by Mark Kodama
I was a young man then in the days before cell phones. I was traveling from Los
Angeles to Washington, D.C. to take a job as a newspaper reporter for a small specialty weekly. I could not sleep so I checked out of my Motel 6 at 4 a.m. and hit the road. I ate their stale donuts with the motel’s fresh coffee before I hit the road. It was summer time. Corn fields and farms lined the country road that led to Interstate 40.
I soon came upon two wrecks at a crossing. One car had t-boned the other car. The front end of a black BMI had its front crushed in and it lay to one side of the road beyond the crossing. A large pale blue pick-up truck with the side of its passenger cab mashed in lay in a ditch turned about face as a result of the impact.
I stopped my car, parked on the side of the road. I got out of my car and approached the BMW because it was the vehicle nearest to me. I could hear the crickets chirping and water dripping from the smashed radiator. The nauseating smell of radiator fluid, oil and gas filled the air. There were two matching spider web patterns and blood stains on the front windshield. A young man and young woman laid curled in each others’ embrace as if sleeping. The young man was dressed in a cotton checkered shirt and blue jeans. The young woman wore a summer dress with floral patterns.
I tried to open the front driver’s door but it was locked and jammed shut. At first I tapped on the window hoping to wake the occupants. Then I banged on to the window and then called to them to see if the young man and woman were still alive. They did not move. My heart sank.
I ran to the other car. The man inside looked like an old farmer in overalls, blue jeans and checkered cotton shirt. His grizzled face had two days stubble. He had a macabre toothless smile and his eyes were still open. His right arm was twisted behind his head as if he was trying to shield himself before he was hit. Dried tears streaked his ancient face.
I called to him. I banged on his window. I tried to open his frozen door. I called again but he did not move. I had never seen death so close up. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and goose pimples rippled up my arms.
I got back in my car and drove back to the motel. I parked my car by the check in. I told the clerk about the accident who called the police and fire department. I drove back to the crossing.
By the time I returned to the crossing, the police and the fire department were already at the scene of the accident. The sun had come up. It was already getting hot. The coroner drove up about 30 minutes later. The police sealed off the intersection and began to photograph the scene of the accident and measure distances. The fire personnel loaded the bodies covered by white sheets into ambulances and rove awqay.
A detective interviewed me as to what I knew about the accident which was not much. Afterwards, he took my name. address and telephone number. He asked me to stay a few more days in case he had additional questions.
A young newspaper reporter asked me if a few questions and then left.
Afterwards, a police officer drove with me to a local diner. He asked the diner to put my meal on the house and then left. I sat at the counter and ordered the corned beef hash and eggs, sunny side up as I always did. The diner was small, consisting of a counter with nten seats and four tables. There were about ten patrons eating at the counter and at two tables.
The owner, dressed in a white apron and wearing a white cap, poured me a cup of coffee. “People drive crazy these days,” he said and shook his head. He wiped the counter with a wet towel. I poured cream from a small metal cup into my coffee. I drained the coffee. I think a cup of coffee never tasted so good.
“They sure do,” I said.
The owner went to the kitchen and then came back with buttered toast.
“My name is Fred,” he said.
“Tom,” I said and shook his hand.
“Crazy kids,” he said. Fred then disappeared into the kitchen.
I thought about my grandmother’s funeral. I must have been all of five years old. I can remember my Auntie Dorothy crying and the smell of incense.
Fred came back with a white plate of corned beef hash, two eggs and fried potatoes.
“Eat up,” he said.
A young woman in the diner said she was an animal activist. She asked me how I could morally live myself and eat meat. “How does death taste,” she asked.
“If you mean corned beef hash, I think pretty delicious,” I said.
Fred came out from the kitchen. “Stop bothering him,” he said to the woman. “You have your opinions. He has his opinions. He is not hurting anyone or doing anything illegal. Leave him alone.’
I tried to pay for the breakfast but Fred insisted that the meal was on the house. I tipped two dollars and then headed to the motel.
I told the clerk I would stay another night. He nodded. I then drove into town to the mall. By now it was noon. I checked out the outlets at the mall. I bought a coke, a bag of potato chips and a crime fiction novel at the bookstore: “Double Indemnity” by James Cain. It was stifling hot. I could feel the sun burning the side of my face. The sweat on my back cooled me. My metal coins had melted into my plastic coin holder.
I then returned to the motel. I thought about the young couple and the aged famer who died early this morning. You are here today with all your dreams and then in an instant you are gone. Strange. People talk about a bright light, pearly white gates, God, angels with wings. Is there an afterlife or only darkness. Do we really have soul? Everybody is going to die and yet nobody really knows anything about it. People say they know about death but what do they really know about it anyways. Some people claim to have died and have come back from the dead. If they are here, then they really never did die, did they?
I went up to my motel room, closed and locked the door and then closed the curtain. I turned out the lamp and then took out my book from the small plastic shopping bag. It was a book about murder. I saw the movie many years ago. It starred Fred McMurray and Edward G. Robinson.
Death – what does anybody alive really know about death? I remember that old Steve Martin comedy routine where it turns out God really exists and there is really in heaven. “In college, they said this was all bullshit,” he joked.
I drifted off to sleep. I dreamt I was the young man coming upon that intersection about to hit that pick-up truck. My head slammed into the front windshield as my girlfriend screamed then all was dark.
I woke up. I surprised at how frightened I was. My back was all sweaty. I got up and went to the bathroom. I washed my face. I could hear the swamp cooler running.
I opened my bag of chips and coke. I thought about the animal activist at the diner. I remember watching a film in college of a slaughterhouse in New Zealand and how the sleep could see sheep before them getting slaughtered and skinned. They were hung up on an assembly line desperately struggling to break free. They knew their fate as the slaughter man brutally killed and skinned their brethren. What gives us that right to take their lives? If I had real moral courage I would give up eating meat.
I finished my chips and coke. I turned on my television on low for company and read my book.
For dinner, I drove to the diner. Outside the diner, I bought the local community newspaper. It was a thin afternoon newspaper, the kind printed on cheap new stock with the ink coming off on your hand as you read the paper. The front page featured the wreck and had a large photograph and accompanying story. I ordered the meat loaf special with a side of mash potatoes, gravy and steamed broccoli. I savored every bite. I think it was the tstiest mal I had ever had. Even the coke tasted special.
I remember reading a essay by the great Roman philosopher Seneca “On the Shortness of Life.” He said everybody dies and many people complain that their lives are too short. But Seneca said our lives are not too short. The problem is that we do not make the most of our time here.
I ordered the apple pie a la mode for desert. I love apple pie.