Chapter 2, Part 1. My Fault (Matt)
Chapter 2, part 1 of my untitled short term project. This is rough draft. I don’t know where it’s going, but I thought I would share. Needless to say, this is all copyrighted, all rights reserved.
It’s almost two in the afternoon and I’m late when my phone rings. I’ve spent the day driving from place to place, buying supplies for my classroom for the year. Dry-erase markers, paper, crayons, construction paper, glue—the staples of elementary education. Every year the school provides less materials and I buy more. But I’m used to making do with even less, so it’s fine. At least the supplies are tax-deductible.
I fumble with my right hand to pick up the phone. It’s Tyler Norris, a fellow elementary school teacher. There are few men teaching in the lower level grades, so the two of us form a sort of fraternity, even though we’re nothing alike. Tyler is … exuberant. He’s outgoing, muscular, a guy’s guy. He’s an assistant coach for the high school football team and drinks beer like a fish. I’m pretty sure he was the guy chugging Jägermeister from the bottle in college while his frat buddies shouted, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”
He’s also my best friend, as unlikely as that sounds.
“Hey,” I respond, holding the phone to my ear. No fancy Bluetooth or electronics for me. I’ve got a twelve-year-old Toyota and a not-so-smart flip-phone, and the eight-year-old Mac I bought my freshman year at Boston University still works just fine. I love technology, but I love being out of debt more. I’m trying to pay off my student loans before I turn sixty.
“Yo, Matty, what up? Where are ya?”
“I’m on my way, I got held up in traffic in Hadley. It’s chaos from the students coming back at UMASS.”
“Right, right. They’re ready to start without you.”
I mutter a curse to myself. “I’m ten minutes away. Stall them, please.” As I say the words, I pull out into the traffic circle and my vision suddenly goes black as the front end of my Toyota is crushed by a minivan. The concussion is unexpected—I don’t even know where the van came from. But I quickly see that steam is pouring out of the front of my car, and Tyler is shouting in my phone “Matty? Matty? You okay?”
I groan. Then I say, “Tyler, I just got into an accident. Tell them I can’t make it today.”
“You all right? Oh, man—”
“I’m fine,” I say. I don’t know if I am or not, but I need to get him off the phone. I flip it shut and gingerly reach for the door handle. It opens fine, and I quickly see that while the front of my car is completely crumpled in, the minivan doesn’t appear to have sustained a crash. Sitting behind the wheel is a young mother with bleach blonde hair and wide blue eyes.
She opens the door and slips out of her seat. She’s wearing a UMASS t-shirt, and as I stand up next to my car, I mentally revised her age downward. She’s not a mother, she’s a college kid, probably driving her mother’s van. I don’t know if her almost white hair is bleached or naturally blonde, but it’s cut in an attractive reverse bob. Her t-shirt is a little too tight.
“Are you all right, sir?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, are you?” I look down at the steaming front end of my car. The white cloud isn’t encouraging.
“Looks like you ruptured the radiator. You really shouldn’t talk on the phone while driving.”
“Pot, meet kettle. You hit me, kid.”
“First, I’m not a kid. And second, I had the right of way. I hit you because you wandered out into the rotary without looking.”
Just what I need. A twenty-year-old college sophomore patronizing me about my driving. “For your information, I’ve never had an accident in my life. How fast were you going? There’s no way I pulled out too quickly for you to stop.”
She shakes her head, an amused look on her face. An amused look. “We’ll let the police do their report. You got insurance information?”
I shake my head in disbelief. “Yeah, yeah, let me get my insurance card. Unbelievable.” I lean into the car to open the glove box. Traffic is moving again, inching around our cars. Her van is partially blocking the traffic circle. I hear sirens in the distance. Amherst Police, probably. Christ. This is going to end up costing me if the ticket gets blamed on me. Meanwhile, some overprivileged college kid walks away from the accident with no repercussions at all.
I retrieve my insurance card and stand back up. “Here. And you’ve got yours?” I dig out my driver’s license and hand both to her.
She hands me back an expired drivers license. Not recently expired either, but expired a long time ago. The vertical license, indicating she’s under 21, expired last year.
I write down the insurance information and her drivers license information. The address is in South Hadley, right around the corner from the school. That gives me pause, but only for a moment. The insurance card is, of course, in her parent’s name
“Out for a spin in your mom’s van, huh? With an invalid license? That’s really grown up, about what I’d expect from a college kid.” I was working myself up into a near rage.
She looks at me with a vicious expression and says, “You are an asshole.”
“Well, that’s really mature,” I mutter. I’m frustrated and stressed. The meeting with the school board is happening right now and I’m supposed to be representing the union. And I can’t if I’m here dealing with some twenty-year-old who was probably texting and didn’t see me as I entered the traffic circle.
The police pull up. Not one, but two Amherst Police sports-utility-vehicles, blue lights flashing. One comes to a stop on the grass behind me and the other parks behind the college girl’s van. I go back to writing down her information.
Zoe Welch. 117 College Street, South Hadley. 22 years old. 413-555-1200.
Where do I know that name from? I’ve only been in South Hadley for two years—it’s a small town, but not so small that everyone knows everyone. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter where I know her from. What matters is that we get this over with, that I get the meeting rescheduled, and that I move on from this as quickly as possible. I am so frustrated.
Police officers descend upon us. I hear one of the cops say, “Zoe Welch? You’re back? I’m so sorry about your parents.”
The girl’s response is too quiet for me to hear. I’ve got a sick feeling in my stomach. I’m so sorry about your parents. What does that mean? Where is she back from? And what happened to her parents that the local police know both her and them?
I let those questions roll around my head while one of the cops walks me away from the scene and asks me my version of the accident. I follow passively, my brain still on the girl and the I’m so sorry about your parents.
I give my name and particulars to the police officer, who introduced himself as Officer Cavendish. He’s chewing gum, wearing mirrored sunglasses, and looks like a stereotype disguised as a formula.
“You want to tell me what happened?” Cavendish says. It must be a slow law enforcement day because I’ve got his full attention. His partner is wandering over too.
I start to stay silent. I start to say, I’m not sure what happened, it’s possible she was going too fast. I start to shift blame away from me, because I’ve never had a speeding ticket or any other violation in my life, but my mouth, as always, has a mind of its own. Instead of saying something sensible, or asking for my lawyer, or remaining silent, I silently gawk at myself as I say the words, “It was my fault.”
“I was late for a meeting and got distracted when my phone rang, and I rolled too far into the intersection. I didn’t see her until it was too late because I wasn’t really looking.”
Cavendish stops chewing his gum and looks at me under raised eyebrows. “Your fault?”
“My fault. I pulled out right in front of her.”
He grunts. “All right. Stay here, I’ll be right back.” He started to walk away and I put a hand out. “Quick question… one of the officers said sorry about your parents to her… what was that about?”
Cavendish shook his head. “I think you need to mind your own business,” he grunts. He’s cranky. I wait as he walks off.
I call Tyler. He answers on the first ring. “You all right, Matt?”
It’s an indicator of how concerned he is that he doesn’t butcher my name. “Yeah, I’m fine. Listen, any chance you can take a ride up toward Atkins Farm? I’m going to have to get the car towed, it’s not going anywhere.”
“Yeah, yeah. After I told them about the accident, Kaufman rescheduled the meeting.”
“Well, that’s a minor miracle.”
Tyler chuckles. “You aren’t kidding Matty. All right, I’ll be there sometime tonight.”
We hang up just in time for me to get a ticket for improper entry into the traffic circle. The girl is getting back in her van as a female officer talks with her. I want to walk over there an apologize, though I’m not sure what for. But it’s too late. She starts the remarkably unmarked minivan, fastens her seatbelt and drives away.
Thirty minutes later my Toyota is being hauled away and I’m in Tyler’s car, headed back home.
“So who hit you?” Tyler asks. “Was she pretty?”
Tyler’s real subtle. “Yeah,” I say. “A real knockout, she ran me right over.”
He gives me a strange look, then it hits him. He lets out a surprised guffaw. “That’s pretty good! Matt, when did you get a sense of humor? And more importantly, did you get her number?”
“Shut up, Tyler.”
“You did! High five!” He seriously puts his right hand up for a high five, even as he steers up the winding road with his left. We’re halfway up the hill to the Notch, a low pass just east of Bald Mountain and the primary road from Amherst to South Hadley. I see another car coming down the highway as Tyler swerves.
“Tyler, watch the road for Chrissake!”
He laughs and returns his right hand to the wheel. “Christ. Always serious. Is this why they appointed you to do the negotiations with the school board?”
“Yeah. It’s because I have no sense of humor, Tyler. You know that.”
“I don’t know what you’ll do if people ever learn the truth about you, Matty.”
“What truth?” I ask.
He laughs. “Like I’d know. I do know one thing though.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“I know we’re going out for drinks tonight! Nine o’clock at McMurphy’s.”
I frown. McMurphy’s Tavern is tiny and usually packed full of college kids from Amherst and UMASS on the weekends.
“Tyler, we’re not twenty-one anymore,” I say. Never mind the fact that tomorrow is the first day back at school for teachers.
“Who cares? The girls are!” he laughs and I shake my head.