His head was cradled on his arm so that the hand stood straight up, as if groping his way out of a deep sleep, as if to say 'OK, I'm awake, I'm getting up'. Except he wasn't. His legs were crossed at the ankles in a way that was almost delicate, like a dancer, except that he was lying in the street. Dungaree jacket, jeans, Addidas. His helmet, full-face with the black visor down, created the odd image of an alien's head on a teenager's body.
The motorcycle lay on its side across the street.
No blood, no oil, no gasoline, nothing obviously broken. If it wasn't for the police and ambulance you would have thought the guy could get up, beat the dirt off his pants and jacket, and limp, cursing, across the street to tug the bike upright.
Safety flares in broad daylight. Cops directing traffic. No sense of urgency. Thank God for the helmet — not that it had saved him, but I could not deal with seeing a face, blood running out of a mouth or nose, or someone I knew.
A flatbed truck angled in to get the bike. A gurney from the ambulance was wheeled towards the motorcyclist. I forced myself, like in a bad dream, to move one leg, then the other. I was going to be late for work. I didn't want to see them move that elegant hand.
I pushed through the door of the Quickie Mart to find Peter standing, hands in pockets, waiting for me.
I nodded in response.
"You're late." He ducked his head to make eye contact with me. I blinked.
"Are you OK?"
"Fine. Sorry." I shook my head, as if to clear cobwebs.
Peter, half-owner of the Quickie Mart squinted at me.
"Beverly, can you hang for two minutes? Thanks. Kid, come back to the office for a minute."
I followed, and as I trance-walked past the register Beverly reached over and squeezed my arm. I followed Peter down the aisle that had cookies, crackers, and bread on one side, canned goods and condiments on the other, through the louvered swinging doors, through the back room, to the tiny airless office. He made a show of looking around, as if to comfort me that we were alone and could speak frankly.
"So. I'm not mad, but you gotta be honest with me — are you high?"
The question was so out of left field that I had to think for a moment.
"You sure? You didn't just do up that little present I gave you?"
"No." I thought about telling him that Mase and I had smoked the joint several nights ago, but it seemed neither here nor there.
"'Cause you seem a little spacey. You're not usually late. Anything bothering you?"
I looked at Peter's blank face wearing a mask of concern. I had been glad that the motorcyclist's visor had been down, but I knew that in some way I had to know what was behind it, because now the dark shameful corner of my imagination would create and endless parade of visions of what was there; a smashed bloody pumpkin, a chilling grimace, nothing at all — Jesus! What if it was a girl? Could that have been a girl's hand? I tried to remember it with clarity and could not. Not knowing how to respond I did a little of everything — I shrugged, smiled, shook my head, made a face.
Peter crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the desk, and neither of us spoke for a minute. He looked at me, and not wanting to appear guilty of something, I looked back.
"Marie knows about Donna, if that's what's bothering you."
I shrugged, and he must have thought he had hit his target. Two nights ago his wife had been looking for him, and later he had appeared in a car with a young blonde woman who used to work at the Quickie Mart.
"Don't worry about it, she won't ask, and even if she does, all we were doing was taking a ride, smoking a little ganja."
Peter looked at me some more, calculating, and then said, "I can trust you can't I? I can tell. Check it out . . . " Peter raised his pant leg with one hand and pulled some Polaroid's out of his boot with the other, and held the out to me. Donna, posing on a bed naked, with a half-full bottle of Cuervo Gold. In one picture she lay on her back, her legs spread, one hand lazily in the air as if calling a waiter over. I stared at the pale ghosts of her bathing suit.
"Out of this fuckin' world, man!" Peter hissed, "Know what I'm sayin'?" He put the pictures back in his boot and grinned. "Nobody's seen them but me, and her, and you. Do not say a fuckin' word to anyone, right? Right?"
"You and me, " he took his cigarettes out of his shirt pocked and drew a thin joint out of the back, and tucked it in my shirt pocket, "We got an understanding, so don't fuck it up." He raised his eyebrows to signal that the conversation was over. "Cause I hear everything."
Beverly pulled on her windbreaker and shouldered her bag, a beat-up black leather one that had a knot of key chains with her son's picture hanging from one strap.
"You OK hon? Yuh?" She smiled at me, a look of pure mother-love and acceptance, and I grew jealous of the little boy with the thick glasses whose picture was sealed in all of those plastic doo-dads. "Don't worry about Peter, he's always runnin' hot and cold." She scooped up her keys, and glanced down North Main. "Wonder what all the sirens are — accident?"
I nodded, thinking that when I had glanced back as the medics had prepared to lift the motorcyclist, the hand looked like it was waving goodbye.
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