THUMP - John P. Kristofco
Phillip was in the kitchen when he heard it. Thump! Like a box dropped on the bedroom floor above him or a chair shoved against a wall.
He stepped into the living room and looked out front to see a brown car halfway on his lawn, crashed into his maple tree. The bumper hung askew, and the grille was wrinkled where it met the tree, but it wasn’t very bad, about worthy of the simple sound it made. He had seen more damaged vehicles pass him on the interstate.
As he looked out, another car turned into his driveway. A short, blonde woman in a bright red top and black shorts swung out as the door flew open. Phillip stepped out on the porch. She looked up, startled.
“Did you see that?” she said, agitated. “Did you see? He just looked down for a second, and the car jumped the curb!”
Phillip shook his head as she trotted toward the brown car.
“That was all, and thump! He hit your tree,” she managed as she moved.
He turned to look. In the car there was a man, his head resting on the wheel as if he was asleep, though his eyes were open, staring at the side view mirror.
Phillip stepped off his porch. The woman stood beside the car, peering in.
“Mister,” she tapped on the window. “Mister.” The driver didn’t move. She cupped her hands around her eyes, pressed her face against the glass. “Mister!” she tapped louder.
Phillip stepped beside her and looked into the car. A small trickle of blood ran from the driver’s nose onto the steering wheel, dripping on what looked like denim pants. He did not blink but glared as if transfixed upon the mirror where the sun was captured in this segment of its arc.
The woman stepped back, trembling.
“He isn’t moving,” she looked at Phillip. “What the hell?! He wasn’t going fast; he just looked down for a second, maybe reached to change the channel, and the car jumped up the curb and hit your tree.” She shook her head. “He didn’t hit it very hard, just a ‘thump’,” she hit a fist into her other hand. “Just a damn ‘thump’!”
Phillip reached for the car door just as the whine of sirens sounded down the street. His neighbor ran out from his side door.
“I just called them,” he said as he arrived. “Is he O.K.?”
Phillip drew the car door open. As he did, the man’s left hand slipped from its hold on the armrest, the fingers spread like a pianist’s reaching for a chord, perhaps in harmony with the cyclic sound and red-blue lights expanding up the street.
Phillip looked into the driver’s eyes and knew. Though he had never seen before, he knew. He lifted the limp left hand and pressed his thumb against the wrist. He knew. Though he had never felt before, he knew.
He closed the door, looked over at his neighbor, and slowly shook his head. The woman gasped, her left hand covering her mouth. The neighbor stepped back from the car and turned to watch the red lights flashing.
The Buick was shaded by the tree, a garnishing of bark splashed across the hood from the exhale of the maple when it was struck. A faded red ‘Wittenberg’ decal stretched across the back window; an umbrella and a jacket rested on the back seat.
The twisting flash of red light found them standing on the lawn, spraying them with shrieking waves of sound that assailed their ears.
An ambulance and police cruiser pulled along the curb. Three men jumped from the truck. A cop rose from his car, clipboard in hand. He looked at the Buick as the medics reached the driver, then slowly walked up beside the woman in the bright red top.
“Did you see this?” he asked coolly.
The woman looked up, nodding, tears now in her eyes.
He motioned her aside as two medics worked quickly on the driver, one thumping on his chest as the other held a clear mask over his nose and mouth. The third drew the stretcher from the truck.
The officer continued with the woman who now barely whispered, wiping reddened eyes. Phillip and the neighbor watched in silence until each was called over by the cop.
A second cruiser pulled up just as the medics pushed the stretcher into the back of the ambulance. The vehicle did not move for several minutes, the garble of its radio chewed upon the air. Then it pulled away; its siren pealed once again.
Phillip was still talking with the first cop while the second took pictures of the car, the tracks, the tree. He rolled the little wheel on the stick along the skid marks on the driveway and the sidewalk. He took a long time jotting in his notebook.
When he was done, the two officers met together by the first cruiser, looking back at the car, pointing here and there, nodding their heads, looking over at the three of them.
The woman got into her car and slowly drove away. Phillip and the neighbor stood silent
until the first cop came over to them.
“This your house?” he looked at the neighbor.
“It’s mine,” Phillip offered.
The cop nodded. “O.K.,” he said, “we’ll have a truck here in about ten minutes to tow the car away.”
Phillip shook his head.
“If we have any more questions, we’ll give you a call. Thanks for your help.” He looked at them both, turned, and walked back to the cruiser. Phillip and the neighbor stood and watched the policemen pull away, no flashing lights, no sirens.
“I gotta call Sarah,” the neighbor said. “I gotta tell her about this,” and he patted Phillip on the shoulder and headed back to his side door.
“Yeah, sure, O.K.” Phillip managed, still looking at the Buick sitting at the edge of his lawn, half on the sidewalk, half on the grass that he just now realized needed to be cut.
Cars slowed as they drove by. Phillip felt their eyes on him a second but mostly on the
car, shaded by the maple tree in the growing afternoon.
He stood there maybe five minutes staring at the brown alien that was now the center of the neighborhood, the center of the world, then walked slowly up the steps to his front porch where he plopped down in a chair.
Clouds were building in the south, down the street where the squad had gone. It would not rain, but it would be dark early.
The car sat there waiting, just like him, silent just like him, mute, uncaring witness, staring now cross-eyed at the tree on which it leaned.
Before long, a black tow truck with gold lettering rumbled up the road and pulled into his
drive just like the woman did. Phillip leaned forward in his chair.
Two men hopped from the cab, and with a blend of nonchalance and skill had the reluctant car pulled up on the tow bed, locked down, and ready to take away. Before he got back in, the older man, the driver, looked up at Phillip.
“You’ll get a call tomorrow or the next day, you know, in case you got damage, O.K.?”
Phillip waved his left hand and nodded.
In a minute they were gone. All that was left at the front of his yard were the wounded tree (that now almost looked like it was smiling), muddied tire tracks, skid marks, and a spray
of tree bark that would fade into the growing grass or blow away in the moments of the wind.
That night Phillip couldn’t sleep. The light beside his bed seemed louder than the night
before. The dark outside the window seemed to reach further through the blinds, as if to separate the slats and peek inside.
He pulled “Under the Volcano” from his shelf, found the marker where he stopped the night before, and started back in:
The Consul felt a pang. Ah, to have a horse, and gallop away,
singing, away to someone you loved perhaps, into the heart of
all the simplicity and peace in the world; was not that like the
opportunity afforded man by life itself? Of course not. Still,
just for a moment, it seemed like it was.
Phillip rubbed his eyes and laid back on the pillow.
The maple tree’s smile turned into a siren laugh. The woman in red lay covered with tire marks and tree bark. The first cop ate a sandwich as he listened to the radio while the second cop drew his picture in a huge notebook and the medics played cards in the back of the ambulance, and his neighbor raced down the street in a brown Buick with a wrinkle in its grille...
Phillip sat up straight in bed, sweating, breathing fast. He swung his legs out and walked slowly to the dresser, stepping over the book that had slipped from his hand.
He looked into the mirror and saw his eyes.
He knew. He had seen before, and he knew.
John P. Kristofco's poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in over a hundred different publications, including: Rattle, Cimarron Review, The Bryant Literary Review, Folio, Poem, The Cape Rock, Blueline, The Chaffin Journal, Grasslimb, Plainsongs, and The Sierra Nevada Review. He has published three collections of poetry and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. He lives in Highland heights, Ohio.