This story first appeared in the January 2010 issue of The Legendary.

It happened on the way to Cape Cod. Rhonda just had to spend some time at the house in Chatham. She needed to be by herself, for the sake of her marriage, if not her sanity. It was late October about four in the morning on a Saturday. The fight was intense this time, and she stormed out of the house telling Cliff almost as an afterthought where she was headed. He didn’t try to stop her. Over twenty-five years of marriage seemed to be falling apart and there was nothing either of them could do about it. It seemed as inevitable as the ocean waves crashing to the shore that she so much needed to hear about now.

She was on Interstate 495 which was practically abandoned at this time of day. She hadn’t seen another car for miles as she relived the latest fight in her mind while listening to music on the satellite radio station. As the song currently playing imposed itself on her consciousness, she realized it was one she hated. No, couldn’t keep that one on, she thought as she glanced at the radio buttons deciding which one to press. In that brief period, that split second of time, she inadvertently allowed her car to drift toward the outside lane cutting off a speeding SUV approaching to pass her. The SUV swerved to avoid contact, but at that speed control was nearly impossible. Rhonda heard the squeal of tires and looked up at her rearview mirror in time to see the vehicle go off the road headed toward the median.

Her mouth dropped open in shock; she hadn’t seen the SUV at all. Where did it come from? Last time she checked her mirrors there was no one else on the road. He must have been flying to catch up with her that fast. She lost sight of the vehicle and could only see wisps’ of dust in the darkness behind her as the SUVs headlights disappeared. What should she do? What could she do? It wasn’t her fault was it? She only looked away for a second, that guy shouldn’t have been going that fast anyway. She sped up biting her lower lip as she kept checking the rearview mirror looking for signs the driver recovered control and was back, but saw only the reflection of her red taillights on the road behind her. She continued on almost unconsciously making the decision to proceed as planned to the comfort of the house by the beach. She needed to be there even more now.

An hour or so later she approached the Sagamore Bridge, the beauty of the Cape Cod Canal hidden by the darkness, outlined only by some lights scattered on the shore on each side. Still no traffic as her thoughts bounced from the incident on 495 to the events earlier in the evening with Cliff. She could no longer absorb the music that was playing on the radio as she passed through the pines on Route 6, reaching the Chatham exit before she knew it. If someone had asked her to describe what she saw since crossing the bridge, she would not have been able to do it. The last part of her journey was a blur and it was as though her car was able to find its own way to the place it had traveled so often over the years.

She pulled into the makeshift driveway in front of the quaint three bedroom house covered in gray weather-beaten shingles so prevalent on the Cape. She loved this house with its white bar fence speckled with rose bushes, rhododendrons surrounding the front door, and pine trees scattered around the small property. It was at the end of a quiet dead end street providing the privacy they craved and the solitude she needed now. She went in, put her bag in the bedroom and turned on the heat to warm the place up on this chilly October morning. By now the eastern sky was brightening with the promise of a rising sun.

She decided she wanted to be on the beach to see the sun come up; sleep was out of the question anyway. Even though their house was a short walk to a small beach shared by the neighbors, she was drawn instead to her favorite, Harding’s Beach, a short drive away. She passed by the empty booth and parked in the vacant lot in a spot facing the beach. She took her shoes off as soon as she hit the sand enjoying the feel of the cool grains between her toes. The sun’s light was just beginning to hit the beach as she proceeded from the main beach past the large dunes down to the second beach, which was the one they frequented in the summer since it was less crowded.

The wind was strong off the ocean, blowing the dune grass in waves imitating the ocean’s flow. The sun’s light revealed the seaweed covering portions of the beach as well as the clam shells, driftwood and other deposits the ocean deigned to leave behind. She buried her hands in the pockets of her jacket and raised her hood to provide some shelter from the cool biting wind. Nevertheless she enjoyed the solitude of the beach, not another soul to distract her save for a couple of gulls looking for some easy prey the receding ocean may have deposited.

