"A Crash in Boston" by Joseph A. Lapin

Categories: ISSUE 03: Edgar

A Crash in Boston
I was sitting in the living room of the house where I had grown up, waiting for Mr. Kaminski, drumming my fingers on my suitcase, and hoping my mother wouldn't stop cleaning the kitchen until we had to say goodbye. Mr. Kaminski was heading over to drive me to Logan Airport. Nothing was going to stop me from making that flight. And at the time, I was unable to comprehend, or even imagine, that certain outcomes were out of my control. All my energy was dedicated to getting the hell out of Kilroy.

Looking out the living room window and into our neighborhood, I saw snow everywhere, covering the Halloween pumpkins and the ghost decorations and the scarecrows in our neighbor's yard. At first, I thought the storm was my imagination (maybe I inherited hallucinations from my mother), but the old Victorian houses were actually covered in powder. I watched my breath become visible on the glass and listened to the grandfather clock ticking. I counted the seconds; then the minutes.

"James, what time is Mr. Kaminski coming?" my mother asked from the kitchen.

"He should have been here already," I said.

I heard her putting away dishes and wiping down the countertops. She kept turning the faucet on and off.

"Are your bags packed?" my mother asked. "Do you have your wallet?"

Before I could answer, she turned on the garbage disposal. Then she turned off the disposal so she could speak. She always seemed to be having conversations with herself.

"I'm nervous with you and the snow," my mother said.

"You could drive me."

"I can't drive into Boston."

"Once you get on the Mass Pike," I said, "there are three turns. Plus, there are signs."

I knew this was a useless argument. Since my mother returned from the hospital, she had developed, logical or not, phobias of flying, computers, and driving into large cities. This is why she couldn't drive me into Boston for my flight back to college in Florida. She was afraid she'd get lost among the city streets; then she'd panic and bang against the car windows—momentarily forgetting how to roll them down—asking pedestrians for directions home. I imagined my mother stopped in the middle of Commonwealth Ave., a line of traffic piling up behind her, and car horns trumpeting her into frenzy.

Meantime, leaving Kilroy was my number one priority, and I didn't care how I left. The vacuous windows of the neighborhood houses were transient eyes, and I spent my time at home ignoring my mother and peeping into the open windows in the neighborhood. Sometimes, I saw people. Once I saw a woman in a red dress bending over. Somewhere, I thought, in those homes, I'd find a couple making love. But I hardly witnessed two people in the same room. It seemed an invisible wall of loneliness separated us.

"Are you dressing up for Halloween?" my mother asked.

"I'm not a child," I said.

My mother promenaded into the living room and plopped down across from me on a blue, floral upholstered chair. She was wearing a green winter coat with fur around the neck and the bottom of her sleeves. She had short brown hair with blonde highlights to hide her gray.

"When you were a boy," my mother said, "you always dressed up."

"I'm not a little boy."

My mother said, "You'll always be my little boy."

"What are you wearing?" I asked.

She had a black glove on her left hand, but her right hand was bare. In her bare hand, she held a porcelain coffee mug. Her neck and legs were showing, and they were covered in white foundation. So was her face. She wore a yellow cloche with berries at the brim. The cloche was pulled close to her eyes. Her eyelids were painted black, and she wore red lipstick. She looked like a psychiatrist's diagnosis.

"It's Halloween," my mother said. "I'm from a painting."

I thought about her trapped in her car. "Are you the Screamer?"

"No," my mother said. "The girl from Hopper's Automat." She brought the coffee mug to her lips and pointed to the cloche hat. She appeared surprised I wasn't familiar with Hopper's painting. She put her hand on my knee. "It's not safe to drive today."

I moved my knee; my mother moved her hand.

"I have to go," I said. "I have to study over the weekend."

"We could go eat," my mother said. "We could buy you new clothes." She couldn't sit still. She paced around the room, picking magazines off the coffee table and placing them back in a new order. She plopped back down onto the couch. "We could talk about Poppy."

I was home for my grandfather's funeral (Poppy as we called him). That's all. Not to discuss his death like some bullshit, self-help book club. My grandfather was dead. What could I do about it? We'll all be there soon enough.

"Mr. Kaminski better be here soon," I said.

Every time I left for college, my grandfather paid Mr. Kaminski thirty dollars to drive me from Kilroy to the Logan Airport. But since my grandfather died, I suspected Mr. Kaminski drove me pro bono.

