The two boys walked side by side, occasionally tossing a football back and forth. Above, ran an elevated train track or the ‘El’ as the locals called it. The boys detoured around some people hurrying to the nearby train station. The bigger of the two waked on the inside along the rusty chain-link fence that bordered the sidewalk there. Although just a sophomore, he played varsity ball, starting at defensive end. The smaller boy, a junior in high school, was in the chess club. They had just left his house where his mother had fixed them lunch and were headed to a game of ‘touch’ football. Before them, supported by column after concrete column, stretched the long lines of the ‘El’. Undulating and uneven, the black pavement below lay in the shadows of, and in contrast to, the pale weathered railroad structure.
From behind them the sound of an approaching car prompted the older one to step behind his friend and closer to the fence. He lightly placed his hand on the fence as he turned his head in time to see an old sedan bottom out in the dip near the corner near his house. Sparks flew to the screech of metal. The boy tensed momentarily but relaxed when the panicked look on the drivers face was replaced by a scowl of annoyance. The car steadied and passed them, leaving behind yet another scar in the blacktop.
“Must not be from around here,” he said. “Everyone knows about that corner.” He spoke with a matter-of-fact tone, “The other night a guy in a Mustang lost it right there. Woke us all up … totaled his car.”
“Was he alright?”
“I guess, once the cops and the ambulance came we just went back to bed.”
An oncoming train rumbled into the station making conversation impossible. Suddenly the swelling roar of the train was punctuated by two louder bangs. They looked up through the center support columns to see a school bus slow to a halt in the oncoming left lane.
“What the hell?” the older boy said. He saw nothing through the procession of concrete pillars that seemed out of place. He checked for traffic before crossing the street and walked toward the bus. His friend, holding the football, kept walking on the sidewalk.
The bus driver, a man, looked dazed. The bus was filled with uniformed girls from the nearby Catholic high school. One girl had her face buried in her hands; many stood, craning their necks backwards. The boy walked more slowly now. The rear of the bus loomed closer. He felt drawn toward what lay ahead, yet more and more reluctant to see beyond the bus.
“Those girls are being awfully quiet,’ thought the boy as he skirted around a pillar. A young girl in a nearside window seat looked down at him as he approached the back of the bus. She had long blonde hair and blue eyes. He peered up at her. She returned his glance and smiled. It sent a shiver through him.
The bus had hit an old green, four-door Dodge Dart on the right rear quarter panel. Apparently, the driver had tried to cross the boulevard that ran under the ‘El’ and must not have seen the bus through the long lines of concrete pillars. The impact of the crash had spun the Dart around and drove the rear of the car right into one of the outer support pillars. Now replacing the trunk was a huge V-shape from which a massive, unmoving concrete pillar stood.
“Holy Shit!” he yelled. “Someone call an ambulance! Get Help!”
He moved toward the wreck. Smoke and steam rose from under the hood. The engine still ran, grinding and squealing. Approaching the driver’s door he tried to see who occupied the car and if they were still alive. It took a moment before he could comprehend what he saw. The front seat rested at an impossible angle on top of the back seat. Sprawled across both was an old couple. He’d been driving but now lay unconscious, limp, like a rag-doll tossed into a corner. She sat unmoving in the middle.
“Oh my God … my God,” she moaned.
“Help is coming,” he heard himself say. The boy knew he should turn the car off. He tried the door. It was jammed. He tried the others; they were jammed too. He ran around the car to reach the ignition. The driver’s window was only open a few inches. He couldn’t get in.
Looking up, he noticed some people standing back … watching. His friend was there, still holding the football. The smell of gasoline filled the air and for the first time he noticed the fuel he stood in. Urgently, he tried to think of some way to get into the wreck to turn the engine off.
He looked at the old couple then again at the growing crowd. An older guy, who might have been twenty or so, stood near the fringe of the crowd, smoking a cigarette.
“Get that fuckin’ thing out of here,” the boy screamed.
He felt uncertain, alone but somehow in charge. Turning back to the car he suddenly reached in and with both hands pulled the window out. It gave way, shattering into a thousand pieces. Reaching in, he was finally able to turn the car off. Though it still smoked, he felt better.
“Hold on lady, here comes the fire truck,” he said, as much for himself as for her. She said nothing, but shaking with effort reached out for her husband’s hand. A grimace of pain crossed her face until eventually she closed her wrinkled hand around his. She looked up at the boy, smiled and closed her eyes.
He looked on as the firemen worked to extract the old couple from the wreck. They loaded them into the ambulance.
“Will they be all right?” he asked the police officer after answering the questions the cop asked him.
The officer slowly shook his head no, but said, “We’ll see son … we’ll see. You did a brave thing boy. You did good; are you okay? Your hands are bleeding. Do you want to come with us to the hospital?”
The boy looked down at his hands. Dozens of tiny cuts dotted his palms. “No. No thanks; I’m okay.”
He stood absently staring at the wreck. Shuddering, he turned to join the crowd. The guy with the cigarette moved toward him and started to say something. Suddenly, his friend stepped between them and said, “Don’t even …”
They walked away from the crowd, toward their game, as another train rumbled overhead.