“What the hell just happened?” Joe knew his blood pressure had risen to dangerous heights, but there was no way he was going to back down. He had to have an explanation, even if there was no reasonable cause in sight.
“Well, sir…” The younger, slimmer man, somewhere in his twenties, rubbed his gloved hands together, probably attempting to maintain circulation in the biting January wind. He looked at the overpass. “Looks like some ice just flew off and smacked into your windshield.”
Joe returned his gaze to his minivan packed to the brim with his family, an insanely hyperactive dog, and two miniature palm trees his wife, in a spirit of well-I-can’t-just-say-no-now-can-I? had accepted from her grieving sister who was inundated with funeral plants after the untimely death of her husband in a railroad accident.
“I have a cousin who’ll come out and fix that windshield in a jiffy. He’s pretty close by, and his rates are reasonable.”
A throb jumped from Joe’s heart to his head. His wife looked like she had been turned to stone, and the dog, with his tongue hanging out, scrabbled at the back window like a deranged con artist trying to escape a long prison sentence.
Joe jogged forward, slid open the back door, and barked at his eldest son. “Cody, take him for a walk but don’t go too far.”
Slowly, one lanky jean-clad leg appeared, quickly followed by four shaggy doglegs, and then the rest of the desperate hound. The complete boy followed in due course. The boy stood on the roadside wide-eyed but calm. The dog, wild-eyed, lunged against the restraints of the synthetic blue leash.
The boy swept his gaze up and down the busy highway and then looked at his dad. “Where?”
Joe pointed to the metal rail dividing the opposite lanes of traffic. “Walk along that, but stay close. Don’t let Hunter go, or it’ll be the end of him.”
Joe ducked his head in through the open doorway and tapped the other two kids on their respective knees. “It’ll be okay, guys. No problems.”
His wife, Mary, sat stiff, facing forward, her shoulders rigid. The cracked windshield seemed to accent her solid form. He patted her shoulder and felt her collarbone. When did she get so thin? Joe spoke to the back of her head. “The guy outside said he knows someone who can fix the windshield, but it’s only broken on your side. I can see well enough to make it home.”
He wanted confirmation— “Yes, honey, that sounds good to me.” —would have been music to his ears. But she didn’t say anything. What? Like a big chunk of ice blowing off an overpass and smashing their windshield was his fault?
“It wasn’t my fault, you know.”
“We know, dad.” It was his middle kid, Taylor. She always took his part. Even when he didn’t deserve it. Like the time he forgot the roast in the oven, and Mary came home to a smoke-filled house with a cinder block for dinner. Taylor had insisted that it was roasting pan’s fault.
Mary had tossed both the blackened pan and the burned dinner in the trash and made peanut butter jelly sandwiches with tomato soup for dinner.
Joe considered her now. She didn’t need explanations, just the next step.
He, on the other hand, wanted to smack something. Or someone.
He looked back at the skinny guy still rubbing his hands together, closed the car door, and stepped over. “Look, I think we’ll be okay.” He felt for his keys in his pocket and then remembered that they were still in the ignition. “It’s not like the car is out of commission or anything. It just cracked the windshield. We’ll make it home. I’ll have our guy in town take care of it tomorrow.”
The skinny guy seemed disappointed. He really wanted to help? Or did he get paid for referrals? Joe scratched his head. “I appreciate your stopping to check on us.” He stuck out his hand.
Skinny guy glanced aside, blinked, and then clasped Joe’s hand. “No problem. My sister was in a car accident last month. She and her husband. Dead. Newlyweds, too.” He shrugged. “Some things can’t be explained. But people can help. Sometimes.” He bobbed his head and jogged back to his car. With a quick wave, he darted inside and drove off.
Hound and boy reentered the family minivan, and Joe, with a last surveying glance at the cracked windshield, threw himself into the driver’s seat.
Relief flooded his system as the car rumbled to life. He glanced in the rearview mirror, offered a brave smile to his kids and the relieved hound, waited for an opening, and then merged into the late afternoon traffic. He ignored his wife.
As the last rays of the sun faded, and he made the turn onto the lane leading home, Mary’s voice startled Joe out of his reverie. He glanced into the rearview mirror. The kids seemed to have fallen asleep. Even the dog was snoring.
“He was right.”
Joe slackened the pressure on the gas pedal and let the car coast the last bit to their driveway. “How’s that?”
“The guy who tried to help. He couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t explain why the ice fell on our car, why his sister was killed. Why Kelly’s husband died.”
Joe frowned. “He didn’t even know—”
Mary turned and faced him. Speared him with her gaze more like. “I have a point, here.”
Joe knew perfectly well that he wasn’t the sharpest blade in the cutlery drawer. His wife often sighed and merely shook her head when he missed some metaphysical point she was making. He needed to try to understand. He let the car come to a smooth stop in their driveway and squinted with intellectual concentration.
“You wanted to know what happened. Remember?”
“Well, we’ll never know exactly how the ice came to hit our car. But we do know that some decent guy tried to help us.”
Joe swallowed. “Yeah?”
“And perhaps that’s enough.”
For her, maybe. But he had every intention of starting an investigation of overpasses and the number of icicles that fell and hit passing cars. Still, if it worked for her… “If it makes you happy, honey.”
She shook her head and smiled as she unbuckled. “You may figure out how to stop icicles from falling from overpasses…but you won’t figure out why bad things happen.”
Joe flipped his seat buckle off his shoulder and glanced back at his kids waking from sleep. He chewed his lip and then leaned over and spoke in a soft undertone. “No. But my job is to keep my family safe. And your job—” he stepped out and pulled open the back door, moving aside for the dog’s explosion from the car.
Mary emerged from the passenger side and peered at her husband. Waiting.
“You make the best of the situation. No matter what.”
The kids straggled to the house. A tired yawn escaped the youngest as she leaned on Taylor. Cody chased the dog to the backyard.
Myriads of stars twinkled from a black sky. The frozen air tingled Joe’s fingers and nose. He exhaled a frosty breath as he met his wife in front of their minivan. He wrapped his arm around her waist. “You need to eat more. You’re getting thin.”
She snuggled into his shoulder. “I’ll make dinner tonight, and you can deal with the car—and underpasses—in the morning.”
Joe’s heart settled into a peaceful rhythm. “Makes sense to me, honey.”
Novels by A. K. Frailey
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF
OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)
OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
HeartBeats—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd0z
It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz