It was the fifth time this week Mitch Barton had left his apartment keys in the locker room. He'd been warned by the senior instructor, Guevara, that the kids tended to take whatever they found on or around the benches, but in his rush to get back home and change for the party he'd neglected to check his pockets. He thought nothing of it, but it was always the little things, Miss Peterson had said. 'Always the little things that get you.' Tonight, his error would turn an otherwise average night of drunken regret and awkward sex into the kind of tragedy people only read about. The kind that never happens to anyone they know, until it does, and no one ever hears from them again. He was fortunate, then, that he had at least retained ignorance of his fatal error the entire drive home.
The apartment complex sat on the corner of Main and Coleman, casting a long shadow that leaned into Main and seemed to guide him home from a block away. He liked to line himself up along the straight edges of the silhouette, his boxy Buick barely managing to stay within the borders of both the shade and the road markings. It was a stupid game, but it made the zigzag trip of his ride home a little easier, and anything that made Barton's piecemeal existence even a little less torturous was worth the risk of a scratched bumper.
Nearing the stop sign at the corner, he coasted, foot off the pedal, and looked up at the clouds obscuring the sunset. In nine years, he'd never gotten home before dark-- even on days he'd get off early, it always managed to cloud up and rain before he made it back to his drywall cage. Easing on the brakes, he came to a complete stop a foot short of the sign, the right side of the car just an inch out of the building's shadow. He felt something funny in the air; a smell crept through his car that reminded him of the old copier he'd fixed for Miss Peterson the week before she passed. There was something else, even after he rolled his windows up and pulled into the parking lot across the street...something like burnt matches.
Tearing open a new air freshener, he tossed the little paper pine tree in his back seat and got out to inspect the tires. The sun hung there behind the still clouds, refusing to budge until the ordeal was through--- frozen in time, the day waited for Mitch to catch up. He kicked the front tires out of habit, then ducked underneath to make sure he hadn't hit something; last thing he needed was to find out he'd been dragging a dead possum back and forth from work every morning, wrapped around his rear axel like red on a candy cane. No, if he was going to stink up the neighborhood, he'd do it himself, thank you. No rodent decay necessary.
Finding nothing, he decided it was all in his head and turned to the street. Parking on the other side of a highly-trafficked road from his place had left him in a constant state of anxious awareness--- he could practically smell cars coming. He heard the whooshing and skishing of cars flying down Main at night, lulling him to sleep with promises of an even closer call next time he tried to dodge the school bus on his way to an early day. Brainwashed by his home-to-work routine, he zigzagged everywhere, preferring the offset, mystic security of the diagonal over the obvious vulnerabilities of the straight and narrow. He would never cross the street in front of a stopped car, always choosing to swerve around the back no matter how much it annoyed the second car's driver or made the first think he was being carjacked. He did the same with moving cars, zagging diagonally towards the center line after one car passed, zigging to the sidewalk behind a second. It was obsessive-compulsive; a neurosis people could smile and chuckle about--- 'quirky'. Today, Mitch Barton would be crossed off the universe's 'quirky' list and shuffled into the crank files of some Bigfoot-chaser tabloid.
The moment Mitch's left foot touched the center stripe on the road, leading his right to follow suit, he was awash with relief at having once again avoided the fatal collision. That cool comfort, relieving the itch of his disguised death drive (please God let this be the one to hit me), lasted about as long as Mister Barton did once the bolt cut through the frozen clouds and struck his heart with the power of an undying star. A truck hauling coal bricks from the community college to the east swerved to avoid the fireball that split Main Street in two and drove the southernmost half six feet into the Earth. The driver, snatched up in a cosmic flytrap, saw silver curls of angel hair whip up from the rubble as the truck flipped, lured into the flame, and was swallowed whole in a matter of short, hoarse breaths. They were his last, best moments, and he saw them through alone.
Created: Feb 16, 2010Document Media