The sound of the waves crashing against the beach calmed Rhonda as usual, but was not enough to keep her from thinking of the SUV and its fate. Perhaps the driver regained control after all and was able to bring the vehicle to a safe stop and got back on the road at a time when she would not have seen it. Or maybe he was there waiting by his SUV after having called AAA for a tow. While these were reasonable possibilities, she couldn’t shake the vision of an overturned SUV with an unconscious driver trapped inside. Damn that Cliff, she thought, if it weren’t for this latest fight she wouldn’t have been on the road in the first place.

The fight was over something silly, as usual lately. But the real issue between them was unfaithfulness, which invariably came up no matter what the immediate topic was that incited the fight. Yes, she strayed some time ago, regretted it, and asked his forgiveness, which he gave. But she always thought he never got over it. Now she suspected him of having an affair, which he denied. But she could tell the signs, late nights at work, dressing better, just the way he carried himself lately. She had no doubt that he was getting his revenge by having his own fling. So no matter what disagreement they had, in the end he would throw her indiscretion in her face, and she would accuse him of cheating.

But she couldn’t focus on that now, she needed to decide what, if anything, to do about the incident early this morning. She decided to walk back to her car via the secondary parking lot and through the access road to the main parking lot to get a bit out of the wind blowing in from the ocean. She passed by the now fruitless bearberry bushes on one side of the road and the large marsh area on the other. The fly catching boxes scattered throughout the marsh stood empty of their summer feast as she contemplated what to do on the slow walk along the road. As much as she didn’t want to, she felt the need to talk to Cliff; he was the only one to turn to. He could tell her what to do. Yes, she must call him and get his advice. If nothing else, Cliff was calm in the face of pressure, and a problem solver.

As soon as she got back to the house she called Cliff on her cell phone.

“Hello,” she heard, his voice already calming her.

“Cliff, it’s me,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said in a monotone, no “where are you” or surprise in his voice. The anger obviously remained.

“Cliff, I was involved in an accident.”

“What,” he said, alarmed now, the charade of non-caring broken. “Are you okay?”

“Not that way,” she answered, “I mean I think I may have caused an accident.” She went on to detail the events on 495 earlier that morning.

“Jesus,” was Cliff’s first reaction followed by a long sigh.

“Cliff,” Rhonda pleaded, “what should I do, I don’t know what to do?”

“We have to call the State Police Ron; there may be somebody dead or dying out there.”

“Maybe not, maybe there wasn’t even any damage. And anyway, even if there was, don’t you think someone will see the vehicle in the daylight and call the authorities?”

“What if they don’t? What if it’s in a ditch or some trees or something and not visible from the road? What then? Maybe the driver’s hurt and can be saved if someone gets there on time. We can’t take that chance. Do you want someone’s death on your conscience?”

“No, no, I guess not. Of course, you’re right, but will you call? I don’t think I can do it, I’m too scared, I’d break down on the phone.”

“Yeah, yeah I’ll call, where on 495 did it happen?”

“I don’t know exactly, it was dark, and my mind was on other things,” she said, a little attitude creeping in on that last part.

“Well, any sense of how long you were on 495 after entering from the Mass Pike when you saw the SUV?”

“I don’t know but if I had to guess, I’d say about twenty minutes.”

“Alright,” he said, a hint of frustration in his voice realizing that was about the best he would get out of her. “I’ll give them a call. Sit tight.”

They hung up and Rhonda put her cell phone on the table and sat cradling her head in her hands. The bright morning sunlight shining through the kitchen window belied her dark mood. She spent the day cleaning the house; reading a romance novel, although finding it difficult to concentrate on what she was reading often going over the same page again and again; and going for long walks either around the neighborhood or on the beach.

She hadn’t heard from Cliff all day, and as night fell, she resisted the temptation to call him. She knew he’d deal with the situation in his way, and would only be annoyed by her pestering him. As she was reclining on the couch, the flash of headlights reflecting off the ceiling through the front door caught her eye. A few seconds after hearing the slam of a car door, Cliff appeared at the front door. She rose and ran into his arms, comforted by his presence. Her eyes were closed as she rested her face against his chest. When she opened them it took her a few seconds to recognize the blue and red flashing lights pouring through the front window.

The End


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