Exoneration

To be published momentarily (as a third-place prize winner) by Aestas Review, an imprint of Fabula Press:

The worst part was that he saw the skateboard kid. Assumed he would veer away. Any driver makes assumptions: The guy in the left-turn lane won’t turn right; the woman at the bus stop won’t step into the street; kids on the sidewalk will stay there. You can’t stop for every possible irrational behavior.

Howard prided himself on being an alert driver. Reflexes maybe slower than three decades ago, but the bus compensated. No hood to impede his view, the engine now in back. Power brakes stopped on a dime. Mirrors reflected every square inch outside and inside the bus. Idiot lights instead of dials and gauges, letting him concentrate on the road ahead.

Comfort helped, too. Wretched horsehair cushions used to send him home with an aching back; seats today were fine-tuned to height, tilt, even softness. And safety. Years ago, he’d been a prime target for robbery, a change dispenser on his belt, bills stowed in a zip-up sack. Money or tokens now went into a steel box bolted to the floor.

Nothing to distract him from careful driving.

His route ran past the high school into residential neighborhoods with green lawns and spring flowers. It was half past three. He picked up a few students and a teacher. There were kids walking together on both sides of the street. And the skateboarder.

Howard stopped to let a woman off – a regular, one of the grey-hairs who took the bus home from the library – and the kid swooshed up from behind, swerving around her so close that Howard heard the burr of wheels-on-sidewalk as she jumped back.

“You all right, ma’am?”

“Thank you, Howard. Took me by surprise, though.”

As he pulled away from the curb, the kid zipped toward a gaggle of girls walking ahead. The bus caught up as he skated up a driveway to do showoff stunts. Skinny kid, brush-cut hair dyed purple. Maybe a ninth-grader.

In the side mirror, Howard saw him tack around the girls and overtake the bus again, rolling ahead to swing up another wide macadam driveway. He turned at the top of the drive and started down, unmistakably skillful enough to pivot onto the sidewalk at the foot of the drive.

If anything, Howard told himself later, he gave too much attention to the kid, so had to look away briefly and check the traffic in front and in the mirrors. Very briefly. Two seconds.

The world record for skateboards is eighty miles an hour. He looked it up that night. Kids aren’t that fast, but they buy boards with names like Speed Demon. He did the math: At twenty miles a skateboard 1,760 feet a minute. Sixty feet, the length of a driveway, in two seconds.

The kid didn’t pivot back onto the sidewalk.

Come back in a week or two when Aestas Review returns the copyright to me.

 

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