I shouldered my backpack and moved my suitcase against the wall by the front door. I sat back down in the chair and resumed staring out the window.

"I can tell there's something wrong with you. I'll tell Mr. Kaminski to forget it," my mother said.

"The only thing I want," I said, "is to make my flight."

I looked back at my mother, sitting in the chair, holding the coffee cup in her hand. That's when the furniture began to disappear. The gray wallpaper peeled back and revealed the original yellow. I watched everything fade away, like the condensation on the window from my breath, including my mother, until there was nothing left but sunlight coming through the window and the sound of the clock. At the crevices in the walls, there were shadows. I wished—to make everything easier—that my mother would actually vanish.

"There are some places light can't reach," I said.

"You should stay," my mother said.

I heard a horn from outside and saw Mr. Kaminski's black Lincoln Town Car. It was an old car and looked like a hearse.

"Mr. Kaminski is here," I said.

I picked up my backpack and grabbed my suitcase. I carried them down the stairs, threw on my winter jacket, and opened the door. A gust of freezing wind hit me in the face. Mr. Kaminski waved from the car.

"It's not a good idea," my mother said. "The roads—"

"I need to make this flight," I said.

I stepped into the fresh powder, kissed my mother goodbye, and ran towards the car to get out of the cold.

"It's bad out there," Mr. Kaminski said when I opened the door.

"Then let's get out of here," I said, throwing the suitcase and the backpack in the truck.

"James," my mother said, running towards the car. She wasn't wearing a jacket, and she looked like she had just stepped out of the 1920s in her cloche hat.

I rolled down my window. "What are you doing?"

"He's dead," my mother said. "You know he's dead right?"

"Go back inside," I said. "Mr. Kaminski, please drive away."

"Are you all right, Ms. Tully?" Mr. Kaminski asked.

"His grandfather is dead," my mother said, hanging onto the window. "He doesn't want to acknowledge it."

"I just want to get out of here," I said. "Please go."

Mr. Kaminski put the car in gear and started to drive. "Is she okay?"

"You think we'll make the flight?"

I turned around, and I saw my mother standing outside, watching the car drive away. The snow was coming down harder, and it was becoming more difficult to see her. I looked back at the blue house. I hated that house. Every memory that came back to me I wanted to destroy. The further away I was from those ghosts, the better I could live.

O Typekey Divider

It took us about thirty minutes to get to the Mass Pike, and there was a ton of traffic. The sky was gray and filled with cumulonimbus clouds dumping down snow. The windshield wipers were swatting away the powder, but the windows were foggy and the red brake lights looked stark against the white backdrop. The heat blasted into my face.

The Lincoln rode like a boat, and Mr. Kaminski looked like an old ship captain behind the wheel. He drove with histrionic precision. He was a large man, and he had a wan complexion. His hair was gray, and he had a double chin that jiggled when he spoke. All he needed was a sailing cap and a corncob pipe.

Mr. Kaminski had been talking straight for the last thirty minutes. He had dominated the conversation through the back roads of Berlin and Hudson. It was always the same with him. I hadn't even said a word. I worried about making it to the airport on time. He drove this car so damn slow. I wanted him to focus on getting me to the airport and less on his freaking stories. And so far, he didn't say anything about my mother.

"You think you can drive a little faster?" I asked.

He stopped in the middle of his story about his trip to Poland, turned on his signal, and swung into the slow lane. When Mr. Kaminski drove anyone in his car, his first priority was safety. He remained always in control, and, somehow, he managed to stay focused on the road and talk the entire trip.

"The roads are slippery today, James," Mr. Kaminski said. "But I'll get you to the airport. Don't worry. You're mother wants me to make sure you're safe."

"We're cutting it pretty close," I said.

"This is nothing," Mr. Kaminski said. "You should have been here back in the nor'easter of '79. There was so much snow that I just left my car on the highway. It was great. There were thousands of cars left on the highway. Buried right in the snow. People just walked away from all that steel."

I said, "I'd just like to get to the airport on time."

I had been living and attending school in Florida for a couple years, and, without the drastic change in season, I found it easier to be happy. When I saw snow, all I could think about was my grandfather's body buried in the Woodland Cemetery in Kilroy while maggots turned him back into dust.

