I mentioned that I’ve joined a writers’ group. As a group, we were set a competitive challenge a few weeks back by Cat Connor: write a short story (under 3,000 words) with a mistake as the main topic, and a requirement to include the following items: a car, an acorn, hollandaise sauce, and a dog. Up against some great competition, I’m pleased to report that I won. Woo!
Anyway, here’s the story – it’s in the form of a monologue:
Robert De Niro
They say that when you’ve lost someone, you never get over it. But why would you ever want to? When I said that to Mike, he just shrugged his shoulders and did the Robert DeNiro tight lipped smile that always makes me laugh. In this prison it’s the only thing that does. I didn’t twig at first, but Mike never disagrees with anything I say. And never agrees either. The closest I ever get is Robert DeNiro and that open handed shrug. He’s done that for as long as I’ve known him. Which has been since my life ended, I guess.
I was a different person before all this. I was never good looking or anything – I used to play rugby, which is not the ideal sport to choose if you’re already struggling in the looks department. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t successful with women. Not when it mattered. If we only ever get one chance in life at love, I’m safe in the knowledge that I grasped that chance with both hands and never let go. Never. Lisa came into my life at the supermarket, of all places. She worked the tills, and I never even noticed her until I’d reached the front of the eternity queue. That’s what I call just about every queue I join. From the outside it looks the shortest and fastest, but once you’re in it, it becomes the longest and slowest. I wasn’t one to queue hop either, as the eternity factor always seemed to follow me. Anyway, I’m rambling. I reached the front and was about to give her the sarcastic sneer I sometimes reserved for cashiers (the one that says, ‘You went slow on purpose, didn’t you?’) when she smiled at me and apologised for the delay. I know you hear stories about love at first sight, but all I could do was stand there and look as if I’d just taken a swift hit in the balls from a rugby ball. I think she knew I was smitten, but that just made her look coy, which was the equivalent of a second ball to the nuts. I fumbled with my shopping, paid and practically ran from the store. I know, me. Hard to imagine now, but I was six-four and seventeen stone then. I went back the next day. And the next. By the time I found the courage to ask her out, my cupboards and fridge were fit to burst. I reckon it took me a year to use all the washing-up liquid I’d bought that week. Anyway, she said yes, and that, ladies and gentlemen, was that.
But it wasn’t. To quote an overused cliché, life’s a roller-coaster. And that is one saying I agree with. Mike too, I guess. I was on the up when I met Lisa, and stayed on the up for another couple of years or so. Work was good – I’m a mechanic by trade – and our relationship grew to be very strong. We were like love-struck teenagers, despite being in our mid-thirties. And we never argued. That was the thing. I know lots of people claim to be happy, and they probably are, but I bet they argue. At least occasionally. We never did. Not even once that I can remember. I mean we disagreed sometimes, but that was all. It never developed into anything more than disagreement. I guess it was ‘cause I set her so high on a pedestal that I always changed my mind if we disagreed. Sometimes that’s not always for the best, you know. But as I said, life’s a roller-coaster, and when you can hear that cart slowly clanking upwards, there’s only one thing you need to remember, and that’s when you get to the top, that’s not the end of the ride. Only the good bit. I’m sure you think that sounds corny, but that’s how it is. And I knew that all along. I could sense the storm approaching. And the name of that storm was Clint Kidman.
I know. What a name. I can only assume his father was a big Clint Eastwood fan, and didn’t back down in disagreements with his wife like I did. But did he never say the name out loud to hear what it sounded like? I guess not, but that’s a name that will never make me laugh. The hate has gone now, gone with my life, I guess. But I’ll never laugh. He was one of those kids that go off the rails for no reason. No broken home involved. Just parents who couldn’t understand what had happened to their precious son. I found out plenty about him afterwards. More than I needed to know, and I guess more than I wanted to know. All it boiled down to was choices, and Clint had been making the wrong ones all his life. Some people are like that, Mike says, and I know it’s true, but it doesn’t help me understand.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – I’ve hardly mentioned Lisa. She was one of God’s special people. I’m not a believer, but that didn’t stop me smiling and feeling warm inside whenever I heard her described that way. She cared so much for everything and everybody, and she was never afraid to show it. The goodness just seemed to shine out of her, and touch everyone close by. Everyone except Clint. Worked at the supermarket too, he did. Shelf stacking a couple of evenings a week. He’d shown up for work that day stinking of booze. He’d skipped college and been at the pub all day. Tom, the manager, said that Lisa had walked past him in an aisle when he’d made a grab for her. Nothing serious, but she had jumped back and knocked a couple of jars of Hollandaise Sauce off a shelf. I’m still not sure why he thought that detail was important enough to tell me. Anyway, she’d gone straight to Tom and told him what’d happened, and to make sure he knew that Clint stank of booze. Lisa left for home and Tom had gone to see the state of Clint for himself. Well, Tom knew Lisa wasn’t one to exaggerate. He took one look and told Clint to go home. I guess Clint thought he was being sacked and started shouting and hollering at Tom. That rant did it for him – the security guard came and chucked him out. Nobody knew he had driven to the store.
