He sped along the road, determined to get home in time for their special dinner.
David was an insurance salesman and often had to go out of town on long business trips. While he hated being away from his wife, the money was too good to pass up. He was providing her with a life in which they were accustomed.
“I'll be home by seven,” he had told her over the phone that morning as he was packing to leave the hotel. “I promise.”
His wife had sighed. She had heard these types of promises before and yet David had never followed through with any of them. Work had always interfered. She had even begged him not to leave for the trip, knowing it would impact on their anniversary, but David had kissed her deeply and told her that the money was too good and, that with the extra cash, he could buy her a nice present.
David glanced over to the passenger seat where a small box sat, a pale, robin-egg blue ribbon delicate wrapping around the lid. Inside was the most exquisite diamond earrings he had ever seen. His wife had seen them in a store, her eyes lighting up, but upon finding out the price tag, she dismissed it with a wave of her hand.
The car cruised along the dark road. The sun had already set. David glanced at his watch. He was running late. It was nearing seven. Stomping on the gas, David willed the car to hurry up.
As he rounded the corner, the present slid forward, falling off the seat. David swore and lent down to pick it up.
The car veered to the left as he scrambled to pick up the box. His fingers grasped the ribbon and he pulled the box up, resting it back on the seat.
A horn blast made him look back at the road. Panicking, he pulled the car back into the right hand lane. The other car passed with the driver flipping David off.
Breathing heavily, David grasped the steering wheel firmly, his knuckles turning white.
Something up ahead caught his attention. There was movement in the center of the road. David squinted as the headlights washed over a figure standing in the middle of the road. It was a woman, waving her arms about, trying to catch his attention.
David cried out, cranking hard on the wheel. The car began to spin, scraping against the guard rail. Sparks flew, lighting up the night sky, and there was a loud bang as one of the tires exploded with a puncture.
The car came to a complete stop. David's head rested on the steering wheel, a trickle of blood running down his forehead. He groaned, his eyes opening. He held his head in his hands, a headache suddenly emerging.
David was certain that he hadn't hit her.
He opened the car door and stumbled out, falling onto the road.
David stood, using the car to stabilize himself. He looked at where the woman had been standing. She wasn't there. Maybe she got out of the way, he thought. Maybe I didn't hit her.
He felt the cut on his forehead. His fingers were sticky with blood.
That's when he saw her. Standing by the side of the road, she held her right arm gingerly. David rubbed his head. “Are you alright?” she asked, timidly stepping forward.
David flashed her a shaky smile. “I'm fine. Are you alright?”
The woman shook her head, stepping into the direct light of the headlights. David gasped. Her jeans and T-shirt were soaked with blood. Her hair was matted to her body and her right arm was so horribly broken, David could see the bone poking out from the skin. She nursed her broken arm, wincing each time she moved it. David could tell she was in a lot of pain.
“Here.” He took off his jacket and wrapped it around her, careful not to bump her arm. The woman thanked him. He tried ushering her into his car, reasoning that with a flat tire he'd still be able to make it to a hospital.
The woman shook her head fiercely. “But you have to get to a hospital,” David reasoned. “You need medical attention urgently.”
Once again the woman shook her head. “My son,” she said, through chapped lips. “My son is still in the wreckage. I can't get him out. Not with this.” She indicated to her broken arm.
“Where's the wreckage?” David asked.
The woman began leading him to the upcoming bend. Even in the dark, David could see that the guard rail had been broken where a car had hurtled through it. He could see a clear line of demolished trees.
Carefully, David aided the young woman down the embankment. He couldn't imagine how she had managed to climb it with that badly broken arm.
Once they were down among the trees the woman led him through the path of destruction, muttering to herself. David strained his ears to listen. “I told him to slow down. I told him, I told him, I told him.”
A blinking light caught David's attention. He placed his hand on the woman's shoulder. The car was smashed into a thick tree trunk, the indicators blinking. David could smell fuel and knew that the gas tank had been ruptured in the crash.
He approached the car cautiously. He could see the driver slumped over the steering wheel, clearly dead. His passenger was also dead, judging from the position of her body against the dash. David turned to the woman. “You were very lucky you were sitting in the back with your son,” he told her, opening the back door where the child was. “Otherwise you might have been killed too.”
The woman didn't seem interested in David's observation. “Is he alright?” she asked, nervously biting on her lower lip. “Is my son OK?”
David leaned into the car. The stench of death was almost unbearable. He pressed his ear against the small boy's chest and listened. There is was. A heartbeat. It was faint and David had to strain to hear it, but it was definitely there.
“He's alive,” he declared. The woman smiled as David struggled with the child's seat belt. The woman gave him instructions, telling him how to unlock it. David grimaced as his nails dug into the buckle, fighting the lock. He breathed a sigh of relief when he heard it click.
He picked the boy up, resting his head on his shoulder and moved away from the car. The woman was fawning over her son, touching his tussled hair lightly.
“His name is Max,” the woman said softly as David held the child in his arms. Max began to squirm and cry. The woman must have gotten a fright because she retracted her hand away from her son. She grimaced in pain.
“There, there, Max,” David said soothingly. “You're alright, champ.” Max quietened and nestled himself into David's shoulder. David carried the young boy back towards the road. He helped the woman up the embankment and back to his car.
“Your tire,” the woman said. “You can't drive like that.”
David reached out to her in a calming gesture.
“I've got a phone. I'll call for help,” he told her, opening the back door for her. “I want you to rest here. I'll put Max in the front passenger seat.”
The woman didn't respond but willingly climbed into the back seat. David carefully placed Max in the front seat then proceeded to wrap his mother up in a warm blanket. He fumbled about in his pocket and called 911. Then he paced the road until he heard sirens in the distance.
Max began to cry. David reached into the car and picked up Max, holding him tightly as the police and ambulance arrived. David rushed over to them and told them of the wreckage and that the mother of Max was badly hurt and was resting in the back seat of his car.
While the police slid down the embankment, complete with a couple of paramedics, David lead the other ambulance staff to his car. “She has a broken arm and there's a lot of blood. I think sitting in the back seat of the car is what saved her,” he told them as they approached his car.
One of the paramedics looked in the back seat. “So where is this lady?” he asked.
“What?” David pushed him aside. He had left her right there while he tried to soothe Max. David slumped against the car. “She must have gone back down to the car,” he said. “I think her husband was driving. She muttered something about begging him to slow down.”
The paramedic radioed his co-worker that was down at the wreck. The radio crackled as the other paramedic answered. “There's no one down here aside from two bodies.”
David felt sick. He collapsed against his car. “Sir? Sir? Are you alright, sir?” the paramedic asked him. David shook his head, his mind racing a million miles an hour. It wasn't possible? It couldn't be, could it? He licked his lips. He had to see for himself.
Without warning, David took off, running down the embankment towards the mangled wreck of the car. He pushed aside the paramedic and the cops. Sitting in the front passenger seat was a woman. Her long dark hair covered her face, her T-shirt and jeans were soaked with blood. David reached out and touched her cheek. Her head turned, her blue eyes staring at him. David gasped, his hand covering his mouth. That woman, the woman who wanted his help to free her son, she was dead.
* * * * *
It took a while for David to convince the police that nothing was wrong and that there was no one else. They paramedics took Max to the hospital, while the cops helped David change his tire before waving him off.
Needless to say David missed his anniversary dinner. But he was home by eleven that evening and he was grateful to be there. He had told his wife most of the story as he presented her with the earrings. After all, he felt she had a right to know. But he never told her, or anybody else, the entire story. He was afraid that no one would believe him. Or that he was stupid. Everytime he looked back on the events himself, he felt foolish for having missed the most obvious thing that was now permanently burned on his brain. Whenever he closed his eyes he could see it over and over again.
The woman, standing in the middle of the road, whitewashed in the harsh glare of his headlights.
Frantically waving him down....with her totally useless, horribly broken arm.