by M. E. Johnson
I woke up trying to scream. The dream was so real. I wanted everything to shut off; I wanted to split my lungs, to kill myself screaming. But I couldn’t scream because I couldn’t breathe.
My body was receding into a pit, a pit that wasn’t there but felt like it was, and I was coated in sweat. My eyes were fixed on the ceiling and that filthy oily taste was in my mouth just like it was that Christmas morning three years ago. And I could forget none of this—ever—because then the real pain—the godawful fucking real pain—would hit and I would know that my nightmare really happened and had returned again for the hundredth, thousandth time as a reminder.
And I would relive the nightmare, awake and alone in a wet grave. The details—even minor ones like the specks of dirt on the windshield—were clear and vivid and I was again driving that Christmas morning. I was stopped at a light, my left elbow hanging out the window. It was cold and I could feel the chill on my bare forearm, the hairs standing on end. Samantha was kicking her legs up and down in the back—I could feel the thump thump thump of her feet hitting the car seat—and I was looking at her in the rearview mirror. The taste of the night before—my Christmas Eve drinking—was still in my mouth even though I tried to make it go away. Mouthwash can only do so much and the sour vomit taste kept coming up. The headache I had was back and I could feel it but thought it’s gradually going down because I followed the daily ritual my dad taught me when I was ten on one of the rare mornings he was not a mean son of a bitch.
Two glasses of water and four aspirin, Son. That’s the fix!
Samantha was singing the one Christmas song she knew—“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”—in her beautiful, gentle, off-key voice. She sang it over and over, messing up most of the lines. I was irritated because she kept repeating the same words. I was always in a bad mood when I was hungover. Just like my Dad. I remember thinking of him at that precise moment, how he was always mad and either drunk or hungover or both, and how much I hated him, and the thought kept me from saying anything cruel to Samantha because enough of me was left that I did not want to be like him. I looked at the half gallon of vodka on the seat next to me, the one I bought at the only liquor store open on Christmas. In two days the bottle would join the others filling the recycle bin.
Samantha was the miracle baby.
She was supposed to fix everything wrong in our lives. Fifteen childless years before she came. She would restore what Janice and I had, something that had been beautiful, once.
But there was only one thing wrong and I wouldn’t give it up.
And then the light turned green and I looked up and saw the car in the rearview mirror. It was filling up the mirror and was not stopping. I remember thinking it was going really, really fast and asking myself why it was not slowing down. And my daughter was still singing and I heard her say “had a vewwy shiny nose,” one of the few lines she got right. Her hair was long and auburn red, ending in curls. Ladies were always approaching us to say they wanted her hair color. Samantha was so happy and loved everything about Christmas even though this was the first one where she could walk and talk a bit. I loved that pink jumper she was wearing and always thought everything about her was so pure and so clean and so fresh in that jumper. I never told her I loved her.
I watched that car filling up the mirror—bigger and bigger it grew—and coming up super fast and then my head went thud when the realization came of what was about to happen. That car is going to hit us! I remember trying to yell, but couldn’t because I had no air. And then the car hit, an explosion, a bomb inside my head, a bang that consumed everything, and there was nothing but the explosion and the bang and the dark and I couldn’t see. And everything was so loud—so fucking loud—and I felt the seatbelt clamping me to the seat, cutting off my air. Glass was hitting my face, showering it, and my eyes were closed and the car was spinning, then I was upside down and flipping and I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t scream.
Then it was silent. It was so quiet, so still. So strange. I was hurting from something that hit my chest and it was so painful to breathe but I had to breathe. I had an oily taste in my mouth and my face was wet and at first I thought it was blood but it wasn’t. It was oil and that shit was on my face and in my mouth and I could taste it. And I was on my left side pushed down on the door, seeing all the small square pieces of glass resting by my cheek. I looked at my left hand and it looked okay so I moved it and felt it was okay. Nothing broken there. And in the silence the seatbelt was choking me and then I remembered Samantha was in the car. I remembered her singing and I thought about the presents waiting for her at home and how happy she would be when we handed them to her and I remembered the words “had a vewwy shiny nose” and I thought of her hair—her beautiful red hair—and I thought, after we both go to the doctor and we both get better I will do something really, really nice for Samantha and I will spend more time with her and I will quit working so goddamned much and quit being such a lousy father. I would quit drinking or at least I would cut it back. And I would take Janice and Samantha to Hawaii for a vacation on the beach like I should have but didn’t because I was always working and never made the time for them. All this was going to happen when we both got better. I would be what I had been.
And my neck hurt—it hurt so much—but I started working on turning to my right to face Samantha because I needed to say something nice to her because I knew she would be scared because this was such a bad accident. Sammy, Daddy’s right here. It’s okay. As soon as I could turn I would say those words. And I finally got a little air into my lungs and I said “Samantha”—that was all I said—and I looked at her, still strapped in her car seat.
Samantha no longer looked pure and she wasn’t singing—no more shit for me to get irritated at her for. She was not moving and was bloody everywhere. Blood was coming from a big gash in her neck and from five, ten spots on the pink—now red—jumper. There was something sticking in her chest. A piece of metal from the frame? What is that? Her head was hanging down at an impossible angle. And I stared at Samantha and I heard someone yelling outside, then I heard a lot of people yelling, then some people yelling into the car. And I remember somebody—a man—saying, “Shit, they’re both dead.” And I quit thinking about taking my family to Hawaii or being a great dad to Samantha or being the guy I had been at one time.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright M.E. Johnson 2017