Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Trucker





Harry had been driving nearly the same diagonal route for more than fifteen years between Minneapolis, Minnesota and Jacksonville, Florida.  Potatoes to the south, citrus to the north, Christmas trees from the northern part of his home state sometimes delivered as far south as Ft. Lauderdale.  Peaches and Vidalia onions from Georgia up to Illinois and Michigan, Lays potato chips back south.  Occasionally he veered west and hit St. Louis on the way south to Texas, other times through Memphis or Nashville and down into Mississippi and Alabama.  He liked these routes, not as crowded as the east coast, and not as mountainous as the west.  He had done a lot of hauling in the west during his younger days, often all the way down to Mexico.  Back then he had worked for others and hadn’t had as much choice in the hauls he made.  Now that he owned his own rig free and clear, he could decide which loads he wanted to carry.   There was more satisfaction in his driving now that he was driving for himself.
One night Harry was leaving Memphis, winding through roads lined with warehouses where the big trucks all unloaded and where smaller trucks picked up the goods and distributed them to individual stores.  After the warehouse district, there was a stretch of rough neighborhoods to be driven through before he reached the interstate.  The neighborhoods were a mix of run down houses with bars on the windows and a seedy tavern on nearly every corner.  He was always wary through this area where many truck drivers had been hijacked, beaten, and robbed.  He wasn’t one to take chances and kept his cab locked and didn’t slow down for hitchhikers who liked to catch rides with the steady flow of trucks coming through.  Truck drivers were always a hitchhikers’ best bet for a ride.  It was starting to rain that particular night as he was approaching  an intersection at the bottom of a long steep hill, the light was green so he took his foot off the brake and the rig quickly gathered speed as he descended the long slope.   Even if he hadn’t been going faster than the posted speed limit, there is no way he could have stopped for the car that ran the red light.  All he could do was hit his brakes and hope for the best.  The truck skidded and jackknifed before plowing into the passenger’s side of the dark blue sedan, pushing it clear through the intersection, over the sidewalk and into a tall chain link fence.  It all happened quickly and there must have been a horrific noise of crushing steel, breaking glass, and squealing rubber across asphalt and then concrete into wire.  Not to mention his scream.  Harry knows he was screaming as the accident occurred-- the next day his throat felt as if he had gargled with acid or razor blades.  But he doesn’t remember any sound, it was like a movie with the sound turned off.  The police and ambulances were there in no time at all; he has no idea who made the emergency calls.  The couple in the car were killed instantly.  He was told they had felt no pain.   Harry was taken to the hospital, his truck towed away, later deemed as totaled by the insurance company.  He has cracked ribs from bracing himself against the steering wheel and a few scrapes and bruises.  He knew it could have been much worse.  
He has had to do some pretty tough things in his life but calling his wife late that night and telling her that he had just killed two people was probably the worst thing he has ever had to do.  He could tell he had woken her from a deep sleep, he never called this late.  It takes her a moment to even grasp that it is him on the phone.  She must have taken a sleeping pill, she had a hard time falling asleep when he was on the road.  Once she is more fully awake, he tells her, and the silence coming through her end of the line is deafening.  He begins to weep and the police officer who is standing next to him in the hallway at the hospital gently takes the phone from him, quietly explaining  to Harry’s wife that her husband is not at fault, the other driver had run the red light.  The officer tells his wife that he has a few minor injuries, but nothing life threatening.  The young man’s voice is shaking and Harry wonders how many times the officer has had to do something like this, he couldn’t possibly be more than twenty-six years old.   The officer tells her that Harry will have to stay at the hospital to make sure he hasn’t suffered a concussion or any kind of internal injuries and that she will need to come to Memphis tomorrow or the following day and bring him home.  A nurse and her aide clean him up, help him into a hospital gown, and get him tucked securely into a bed before giving him something for his pain and to help him sleep.   There isn’t a lot they can do about his ribs other than tape them up.  It is with relief that he slips off to sleep and thankfully due to the drugs, he doesn’t dream.  
The dreams -- nightmares rather, begin when he gets home, he will wake his wife in the night as he screams because he is barrelling down a steep hill towards a car and has no brakes at all.   His priest tells him he is not at fault, that God surely forgives him for taking the lives of that man and woman.  Later when he sees his regular doctor for sleeping pills, the doctor reminds him that the couple sealed their own fate by driving drunk.  Desperate, Harry consults a  psychiatrist who explains that he is as much a victim of the accident as the dead couple.  Nothing, nothing helps at all.  He will never be able to forgive himself.  The insurance company was willing to replace his truck, he had good coverage and an impeccable driving record but he can’t do it, he cannot get back on the road again.  He accepts the check for the wrecked truck and his ruined life and wonders if he will ever again have another moment of peace.  He wonders if he will ever be able to close his eyes and not see the confused face of the woman behind glass as her life comes to a sudden end.

7 comments:

Scrapatorium said...

A powerful and haunting story!

vivienne strauss said...

Thank you for reading, Angelica!

matte stephens said...

Great story Vivienne!!

vivienne strauss said...

Thank you, Matte!

Elizabeth said...

I totally agree with Scrapatorium. Wonderful story Vivienne.

Shin Young Hwang said...

Great story as always. I always enjoy so much reading your stories, even though they are sad.

sosser said...

a very thought-provoking story about a subject i have often pondered. chilling.