"The Justice of It All"

"Pathetic," I whispered to myself. I had been watching the guy dart in front of cars on his skateboard for the past ten minutes. During his last Ollie attempt, his board stopped at the small lip of the driveway, knocking him headlong onto the grass. His thumb came off the mouth of his bottle, which spilled all over the sidewalk and up the front of him. He berated himself, staring at his board as it rolled backward into the street and was crushed by a sedan. I looked away in time to watch someone fall face first into the bushes by the stairs. He nearly hit the railing. I tried to remember a party I had been to that hadn't ended up like this.

"I'm gonna go get Megan and Soph," Barry stood in the doorway and hollered into the house. He caught a bottle that someone threw to him from inside. He caught the second and third and huddled them together in his hands. Water and ice dripped from his hand onto the porch. His orange 1969 Dodge Charger was parked under a western hemlock on the city easement. A well-done General Lee rip-off with a true-to-form Confederate flag on the roof, it was truly the delight of his life. The hemlock cones had fallen at random onto the grass that had trouble growing in the shade of the tree. Barry tottered past the porch swing where I sat. At the bottom of the stairs, he tilted his head back and poured half the beer down his throat.

"Headed somewhere?" I probed.

He swung around and looked at me. For a few seconds, all he did was look at me like I was a painted circus performer breathing fire. "Huh?"

"You taking that with you?" I pointed at the half-finished bottle.

He waved his beer at me and headed for his car again.

"Barry." I let his name sit in the air and flex its arms. Saying something again would undoubtedly stir up something, so I stayed quiet.

"Listen." He stopped and looked at the ground, perhaps letting his balance catch up to him. "I'm gonna go, and you're gonna let me." Barry didn't want to start things with me. Our past always kept him from doing things he might regret later on. I had things to hold over him, things he was fully aware of.

"Barry." His name walked off my lips with a calm strut and a piercing glare, walking over to him and poking him in the forehead.

He ignored me. He was on his way to pick up the two best-looking girls in Oak Harbor and entirely prepared to forget everything I had just said. Part of me didn't blame him. The rest of me blamed him for everything.

I stood and grabbed one of the small clay pots that lined the banister and hurled it at Barry. Some of the dead flowers and loose soil fell to the yard, but the pot struck him squarely between the shoulder blades. He crumpled. He dropped to his knees and arched his back as if he was trying to touch his shoulder blades together. The pain was getting to him. If I had hit him anywhere else, a couple inches to the left or right, he might have came over the railing in a fit of rage capable of letting him forget the leverage I still felt I held over him. I probably could have made it through the screen door behind me and out the back of the house. The intoxicated partygoers inside would let me right through, too amazed and staggered to help him at all.

"Give me your keys, Barry."
"When I get back," he paused, thinking of how to finish. "I hope you're still here." He grinned when he said "hope." He'd be further under the influence and have girls on his arm.

I laughed out loud at his grin and decided to leave him alone. There wasn't anything else I could do.

The General Lee revved to life and the rear wheels, one on the grass and one on the sidewalk, squealed as he pulled away.

After a few minutes, I felt guilty. My remorse didn't have anything to do with Barry, except that it had broken on him. I had broken someone's clay pot. I didn't know whose house I was at, and no one on the front lawn was sober enough to remember who lived there either. I resolved to get them a new pot when I got around to it and left.

I drove down toward Whidbey Island and parked my car at the entrance to Deception Pass Bridge . During early morning hours, fishermen could be seen along the shores below. Boats with tourists coming from Puget Sound made their way through the famous rapids. Hikers stopped for pictures and picnics. Many nights the fog would come and sit next to the bridge, reaching its arms out wide and hugging Pass Island , where Deception's two bridges meet in the middle.

I walked along the double yellow line between the two lanes that headed out toward the island. No cars would be coming out here tonight. The only thing that broke my yellow path was a couple of orange construction cones lying on their side, which both rolled a few feet after I kicked them. When I got out near the island, I climbed over the single-cable fence that separated the lanes from the pedestrian walkway. I leaned on the cold cement railing and stared into the thick white wall of fog, trying to get a glimpse of the water.