I got the call an hour after it had happened. Don’t know to this day why the police took so long to track me down. I was home, and Lisa had her purse with all her cards in it. Even her cell phone. Hit and run, they said. She’d been walking the three-quarters of a mile home when a car hit her. It never stopped. They traced it to Clint, but could never prove he’d been driving it. It’d been dumped and burned out, and no-one had seen him drive to or from the store. He claimed he’d left it at the first pub he’d gone to that lunchtime, and there were no witnesses to prove otherwise. I don’t understand why they couldn’t do more. All it took was one look into his eyes and I knew he’d done it. I said to Mike that your eyes always give you away. I thought he was going to do the Robert DeNiro thing, but he just smiled. One thing I’ll never know is whether he did it on purpose, or whether it just an accident? It makes little difference. Driving when you’re drunk stops anything being accidental.
My memory of that time is fragmented now. I remember the hospital, but only as a series of images. Even identifying Lisa’s body. I can’t remember entering or leaving the morgue, but I’ll never forget looking at her, lying there. Her face was as perfect as it had ever been, and she looked so peaceful. A sleeping angel. She was wearing the silver acorn necklace I’d given her for her birthday only a few weeks previously. And I remember that I felt as cold inside as she must have been. I guess the police took me home, but I can’t be sure.
They arrested Clint and held him for as long as they could, but he was never charged. Can you believe he even tried to go back to work at the supermarket? I never went back to work. How could I? That was the end of my life. And I knew it had to be the end of his. After I’d seen him and knew he’d done it, I decided. How could I let him live his life when he’d denied Lisa hers? And that mistake is how I came to be here now.
I’m not a violent person, not even before. I know that doesn’t quite fit with the rugby playing image, but it’s true. I couldn’t understand the unfairness of it all, but I knew he must pay for what he’d done. And before I’d even started to figure out what to do, the opportunity presented itself. After Lisa’s death I’d found myself walking the streets more and more, and one night I ended up outside his house. I don’t think I’d intentionally gone that way, but with all the walking I was doing, it was bound to happen. I nearly choked when I saw the car. He’d bought an identical model to the one he killed Lisa with – even down to the colour, blood red. Well, before I knew it I was under it, working one of brake line connectors back and forth. I didn’t want to split it, but I knew if I could weaken it enough, it would come apart. Most likely when he needed his brakes the most. Now I know what you’re thinking, what I was doing was crazy – I was as likely to kill someone else as I was Clint. And after Lisa, I should’ve known better. But believe me when I say it didn’t even occur to me.
I could hardly sleep for the rest of the night, but I was bitterly disappointed when I found the car hadn’t moved the following day. Nor the next. It all happened on a Saturday. I had walked past the car twice in the morning, before heading to town. I didn’t need anything (I wasn’t even eating at that time), but I liked to see the pigeons in the town square. I had almost made it when I heard a high revving engine coming from behind. I turned to see Clint’s red car cresting a small hill. He was doing at least eighty kilometres per hour. And then everything happened in slow motion. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lisa! I turned and watched her step onto the road, only feet from me. She was walking a small dog and I just couldn’t understand how she could be alive. As she started to cross I turned to the car. Clint hit the brakes. It screeched and snaked momentarily, but then carried on, as if he’d taken his foot off the pedal. I turned back to Lisa, who was now motionless, and staring at the car. He was going to kill her again, and it was my fault this time.
I heard my own scream against a backdrop of silence, and then I executed the greatest rugby tackle I’d ever done. I somehow managed to push Lisa and that small dog to safety. And Clint hit me. I never felt a thing. My memory was of pure joy – I’d saved her.
Of course, it wasn’t Lisa. Turned out the woman didn’t even look like Lisa. No-one ever found out what I’d done, apart from the saving bit. I was hailed as a hero. The vehicle examiner put the brake line damage down to corrosion, but due to the speed he was travelling at, Clint still got sent down for dangerous driving. Only for a year, though.
I never told anyone what I’d done. Except Mike of course. He’s one of the psychologists at the rehab centre. He sees lots of quadriplegics – all prisoners in their own bodies – and had been speaking about the apparent unfairness of life, when I confessed. He listened intently to the story of my mistake. And did his Robert DeNiro smile.