Randall yanked his pickup left onto E Street, sending Janice into the passenger-side door with a light thud. She huffed.
“So close to home,” Randall thought, “and I give her a reason to complain. Guess I’ll dip into that bottle of brown tonight. Again.”
Randall dodged a pothole — then another — and made the hard right-hand turn into the driveway.
Finally, he thought. Peace. Unload the truck, situate the pets, throw on some joggers, and reach for the rocks glass and some sweet, sweet —
Randall jammed the brakes, bringing his pickup to a rapid halt and jerking Janice forward. The seatbelt caught her momentum, but this time the huff came complete with a glare and a grunt, too: The holy trinity of an angry wife.
Already, Randall contemplated his second pour.
He forgot about the desk in the bed of the truck, about how Janice specifically told him to take it through their wider front door when they got home so he’d have more space to work and to maneuver. Randall forgot plenty lately out of necessity. But now, thanks to his latest lapse, he was pulled too far forward into the driveway and would need to creep back toward the front of the house.
Randall put his pickup in reverse, activating the glow of the backup camera. The driveway came into focus, and Randall eased his foot off the brake, allowing the truck to roll back. Face illuminated, Randall checked the camera screen and —
Randall crushed the brakes, whipping his head around to confirm what he just saw.
“You saw that, right?” Randall asked Janice.
“Saw what exactly?” Janice replied, re-adjusting her seatbelt in the process.
“Right there, in the camera when we started backing up….” Randall choked down a wad of saliva. He coughed lightly, clearing his throat.
“I’ll be right back.”
With that, he opened his door and walked quietly toward the truck bed. He searched everywhere, hoping to find a shoeprint, a thread of fabric, a stray hair — anything to verify his sanity.
Randall inhaled deeply and headed for the driver’s door. He took his seat with a massive, deliberate breath and exhaled slowly, fighting back the cocktail of fear and sorrow.
Janice glanced in his direction.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
“It was … It was nothing,” Randall replied.
It wasn’t a lie but a sacrifice. A white flag. Now wasn’t the time. He didn’t have the energy for this again. He just wanted that desk in the house and that drink in his hand.
Randall gripped the shifter, depressed the brake, and once more clicked his truck into reverse. The glow returned, highlighting the driveway, activating the camera, and — No.
He stopped cold. Thrusting the shifter into park, Randall bolted out of his door and sprinted to the back of his truck. He knew what he saw. He just needed proof. Scrambling, Randall dropped to his knees, checking the undercarriage of his pickup. Jerking his phone out of his pocket, Randall triggered his flashlight and scanned the scene.
Search party for one, and the stakes rose to the moon.
A click toward the front of the truck jolted Randall to his feet.
Just Janice. One foot met the earth, then the other as she slid out of the truck. They locked misty eyes.
“What is wrong with you? This isn’t normal, Randall,” Janice said.
Randall didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer. Not in a sensible fashion she’d understand, at least. It’d prompt the same cycle, the same argument, the same can’t-end-soon-enough banter that inevitably leads to tears.
Things just weren’t the same. Not since the accident. They both acknowledged that fact, but neither accepted it nor moved on from it.
Randall stood, frozen, looking at Janice and hoping maybe this time would be different. Maybe this time she’d believe him, come to him, wrap her arms around him and tell him everything would be OK. That they’d be OK.
Janice shook her head and entered the front door without a word.
Stuck in space and time, Randall felt his throat tighten as his adrenaline waned. He couldn’t afford another meltdown, but he couldn’t compose himself this time, either. He could only play this game of limbo with his emotions, ducking under one tragedy just to see the next take shape — lower and more impossible to clear than the last.
Finally, Randall shuffled toward the truck. Maybe Janice was right. Maybe it was him. Maybe it’s been him since the accident. Maybe his grief rooted and festered and grew into this life of terror and hallucination that increasingly plagued him.
Randall climbed back into the driver’s seat.
“Gotta unload that damn desk,” he said.
He steadied himself once more, lightly pushing the brake while running his palm over the bumpy leather of the shifter.
“I’m going to put this truck in reverse,” Randall thought, “and the backup camera will come to life. When it does, I’ll see my fence over my left shoulder. I’ll see my trees, my hedges, and my shrubs over my right shoulder. I’ll see my driveway — my empty driveway — directly behind me. I’ll see nothing more.”
Slowly moving the shifter into reverse, Randall closed his eyes.
“I’ll see nothing more,” he repeated silently.
Randall opened his eyes and stared at the camera screen.
There was nothing. Just concrete, fence, trees, and shrubbery. Just as he told himself. Just as Janice had been telling him for months.
Eyes welling, Randall eased the truck back, stopping at the front of the house and sliding the gearbox back into park. He turned the key and removed it from the ignition. Randall shuddered and rocked his body, hoping to thaw this frost before heading inside.
He grabbed his coffee from the center console, gathering the strength to enter his home.
“What a thought,” Randall realized with a sarcastic half-smile. “The house my great-grandfather built, the house I adored growing up, the house in which I began my family, and I’m afraid to enter.”
He shook his head, turning his attention back to that bottle of brown waiting on the bar cart.
Randall approached the tailgate, lifted his hand to the latch, and let out an audible gasp as he dropped his coffee to the concrete with a crash.
A handprint. Right there on the tailgate.
The mark was barely visible yet unmistakable under the glow of the motion lights. One handprint, tiny and delicate. The hand Randall longed to feel on his chest once more while they slept. The hand Randall would hold when they crossed the street. The hand that would gently glide over his stubble before pulling away with a laugh and a shake.
“That tickles, daddy.”
Randall could still hear him.
Tears rolling down his cheeks, Randall sniffled and wiped his face with his flannel sleeve. He slid the desk from the back of the truck and closed the tailgate, trying to dam this flood of memories.
“I love you, buddy,” Randall said, wiping the small handprint from the tailgate.
Sighing, Randall picked up the desk with a grunt and headed for the front door.
Maybe tonight he’d skip that drink. This time, Randall didn’t need to forget.
Tonight, he wanted to remember.