Irregular Gone Regular, 1/30 NaNoWriMo: The Day the Earth Opened Up
The beginning, in which I think to myself, “Hey, I think I could write myself a novel during National Novel Writing Month!” …
Saint Patrick’s Day was the day the Earth opened up.
I still remember the day. My brain has preserved it in colors that are brighter than they should be, like early Technicolor. Amanda and Benjamin and Hannah and I had just crossed the little-two lane road that the old folks around here still dismissively call “the highway,” remembering the way that Main Street here and Elm Street there and Chestnut Street over there and Limekiln Street yonder had been connected, straightened, shouldered and turned into a section of Route 1 back in the Sixties. Progress generated a continuous stretch of pavement running from Fort Kent in the North to Key West in the South.
If you think about that stretch for any longer than second, the scale of it is enough to give you the heebie jeebies. Imagine for a moment that you’re a porcupine. You’re on the East side of Route 1 over here, and you spot a juicy-looking bush with succulent leaves on the West side of Route 1 over there. You could scamper across the road, at least as quickly as a porcupine can scamper, which is not that fast. Or, if you wanted to avoid the pavement and the risk of getting flattened entirely, you could travel thousands of miles to get to those leaves, in a circuitous route that would make the Appalachian trail look like a casual jaunt.
Given these alternatives, is it any wonder that porcupines stay put on their side of the road and chew up outhouses instead (oh yes, it happens)? Barring the presence of an outhouse, is it any wonder that we see so many dead porcupines by the side of the road? They just couldn’t bother with a trip to Fort Kent and back. They paid the toll.
The wild turkeys have got it easier. All they have to do is haul themselves up into the air and fly twenty feet. A turkey in flight may not be a glorious sight, but the turkey gets the darned job done. You see more live turkeys by the side of the road around here than you see live porcupines, but you see many more dead porcupines and hardly ever a dead turkey. Let me amend that; the more I think about it, the more certain I am that I’ve never seen a dead turkey on the side of the road. Cats? Yes. Dogs? Yes. Crows? Yes. Raccoons? Yes. Porcupines? All the time. Never a turkey.
I’ve never seen a dead child by the side of the road either, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying about the possibility. Could I survive my child being hit by a car and turned into instant roadkill? What if one of my children saw the other one get hit by a car? Is that the sort of incident that scars a young mind for life? If I ponder these questions for too long, I start to ask myself even more uncomfortable questions. If both of my children were in the road, which one would I run for first? Or would I run at all? Is it possible that I would just stand by the side of the road and yell?
There’s a saying that the moms at the park like to throw around as they watch little Aiden and Brayden and Caidan on the swings: “I’d jump in front of a bus for my child.” That’s kind of a stupid phrase, if you ask me. Buses aren’t the problem. Buses are big and slow. You can usually see them a mile coming. Even if you can’t see them, you sure can hear them, air brakes and big engines and all. Busses are easy. It’s cars that are the problem. Any schmuck who knows how to pass a multiple choice test and park without hitting the curb can drive a car. If you drive a car, you don’t need to take a course and be constantly recertified like a bus driver. You don’t need to pee in a cup in some unannounced random month to keep your car driving privileges.
Besides, let’s face it, cars are driven by driven people. They’re always trying to get somewhere else, to move from where they are to where they want or wish or need to be, and just like people everywhere, some of those car drivers are late. There are forty thousand reasons other than tardiness for a car to go too fast. Maybe the driver’s upset, or maybe the driver’s listening to fast-tempo music, or maybe the driver’s got some compensation issues to work through (can you say “manual transmission?”). Bus drivers are not like car drivers. They’re yanking around the biggest sticks in the business, out where everyone else can see them. Most of them don’t get to listen to music, at least not where I live. Besides, bus drivers are already at their destinations. This is where they’re supposed to be. Oh, it might be that a bus driver was late getting to work in their car, but once they get in that bus, they have nowhere else to go. The seat behind the big wheel is everywhere they need to be, and everywhere they’re going to be for a long while. There’s no rush to get anywhere, because some government technician with a spreadsheet somewhere figured out how long it takes for a bus driving the speed limit to follow a route. It’s all worked out in advance. Just in case (and to qualify for lower insurance premiums) they’ve installed a little gadget called a “Governor” on the bus. Even if the driver gets a little bit impatient and steps on the gas, the Governor kicks in and shuts off the gas supply, so there’s just no way to go over the speed limit. Even if a bus driver figured out how to kill the Governor and drive at brakeneck speeds on the road, why would they? They’d just have to wait around at the next stop. My point is that there’s no point in a bus going too fast. It’s just not going to happen. Cars are the dangerous ones.
This is what I found myself thinking as I stood by the East side of the road holding hands with Amanda and Benjamin and Hannah, holding them back with a squeeze and a pull backward on the wrist as I looked for an opening. All the careful drivers are evenly spaced, providing no room. All the aggressive drivers see to come out of nowhere. Wait, wait. Now? No. Now? No. Now.
“All right, kids, let’s go!”
With those words and a shift in my body weight, the kids received the signal that it was time for us to scamper across the road, and unlike those sorry porcupines this human family knew how to scamper at high speed, yes sir. Maybe it was the loud, accented way I barked that command. Maybe it was the strain in my wrists as they jerked tight. Whatever the cue was, Benjamin and Hannah were off like a shot, racing across. I looked behind and saw Amanda more than a few paces back, practically sauntering, crossing the center line with an old Chevy no more than twenty feet away. Her breezy smile was a tease as we waited for her to catch up.
“Ay ay, what’s rush? Have you all got a train to catch?” She was teasing, but the kids answered by making choo-choo noises as they ran off into the woods. That was the rule: they had to be good when crossing Route 1, but after that they were on their own. Home was down a gravel drive, through a field, past an old barn and over a stone fence. It was all right. There was no one left to slow them down and nothing left to hit them but splashing mud. Amanda and I watched their blue and green bobble hats bouncing, smaller and smaller, as they weaved in and out through the skinny birch trees. By the sounds of their shrill yells alone, we’d have known where they were if we’d been a half-mile behind. They were heading in the right direction. It would be all right. Amanda reached her hand into the pocket of my jacket and slouched against me as we walked through wet leaves.
“Hey, was that OK?”
“It was fine,” I replied.
“Are you sure? I didn’t say anything stupid, did I?”
“It was fine,” I said again.
“I have no idea what they must say when we leave. It’s like being home with my grandparents, running into these elderly neighbors all the time, you know?”
“I know. You’re right. Hey, here we are.”
With a casual step around barbed wire and through a gap in the stone fence, we came home. The kids called us away from the house, their excited voices coming up the hill.
“They’re up! They came up today!”
Time to visit the garden, then. It had been a strange winter. Only three inches of snow and an early thaw. Don’t plant yet, the neighbors said. It’s too soon, they said. But it was in the mid-sixties and sunny on the first of March and I couldn’t help myself. Just a few beans and peas went in the ground, my little bet with the family with sunk costs of $3.99 a packet. I said it would be worth the entertainment of racing the last frost. Amanda said it’d be fine. The kids predicted a blizzard. Every day after, Benjamin and Amanda had looked out the window, looking for the flakes that never came. It looked like Amanda had won.
We smiled and strolled down the hill to more closely inspect the little green dots in the garden. “We’ll have to start weeding soon,” I said to myself as I pulled ahead of Amanda and put on my most sincere, child-appeasing smile.
“Ulp,” came a sound from behind me.
I turned. Amanda was on her back, arms akimbo.
Her left leg? Gone.
… The end, at which I am not so sure that I have a novel in me this year.