity on most of the chuck-hole-riddled, major arteries in the Rotten Apple. We’re sitting there with our thumbs up our butts.
Horns are blaring, temperature gauges begin creeping up. After a moment I spot the cause of our detainment – about a hundred feet up on the opposite side of the guard rail there’s a three-car pile-up.
No one seemed to be hurt, yet. The drivers of all three cars are standing in the middle of the West bound lane screaming at each other. Face to face. One guy looked like he’s a boil about ready to pop. His face was so constricted by his once-white collar that the veins and arteries are backing up blood into his sweaty, sausage-like face. The smaller guy had on an absurd checkered jacket. The sleeves were way too short, and his bare forearms were sticking out of the cuffs, waving in the air like antennae, stretched out by his ears. There was a cigarette butt pinched up in the crook between the index and middle fingers of his right hand.
The third driver was a short, old, white-haired woman. She was screaming so loud I could hear her shrill obscenities even with my windows closed, above the horns. A gray poodle was squished up under her right arm and she was poking the black-leather gloved index finger of her left hand in the boil-man’s face. She was so out of control spittle hung from her bony chin; I heard something about how they were all cocksucker sons of whores. The dog barked nonstop. Every so often she gave it a squeeze like some clogged up, mangy bagpipe and yelled “shut-the-fuck-up, Trixie.” This caused the poodle to gag, and wheeze for a beat before it started up again.
Usually I wait it out and watch the show–it’s not my dime, ya know? But that day my fare was itchy, and he had cash. He shoved a crisp fin under the Plexiglas wall separating us and told me to go around. I grabbed the bill, and saw my chance – I knew I could get around the rubberneckers; we were only a few cars back. I gassed it into the shoulder and plowed through some garbage, my right wheels ran up on the cement curb. I only just kissed the iron fence, and the concrete wall off the shoulder, went up four or five cars, and back onto clear road. I wouldn’t even have to make out a report on that little scratch.
It’s a strange thing to see an eighteen-wheeler fly. This one crashed through the guard rail of the overpass ahead of us. It seemed to fall out of the sky. All the sound and heat and dirt around me just seemed to suck away somewhere. Silence. All I could see was the graceful arc in midair of the cab and trailer, all of its wheels still turning. I could read the side of the trailer: GOD – Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, lettered in fire-engine red. I opened my mouth to speak to my fare. I was going to say, “Hey, would you look at that.” Then everything slid into slow motion. The mouths of the three drivers gaped open, their necks twisted, heads following the spectacle of a flying semi. Even the yapping dog watched.
I thought, hey, this is it. I’m going to die.
The plummeting big rig veered toward us and fell right into my lap. My windshield imploded and the grillwork of the Peterbilt rushed in to greet me. When that truck hit the hood of my cab the silence broke. Time resumed normal speed. Glass sprayed like a garden hose. My fare screamed like he was being burned alive. Maybe he was.
All I could do was watch. I felt nothing. I was awake with my eyes open; like watching a movie. The carnage just unfolded around me with each event separate and clear, although occurring simultaneously. I saw colors and lights. I smelled diesel fuel and hot macadam. I even smelled the vinyl of my cab seats. I heard the metal tear like a tortured tin shack being blown apart around my head. The radio played American Pie.
The last thing I saw was this little girl, standing on the patio of a building adjacent to the roadway eating an ice-cream cone. It looked too big for her. She was wearing a white summer jumper with big blue and green flowers on it. Her hair was braided in two blond pigtails. I was concerned the chocolate would stain her dress.
Ron Heacock lives with his wife, Karen Walasek, and her loyal service dog, Finn. They split their time between the farm, HillHouse Writer’s Retreat, in the hills of southern Tennessee and their home in the city of Portland, Oregon. Ron spent many years as a performing songwriter and has shared the stage with such notable artists as Alan Ginsberg and Pete Seeger. His work has been published in Connotation, Paper Tape, The LIMN Literary & Arts Journal, Elohi Gadugi Journal, and The Pitkin Review. He is currently pursuing his MFA in creative writing at the Goddard College Port Townsend Campus.
Lead image: “Big Ice Cream” (via Flickr user Alan Levine)