The kids had squabbled over the last of the good cereal at the kitchen island. Milk puddled on the granite and dripped steadily down the side of the counter from an overfilled bowl. She wiped with a wet paper towel, mid-scold, “not those pajamas, not the ones you slept in.”
“But it’s pajama day,” Nate whined from the table.
“Yes, okay, but clean pajamas.” He thought about melting down, screwed his face into a knot and inhaled a deep breath for a wailed complaint. “Clean pajamas or real clothes,” she interjected, cutting off the tantrum. “Ten minutes!” she hollered to the three older kids scattered around the house in front of various televisions. “Finish your cereal, Nate, then change.”
The morning slid, an avalanche gathering force, towards school bus time. “Five minutes!” Nate moped up the stairs to change and skipped back down in clean pajamas, full of renewed chatter. “Okay,” she called to them all. “Back packs! Shoes!” The last minute scramble took all her focus. Library books misplaced, snacks spilled, zippers undone. The cold, clear air made them gasp on the porch in their pajamas and winter boots. “Go together. Look both ways.” She watched them cross their side of the pretty, quiet boulevard, meander across the triple-wide, maple-lined grassy median, and cross the other side of the street to the bus stop. She turned her attention to the cheerios, drying to the table top in sticky milk.
He startled her, back on the porch, eyelashes wet, nose pointed to the ceiling in the beginning of a Charlie Brown like howl, “My STUFFED ANIMAL!” Pajama Day. Fuck.
Okay, alright. She took the stairs at a run, two at a time, grabbed the poisonous green frog, and placed it in his arms. The exploding puff of air brakes hit her ears. The bus chugged up the other side of the boulevard.
“Run, baby, the bus!” She watched him out the gate, registered him take a diagonal line in front of Matt’s truck without alarm. His small body and the front of the car hidden behind the truck reached the center of the street at exactly the same moment. The car hit him, knocking him up and sideways, an impossible scene, right before her eyes.
“No nonononono,” she shouted, turning not to the porch and her baby in the street but first to the table and her phone. Nonononono. It wouldn’t stop, a bubbling froth of terror. No what? No he isn’t hit. No don’t let him be dead. No I didn’t do that, tell him to run, watch him take the dangerous path.
The man driving the car had scooped him into his arms and had him to the gate when she ran out the door. He sobbed uncontrollably, holding her child toward her and she yelled unkindly in his face. “Don’t move him,” and then more to herself, “you’re not supposed to move him. You have to drive slowly. It’s a neighborhood.”
“I was,” he sobbed. “I looked back at my daughter.”
She pressed her tiny boy into the cold grass, his fragile shoulders, his pale face, and tried to dial 911 with rebellious, rubber fingers. The man rose and ran his hands through dark, finger-length hair. She noticed the black hoops expanding his ear lobes. The horror on his face. “My daughter. She’s in the car,” he choked. His sobs made her freakishly calm. He knelt on the ground on the other side of Nate and said “I’m sorry” over and over, the steady rhythmic chorus of nos in her head provided the off key harmony. Sirens wailed at the end of the street. She reached across and touched his leg. “It’s okay. I let him run in front of the truck. It’s okay.”
“I’m Elijah,” he said. They stayed frozen, touching, an odd A-frame shelter over her baby until a tall, young fireman pushed them back, taking over with the steady voice of experience.
A cop led the man away. Violent shudders traveled through her, down her arm to Nate’s hand where it clasp hers in the grass. She tried to answer a text from her closest friend … Nate just got hit by a car … but the phone rejected her plea for company in this awfulness. Emergency mode, it warned her in a sinister black box. The fireman cut his pajama pants from ankle to crotch. Pajama Day. Jesus. The hateful triviality of it made her sick. She braced for bone and blood, low pressure, IVs. A stretcher appeared beside them. The ambulance sat ready, lights circling, in the street.
They checked everything, moved him carefully. Let him stand. She watched mute, almost frightened of this miracle. There will be some price to pay surely? No one gets this lucky.
Run, she told him. The bus. No lapse that obvious goes unpunished. Her friend rounded the corner, walking fast, her electric blue sunglasses pushed into her short hair. Someone had called her. She blessed and cursed this small town for sending help she needed desperately and for knowing, before she even processed it, of her transgression.
It was so fast though. Cereal. Shoes. Coat. Frog. Bus. Run. Sunshine. Car. The price was this awful knowledge, this new, heightened awareness of the fickle falsehood of the universe and sunny skies. Someone is always being shattered, no matter how bright the blues, and someone always could have stopped it. If only.
The firemen packed their gear. The gave him stickers. The cop told her to take him inside, he would meet her there. It was over.
Her phone exited emergency mode and lit up suddenly with texts and missed calls, her husband, the school, but her eyes were drawn to the local news alert she subscribed to scrolling along the bottom. 8:24 a.m., it listed, in a litany of minor reports, lives delayed, days ruined. Vehicle collision at South M— and — Avenue. Emergency vehicles responding.