Free Stories

Promise Me

Promise me

I was just making a run down to the store. We needed a few things, like milk and bread and stuff. When she asked me to go, I said, "Sure, why not." I could pick up a six-pack while I was there. Well, the kid wanted to go along, of course. He always wanted to go with me. Never mattered where. I didn't mind. It was kinda nice having him along.

A quiet kid, and a great listener. When he did talk it was usually to ask questions like, "When you were a kid, did they have V8 engines," and "Did you always want to be a diesel mechanic?" And when I'd answer, he'd watch me while I talked, with those milk-chocolate colored eyes of his, without looking away like most people do. You know, when people ask you something but when you go to tell them they look off and you can tell they really didn't want to hear anyway and so while you're babbling an answer you're wondering why the hell they even asked in the first place.

Well, like I was saying, it was just a short drive down to the market, maybe two miles max. The radio was on. I remember he’d cranked it up kinda loud, but I didn't mind cause it was playing an old Mamas and Papas song, "Dancing in the Streets." It's the kind of music that lifts ya up and set ya down back to when life seemed less cluttered, and so before you know it you're rockin' out like some teenager from the 60's.

You can imagine what a laugh that gave the kid. Here's this 45-year-old man with a receding hairline and a Dunlap belly, as in done-lapped-over his belt, groovin' to some old tunes and singin' off-key at the top of his lungs. The kid laughed and tried to join in but, of course, didn't know the words or anything. 

So every so often I'd hear some lone word he'd managed to guess at like, "world," or "beat" or "Philadelphia PA." Or he'd string a few together that came out a split second after Mama Cass sang them out in her full throaty alto, like "as long as you are there," and "dancin' in the street." The whole time he was watching me, mimicking my movements, and I'd think about how it was like he was recording everything in his memory to play back later when he needed to know how to be. I felt like, well . . . sorta like his hero. It was a great feeling I can tell ya.

He wasn't actually my kid. She was married before to some guy from high school. It was one of those statistics where two more high school sweethearts wanted to kill each other before a year was up. But as far back as he could remember I was his dad, all he ever knew anyway. I think I sorta started to believe it myself. 

Except for those big brown eyes of his, he could have been mine. Mine are blue. Everyone in my family has the same slate blue eyes. His mother has blue eyes too, but darker, almost violet, real pretty. So his eyes gave it away, I guess. I don't know if most people know it or not, but blue-eyed parents don't give birth to no brown-eyed kids, least not so's I've ever heard of. That's how you can tell if there's been a "rat in the woodpile." Not really fair, I'd say. Blue-eyed parents are like stuck with the hard evidence unless they always jump the fence with blue-eyed lovers. But if you're brown-eyed or hazel-eyed, any cheatin' that comes to fruition, so to speak, never turns in to one of them family skeletons that people are always whisperin' about.

So, anyway, there we were, rockin' to Mama Cass, headed down the hill toward the store when the tire blows.

It's not like I haven't been driving before when a tire blows, but it was the front right, and I must have been close to the shoulder. The road's not very wide anyway. The shoulder is steep and graveled--so the truck rolls. It rolls all the way over and comes to a springy stop back up on all four wheels, just like nothin' happened except the truck was straddling the ditch and not on the road anymore. It happened so fast, but it's like slow motion now when I think about it, which is near all the time.

I look over, and he's gone. The seat's empty, like he was never there. For a moment I thought maybe he never was. Maybe I got confused and had been alone this time. God, how many times since I wished I was.

Ya see she has this thing about seat belts. Always has. The last thing she says to anyone whenever they leave to go somewhere, isn't, "See ya later," or "Drive carefully," like other people do, but "Fasten your seat belt. Promise me." Every time, same thing.  "Fasten your seat belt. Promise me." Always extracting the promise and if you don't answer, or she doesn't hear you, she asks again.

That's what makes it so bad, well, it's always bad. But somehow it makes it even worse. I guess I just sorta figured he'd buckled up. I mean with hearing her say it his whole life, like maybe a bazillion times, how could he forget. I know I never did. But I should've checked. I shoulda made sure. Grown-ups are supposed to make sure.

She never said it was my fault. She doesn't have to. I can see it there in her eyes. I tell by the set of her mouth. She doesn't really look me right in the eyes either. I wish she'd scream or yell and call me a no good son-of-a-bitch. But she doesn't. She never says "Fasten your seat belt. Promise me," either. That's the worst of it.

by B.L. Golden

Previously published in Tucumcari Literary Review

Back to Stories