Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Red Bow

She sat the conference table, a piece of the cheap scarlet ribbon tied
in a bow in front of her, eyes blazing with hate and her head shaved
as bare as a billiard ball.

She looked like a wood block print of an ancient Egyptian queen, her
smeared makeup running in the severe morning sunlight pouring through
the windows.

"I don't know what you think you're trying to prove."

"I'm not trying to prove anything," I said.

"Yes, you are. You're trying to prove you're smarter than me, aren't

"No, ma'am, I'm not."

I didn't know what else to say.

I just sat there and stared at her.

She stared back.

It was simple enough. She had taken on the responsibility of tying
red ribbons to the radio aerials and rearview mirrors of peoples' cars
because her daughter had been hit head-on by a drunken driver. The
drunk's car crossed the centerline of the two-lane road on the rural
Florida highway.

The girl hadn't been able to avoid the collision because a steel
traffic barrier merely made her tiny car bounce along at high speed,
slamming into it repeatedly at an oblique angle as she panicked. The
pickup lurched into the path of her car even after she had left the
paved surface to skim through the weeds at the berm.

I knew.

At that moment, I knew it as well as I knew my own name.

I had read the highway patrolman's report, glanced at his diagram,
interpreted the grim reality of the measurements. The photographs
told the rest of the story in a grim black and white series of macabre
images, the hood and bumper of the little compact shoved entirely
underneath the seats, the sprays of blood fanning out across the
airbags, the lock of scalp and long brown hair still hanging in the
shattered windshield.

I still hadn't reacted. My face was a piece of stone. She burst into
a fresh round of tears.

"You didn't have to write all that stuff. All you had to do was to
write what I said to write, that I am putting red ribbons on peoples'
cars to remind them not to drive drunk. That's all I wanted."

I hadn't written much. I had merely written a cursory description of
the indisputable facts of how the collision occurred and the fact that
the daughter was killed upon impact.

The driver of the much heavier pickup truck was treated and released
from an area hospital, jailed briefly, released on bond, and placed on
probation after entering a plea of guilty to negligent homicide and
driving under the influence of alcohol. In fact, the massively
armored front bumper of the truck was barely dented.

I had no words. The horror of the situation prevented me from
speaking. I continued to sit looking at her with a blank expression.
The chemotherapy had all the hormones in her body raging and fighting,
the organism itself battling the chemicals for survival while the
cancer tried to take over and throttle the will to survive.

The editor, a middle-aged ad sales lady who had learned her trade
working for an Army publication overseas, cleared her throat and spoke
up for the first time.

"Well, ma'am, is there anything materially incorrect or false about
the written report we published?"

"Yes! There is! It's wrong to just go on and on about something a
person doesn't want any publicity about, isn't it? Isn't it wrong to
just keep at it until you drive a mother crazy? Isn't it?"

"Well, ma'am, you told him you intend to sue him. On what grounds
would you have standing to sue? He hasn't said anything false or
misleading, there is no malicious intent on his part. What is the
problem? Is the problem that what he wrote makes you uncomfortable?
Obviously, no one is happy..."

"You'd better not say another word about someone being happy, lady!

She burst into tears again.

The editor glanced at me. Then she pushed a box of Kleenex across the
table toward the woman. She poured some more ice water into her

The woman slapped the glass off the table. It left a trail of ice
cubes and beads of water across the polished surface.

"Let's not do that," the editor said quietly. "I don't think that
will help anything."

She turned to me and said I could go.

I bolted from the room, spooked by the look in her eyes.

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