I was trying to stop Mr. Kaminski's transition into a new story so he could focus on the road when a Subaru Legacy passed us in the fast lane. It was amazing that it was snowing on Halloween. The weathermen were losing their minds. But the one thing you could count on about the New England weather was that it was unpredictable. The passengers in the Subaru turned around and stared at me. The person in the front wore a Michael Myer's mask from the Halloween movies. The guy in the back wore a white mask from the Scream movies. Both masks were covered in fake blood.

"I used to be in such a rush just like you," Mr. Kaminski said. "When I was your age—"

"I really need to catch this flight."

"You ever think about slowing down some?"

The entire time Mr. Kaminski spoke, he kept his eyes fixated on the road.

"When I was your age," Mr. Kaminski said, "I drank a ton. I am an alcoholic."

I was shocked to hear Mr. Kaminski being so blunt. In Kilroy, a piece of information that hinted at a man's weakness could be spread around town faster than winter flu. Maybe he didn't care? Regardless, I knew the significance of sharing a secret. I had always kept my mother's illness as a secret. Never talked about it with a single person. I worried people would begin to think I was insane. Maybe they would think it was hereditary. And once you shared a secret like that, you began creating a bond and a pledge. I didn't want to play that game, but he was forcing me. I thought he was trying to make a trade.

"Do you still drink?" I asked. I wondered if he had ever been drunk while he was driving. In fact, I wondered if he was drunk right now.

"Been on the wagon for 6 years," Mr. Kaminski said.

"Do you think we're going to make it to the airport?"

Mr. Kaminski signaled into the left lane, and I felt the snow shooting off the road and up into the floorboards. It felt like we were hydroplaning.

"I'm not going to rush," Mr. Kaminski said. "Let me tell you a story."

"I've heard a lot of stories," I said. "They don't help."

Somehow, I thought he was trying to talk about my mother in a backhanded way.

"You're going to listen, James," Mr. Kaminski said. "Once, I was drinking down at Scooby's. Back before the bar moved and Scooby's was next to that tombstone place on Main Street. What a weird set up. You'd see about 30 tombstones out front on the sidewalk with no names. A crazy form of advertisement."

Mr. Kaminski put the windshield wipers on high and turned on the defroster. The snow started to come down harder, and it blurred the road. The wipers squeaked against the glass.

"I went into the bar for a beer and a shot of Cutty Sark. Nothing extraordinary for those days. Jimmy O'Loughlin was down at the other end of the bar. You know what a wicked prick he can be. He always owes everybody money. So I made him buy me some drinks. The bartender put a brown shot in front of me. That's the last thing I remember. Next thing I know, I was in a hotel room. I looked out the window and saw freaking palm trees. I called down to the hotel lobby to find out where I was. The lady gave me the address. And I said no, what city? I was in Ft. Lauderdale for Christ's sake."

I watched a red Mustang slip off the highway and crash into the median. The other cars hit their brakes, but Mr. Kaminski just slowed down, went into the breakdown lane, and looped around the stopped cars.

"From the pieces of the story I gathered, I left Scooby's trashed. Don't even remember. Everybody said I was acting normal. No one could tell I was even drunk. I'd perfected hiding what was really going on. Best I can figure, I got into my car and drove to Logan. I could buy a ticket easy because they all knew me at Delta from driving the Limos for thirty years. Took a flight all the way to Florida and bought a hotel room. No one could ever tell I was drunk. I could function fine. It's so easy to just take off."

"And your wife still loves you?" I said.

"Women, James, are much stronger than us. You don't understand that now."

"I don't know about that, Mr. Kaminski."

Mr. Kaminski stopped talking. He peered deep into the road as if he was playing a story back to himself that he didn't want to share. I watched him move that Lincoln between traffic flawlessly. The snow didn't bother him at all. It was almost supernatural.

"Listen," I said. "I know you're trying to be really careful, but I got about forty minutes to get to my flight?"

"Are you not listening to anything I'm saying?" Mr. Kaminski said. Mr. Kaminski started to drum his fingers on the steering wheel. "I have another story for you."

"The last story didn't do it," I said.

He looked into the rearview mirror and shifted to the middle lane. A car was barreling down behind him. "I died on a motorcycle once."

"Come on," I said. "How could you have died on a motorcycle?"

