Jim Wayne Miller

After Twenty Years

   Somehow my hook got caught in the damn doorhandle. Those kids were playing the car radio so loud, when they spun out from under the trees, headed back toward town, they couldn’t hear me hollering. I almost bled to death.
   Now I live in another town. I’ve changed my name from Haken to Stumpf and have a state-of-the-art prosthesis. And even though I’m principal of the high school, when kids pull up beside me at a traffic light, their whole car jumping with loud music, or some smart-ass dj’s patter, I still want to get out right there in the street, jerk open their car door, and choke them till they turn blue.
   It was years before I could bring myself to go back to the town where it happened, but once I did it wasn’t difficult to locate those kids. They broke up during their senior year. Later she married somebody else, had two kids, divorced, then married him, and together they had two more — all girls! He’s a programs analyst, she runs a Twice-is-Nice consignment shop, drives a station wagon with a yellow baby-on-board sign. The sign’s an old one. Their youngest daughter’s eight. Her daughters — from the first marriage — are baby-sitting now.
   I drive over there now from time to time and follow them around, hoping there’s a small green viper, found only on the island of Taiwan, in the pocket of the coat she buys at K-Mart — or worms in the Big Macs the girls order at the drive-in window — or a mouse in the Coke he drinks at the softball game.
   I hope her daughters, when they babysit, get calls from a heavy breather — who’s on the upstairs extension. I hope alligators infest the sewers in their town, the youngest daughter dries the puppy, after its bath, in the microwave.
   It’s a warm, windy night — I’m restless. I go out driving in the pre-owned BMW I bought for $500. An old guy died in it in an airport parking lot in Florida — and sat there for ten days before anybody found him. Nobody else would buy the car, but it seemed, somehow, right for me.
   My headlights pick up a girl standing on the shoulder of the road with her thumb extended. Her again! I don’t even slow down. If I stopped for her, she’d get in the back seat, give me directions to her mother’s house. I’d drive out of my way to get there, and then when I located the place, I’d look around and — she’d have vanished. I’ve got her number!
   I’m going to get on the turnpike and drive out to where that woman sits in the toll booth. Alone. All night.