My contempt for Barry deepened and bled like an unattended head wound. In a town as small as Oak Harbor , word spread fast, so when news about my sister's being pregnant hit the airwaves, everyone knew by the afternoon. Few people ever found out about Barry. I tried for almost two years to convince her to take the DNA test and report him to the authorities, but she wanted out of the spotlight so desperately. She wanted everyone to forget the whole thing. She wanted to never have to see Barry again, even if that meant never seeing any child support money. She wanted her swimming body back. She wanted to return to the middle of the bell curve where most people were allowed to live out their lives of inanity. Thinking about it made me wince.

I wondered what the people back over the bridge in Oak Harbor still thought about Tracy . I wanted access to my choice of the information leaping across the synapses throughout the course of a day. The womb of the mind constantly gives birth to new ideas and emotions. Some impressions never make their way into words but live their whole lives as prejudices. If I could see them, I perceived they would be a filthy, yellow cloud rising from the small community, that people might wake up today to a smog warning on the morning news.

A wind started blowing frigid air across the bridge from over the water. I tucked my jacket up around my neck and pulled the hood over my head. Years ago, I read in the paper about a semi truck that was hauling furniture and collided with a pickup truck. It nearly fell off the bridge. They say the wind was blowing fifty miles per hour and sent him into oncoming traffic. They had to close down the bridge until the wind stopped.

Headlights flashed through the trees from the other bridge, and the unremitting screech of tires echoed back to me off the fog. In a few moments, the lights of the car had crossed Pass Island and emerged from the opening in the trees. The General Lee sped past me. It drove down the center of the bridge, the double yellow lines like odd racing stripes on the ground. The cones, I thought. I leapt from the railing in anticipation of something I was powerless to prevent and curiously elated at the idea of Barry "getting his." I stared toward the end of the bridge near where my car was parked.

The General Lee careened to the left until it was completely in oncoming traffic, if there were any. It just missed the first orange cone, but he used all his luck on the first cone. The second cone thumped beneath the chassis and shot from under the back of the car. In Barry's attempt to adjust and straighten the car, he lost control and collided with the cable fence. It did nothing to stop him. The cement curb the poles were set in actually helped send his car into the air. His rear tires clipped the railing and cleared the bridge. The car crashed into a patch of trees and stayed where it landed.

My location on the bridge offered me a perfect vantage point for the entire accident. I could even see the orange Dodge Charger where it lay on the embankment concealed by madrona and western hemlock trees. I was afraid the car might slide or roll down the side of the hill. The water below was well-known for its rip tides and unpredictable currents. Their situation was bad, but it would be hopeless if they went into the water. It was dangerous for watercraft at certain times of the day.

"There's been an accident." I was strangely calm. "Down on Deception Pass Bridge , the north end I think." The operator seemed skittish. "The car went over the side. It's stuck on the side of the hill."

I knew about a hospital a few miles away in Skagit Valley . I had the mental image of Barry laughing, holding a bottle out the window. I thought about the justice of it all. "I'll wait here," I said.

I walked toward the end of the bridge where the car had gone over the side. The cable fence was bent almost to the ground, blocking the walkway. I stood there, staring and waiting for the paramedics to show up. I couldn't think of anything I could do to help. I heard moaning through the fog and looked over the railing intently at the wreckage. The moans continued.

I hoped it was Barry. From the bridge I searched the car for movement. I couldn't see any. Then I thought about the girls. The idea that the moans were coming from one of them woke me up. I panicked. I ran to the spot of road directly over the car. I thought about scrambling down the side of the hill to them. I even tried at a couple of places but saw it unwise to make any attempts. My bottle of emotions shattered. I grabbed the back of my head. My breathing hurried. My heart sped.

I wondered how long they would last down there in the car and hoped the paramedics would be able to help them. The only consolation I felt was that I had been able to witness the accident and the drinking, but they would be able to tell that with their tests.

Sirens blared closer and closer through the mountain trees, and the paramedics skidded to a stop near my car at the end of the bridge. I pointed down the hill. They had most likely seen it already. They scurried into action, doing far more than I would have been able to attempt with my limited tools and resources.

I stood out of their way in the dirt under the hemlocks. Their movement blurred in my vision. The sirens of the police sedans wailed in the back of my ears like I was listening through a conch shell. The aroma of the fresh hemlock needles relaxed me. I looked out at the fog and at that moment wanted nothing more than it to move in around me and carry me out over the water.

[back to top]