"Why would I lie to you?" Mr. Kaminski said. "I was driving my old silver Yamaha in Marlboro. Summer—six years ago. I loved that bike. I was driving through downtown when I went into cardiac arrest. It was as if someone from above just turned me off. I fell off the bike at 50 mph and broke four ribs. Those broken ribs punctured my lungs."

Now the Boston skyline came into view. I could see the Charles' River snaking towards downtown. I saw the bridge covered in graffiti across from MIT. I saw the old Boston University football stadium. The Citgo sign. The John Hancock building.

"We're so close," I said. "Can't you just…"

The Lincoln sped up a little bit. I thought I was breaking him down.

"I was unconscious for three minutes," Mr. Kaminski said. "Three minutes without breathing. I was lucky though. Someone gave me a gift. My accident happened right in front of the Marlboro fire department."

Mr. Kaminski got off the Mass Pike and headed towards the Back Bay and the Sumner Tunnel to Logan Airport. He never took the Ted Williams tunnel. The freaking Big Dig. He always said one day someone would die there. And sure enough, one year, the roof collapsed and killed a lady driving in her car.

"I was in a coma for 36 days," Mr. Kaminski said. "When you're in a coma, you're aware of everything. I felt imprisoned in my own body. Swear on my mother's grave. I was conscious of everything going on around me. It was as if I was in a dream where I wanted to wake up but couldn't."

Then orange cones and yellow flashing lights appeared. He pulled onto a new street for the detour. Two lands on each side. We were near the Back Bay. I watched the snow falling and vanishing into the water. I looked up and saw thousands of snowflakes all heading for the same destiny. I thought about my mother at home. I thought about my dead grandparents. I thought about trying to catch this flight. I wished I was the one who vanished.

"You're right, Mr. Kaminski," I said. "There's no rush."

I felt Mr. Kaminski take his foot off the pedal. The Lincoln slowed down. That's when I saw the car coming. The car came from the driver's side, and we both turned to face what was approaching. There was no time for Mr. Kaminski to react, but everything appeared to pause. I watched the car, as if from another vantage point, far away and safe, barreling through the red light. I accepted the crash.

Now I had a moment of intense reflection, and a single memory appeared to me so vivid I felt I was watching a movie in my head. But first, it is important to note what I did not remember. I did not remember reaching into the dishwasher in my old home and pulling out a knife and holding it over my heart for my mother and father to see I wanted to kill myself. I did not remember driving on the way to summer camp, my mother and father yelling in the front seat of the car, and how I opened the back door as if to jump. I did not remember my mother, at the mental hospital, holding up a branch in the shape of a "Y" and pointing it in my face as if asking a question.

I did not remember waiting outside of a hospital room in Worcester for my grandmother to die of cancer. I did not remember reading her eulogy to her that I had written on the plane ride home, in her hospital bed, even before she had died. I did not remember having to be the one to tell my grandfather that the love of his life had died. I did not remember my mother, after my grandmother was pronounced dead, lying on top of the dead body, crying and holding her hand, begging her to wake up. I did not remember the frail, hollow shell my grandfather became after his wife died.

I did not remember the hours I spent in front of the television, watching reruns of television shows and dreaming of adventures in foreign countries, climbing volcanoes and jumping out of airplanes. I did not remember how lonely the nights were, staring up at the ceiling fan in my bedroom in Kilroy, trying to convince myself I would never die.

This is what I did remember. Music. A black piano. Psalms, my mother's voice, myself with drum sticks in my hand banging all over living room floor, trying desperately to find some sort of rhythm. My father coming home and tapping on the windows to let us know he was home from work. The garden in our backyard and the cherry tomatoes, the cantaloupes, and the cucumbers my father was so proud of. I remember trying to sing with my mother and wondering if my mother's voice was a gift. I remember music being able to take me somewhere. I remember the green sound of the piano. I remember how it all disappeared.

When the car hit, a liquid, which I knew was blood, splashed onto my face. The window collapsed, and I jolted against my seatbelt. My face smacked against the air bag. I rose up and looked around. The wipers had turned off, and Mr. Kaminski's airbag had not expanded. His head lay against the steering wheel, and the radiator was hissing. As far as I could tell, Mr. Kaminski was unconscious. I picked up his head and saw that all his teeth appeared broken. I looked at my body—my legs, my fingers, and my feet. I felt my head and the blood caked in my hair. I was alive.

--Story by Joseph A. Lapin