Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy unblinking eyes. Deep and haunting. Surrounded by the blood pouring down her forehead. Her left hand reaching for my forearm as I work feverishly to undo her seat belt. Her breathing is laboring, a gargling sound with each heave of her chest. My mind races with the endless possibilities I am currently facing. I find myself in this perilous situation alone on a long stretch of south Louisiana country road in near total darkness. Her phone, still in her right hand, provides me with the only light inside the car. It lights up with every text received from someone who is a total stranger to me. “911!” I think as I pull myself from inside her window and reach in my pocket for my phone. I run my finger across the screen to unlock it. The light now reveals my home screen streaked with her blood and the zero coverage sign on the top bar. “Shit, what do I do?” I say out loud. I look both directions on the highway and see the beautiful stars among the large oak trees towering above us. “The heavens” I think briefly. The sound of movement inside the car reminds me of the grave situation I find myself in. I stick my body inside and feel her chest rise against my ear as I reach for the seat belt a second time. I hear that deep gargle sound again and a faint “I don’t want to die.” She she is aware of the situation. “How do the hell I help her?” I think as I wrestle with the seat belt. I am just a 16 year old farm boy returning home from my grandmothers house when I stumbled into this awful situation. Now, in what seems like only seconds since I arrived, a life before me is slipping away in front my very eyes. I take a deep breath as the seat belt finally unfastens. My brain finally registers the smell of burned rubber, gasoline and alcohol. “What do I do?” I yell as I again pull myself from inside the window. I attempt to open the door to the car to no avail. “Miss! Miss!” I say in a panicked voice. “Can you hear me?” The only response I receive is yet another laboring breath. My mind goes blank. Suddenly I hear a man telling me to get in my car and drive to the next house for help. I oblige and race to a farm house about two miles south of the accident. I quickly exit my car and run to the front door. I knock vigorously. “I need help!” I yell into the door. I hear footsteps between my gasping breath. I look at my feet as the door opens and the light from within shines upon me. As my eyes slowly work their way from my feet to my shirt and dangling arms I notice I am covered in blood. I hurriedly tell the man of the situation as he hurriedly pulls me inside the foyer. He yells to his wife, still out of sight to me, to call 911 while he quickly puts his boots on. “You stay here with my wife while I head to the scene.” My body trembles as I notice the injured lady’s handprint on my blood covered forearm. The farmer’s wife calls me into the living room where she ask for the number to call my parents. I stood in silence waiting for their arrival.
Now, two days later I stand next to this painting in the hallway of the town funeral home. I am staring at it intensely oblivious to my current surroundings. I am here at the request of the parents of Shelia Dowling, the young lady I tried to assist on that dark country road. The funeral home employee has gone to tell them of my arrival. I am scared beyond belief. I don’t know anything about her injuries or eventual passing. I didn’t read about the accident though my mother told me it was on page two of the daily paper and the internet. I feel just as helpless as I did that night. If I leave these men in the painting and walk down the hallway I will certainly see the body of the lady I struggled alone to help. I have never seen a dead body before. “What do I say to them?” I think to myself. I was absolutely NO help to their daughter. And I know no one here. I am alone. My mind not able to erase the vision Shelia’s eyes accompanied by the sounds of her struggling for air. I am shaking as the parents approach me. The employee quietly introduces us. “Micheal, meet Evelyn and Sterling Dowling. They are Shelia’s parents and are very happy that you came today.”
Mr. Dowling is the first to extend his hand for mine. As we shake hands I look at the face of Mrs. Evelyn and notice the red cheeks and swollen eyes. After my hand is freed, I reach out and hug her. In a trembling voice I say “I am so sorry.” I then let out a river of tears accompanied by my loud wailing as if it was my own family member loss that evening. I feel the father’s hand on my back and here his words “We are so proud how brave you were to offer help to our daughter. I am sure your presence gave her much comfort and for that we are forever grateful.” Mrs. Eveyln held me tightly and stroked my back. “Wipe your tears Michael,” she says calmly. “You are a wonderful young man and I wish you nothing but the best in your future. You will forever be in our thoughts and prayers.” I wiped my face with a kleenex offered by the funeral home worker. The visit is brief. The mother kisses me on the cheek and says thank you once again. I promptly turn around and walk out into the hot and humid Louisiana air. As i walk to my car, I understand that I was forever changed. I will be forever connected to Sheila Dowling though we only came into contact for five minutes of my sixteen plus years on this planet. I will never forget her. I hope to meet her again.
This work of fiction was written for The Speak Easy #162 at Yeah Write