Monday, August 11, 2008

The Hearings

This is a true story, as related to me, with very minor elaborations and details slightly changed to protect privacy.

The light turned green and Betty let off the brake, engaged the clutch on her late-model Corolla, and gave it a little gas, edging out into the intersection. The radio was sounding out the slow movement from the Brahms first piano concerto. The weather was sunny and hot. Betty was going to the store because they were out of half-and-half and the dogs needed a bag of kibble.

A sporty white sedan ran their redlight and crashed into Betty's driver's side door. Her Corolla spun around and was clobbered into an oncoming car, which again spun her vehicle, this time up over the curb onto a patch of grass in front of a corner gas'n'go.

Betty began to hear voices. Before she could see through the gray blur which clouded her eyes, she heard other car doors slamming and the voices of people calling "Are you all right?"

She also heard children, as if their questions were emanating from the back seat of a van. She could not discern all of what they said. She heard "Mommy, is..." and then the clear voice of a woman complaining "God dammit. Fuck an arab. We're already late."

The buzz of a cellphone dialtone and then the sound of an emergency operator, taking the call of a man who was imploring the operator to send an ambulance NOW. The woman asked him for location and Betty heard him tell her "7th and Indian" and then she heard another voice, then voices, coming from the background.

Someone cursed and said "Now we're stuck. We can't back up" and then a woman interrupted and said "Just pull in here." Others joined the mix, overlapping. "Fuck, I hope nobody's hurt," said one, and "motherfuck ran the fuckin' light." A fast-food cashier asked "is everything alright" as a customer answered "I think there's been an accident out there."

Then sirens. Actual sirens. And the calm, gentle sound of a woman: "May those spirits that work such things please help the people involved in this accident. Amen." She repeated that phrase, or perhaps it echoed as if in a second space. Upon repetiton Betty knew that if she ever heard that voice again she would recognize it.

The emergency crews closed off the scene. Betty was pulled from the wreck, and as she lay on a gurney, police directed cars around the accident and through the intersection slowly. Someone had wiped her face and she could see the goings-on around her. The crew was securing her to be lifted into the ambulance. Betty heard the last echo of the prayerful voice and out of the corner of her vision she glanced at the license plate, down low at her own level, of a passing car, but she could not see its occupants.

Betty spent difficult months in the hospital and rehabilitaion center. She tried to hear the voices again but could not summon them. Eventually she recovered fully and went home.

They bought a new car, and her frequent trips through that intersection brought forth memories and the visceral shock of remembrance, but quiet.

One day during morning coffee she was talking to her husband Vaughn about it and they did a computer search for the license plate. Betty thought she'd seen the car with that tag in the store parking lot the previous day, but she wasn't sure. It was gone when she came out with the groceries.

Vaughn came up with a name and address for the tag. It wasn't far from their own neighborhood. Betty drove there, parked, entered through the gate, and pushed the buzzer.

From behind the condominium door an immediately familiar voice asked "Who is it?"


may said...

wow. it gave me the chills. seriously.

Ruth said...