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Michael Gigandet

The Poteete Family And Driver

        Carter couldn’t avoid driving his service truck through the intersection where the woman died. His customer had a burst water pipe, and he didn’t have time to drive a circuitous bypass like the back routes he took to and from work just to avoid the intersection and the sign that read: “The Poteete Family and Driver”. 
        Carter stopped at the traffic light and watched the old man shove his mower over the grass in the triangular swatch between the main roads of the intersection and the long curving ramp which allowed drivers to skirt the intersection, avoiding the stop light on one road as they merged onto the other. It was a white-hot day, blistering like an industrial flame, one of those hellish days you get in Tennessee in mid-July. The old man wore a wide straw hat, and Carter could see sweat darkening the hat band. 
        Whenever he got stopped by the light, Carter always muttered a prayer that the old man would not look up and see him sitting there a few feet away. His service truck was hard to miss with that brightly painted smiling beaver logo on the side and should be easily seen by people turning through the curving ramp if they were paying attention and not on their phone like how the old man’s daughter was when she merged into his truck and slammed into a concrete wall in a fiery explosion.
God was preoccupied today. 
        The old man spotted Carter and held up his hand as if to say “wait a minute.” Wiping his face with a bandana he approached Carter’s truck on the passenger side, tapped on the window and motioned for him to lower it. Carter glanced at the stop light for an excuse to pull away, found none and did as he was instructed.
        “The memory garden looks nice doesn’t it?’ the old man’s pleasantry allowed no room for contradiction, so Carter said: “Beautiful. Very.”
        The city had given the old man the triangular patch of ground to turn into a public garden in memory of his daughter. Obviously retired, he wouldn’t have much to do except tend it. The flower beds were now exploding in color, some plants compact and close to the ground and others with long stems which swayed with the breeze whenever there was one. 
        “I want to put a bird bath and a small statue of my daughter over there, but the city won’t let me,” the old man said.
        “Oh, I’m sorry,” Carter said, glancing at the stop light again. The light was a long one because this was one of the town’s busiest intersections. One road skirted around the town or took you out to the interstate exchange, and the other took you straight downtown.
        The old man looked at him as if he was trying to think of something to say. Carter glanced at the light again and said, “Maybe it’s against the rules.”
        Now the light changed, and the traffic in front of Carter began to pull away. 
        “I was thinking you might call them…with you being the other driver.”
        The old man had wanted to put Carter’s name on the sign instead of just “driver”, but the city required everyone’s permission to do that, and Carter, who usually went along with anything suggested to him, apologized and said no. The accident was not his fault, and he already felt bad enough. Why should his name be held up to daily public judgment in one of the busiest intersections in town?
        “I just thought you might want to,” the old man had said. 
        Carter didn’t need a reminder of the accident. Several times a day, he saw the woman’s face framed in his side window like a portrait, her expression frozen in the moment of apprehension when she realized that Death was reaching for her. Somehow, it seemed unfair that he was the last person she saw alive. 
        He gasped the first time he saw the sign which became his daily reminder of his part in the tragedy.
        Will that sign be there forever? Someday the old man will die or become too decrepit to keep up the garden. What then?
        “I just thought it would look better…with your name.” The old man had said and gave Carter that same silent look like he did now.
        The drivers behind Carter began to ease around him into the passing lane. No one honked, and he wondered if people knew who the old man was and felt sorry for him.
        In the beginning, Carter didn’t know how to act when the old man saw him at the intersection. It would be rude to pretend he did not see the old man. Carter had done nothing wrong, everyone said so. Why should he feel guilty? The old man needed some acknowledgement, some participation in remembering the death of his daughter. 
        Early on Carter compromised between pretending not to see the old man and vigorously waving, deciding to lift his fingers from the steering wheel, not his hand, but just his fingers. The old man would hold up his hand as if he was accepting the recognition. That was their ritual.
He wanted to move away, maybe to Nashville where no one knew him, but his wife refused because their family and friends were nearby. She tried to be nice about it, but she had the children to consider.
        “No one blames you for what you did,” she said, and immediately corrected herself, “…for what happened.” He never mentioned moving again although he sometimes thought about it.
        “I’ll call…Yes.” It was easier to say “yes”, than to say “no” again.
        The old man smiled and turned back to his mower.
        Carter accelerated, hoping he could catch the light while it was still green. Under the light, he realized that he was holding his breath. 
        This has to end. There has to be some kind of conclusion, a point where people begin living again.
        Carter knew what would happen if he called the city so he decided to lie about it. He would tell the old man that he asked, but “they said no”.
Michael Gigandet is a retired lawyer living on a farm in middle Tennessee. He has been published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bending Genres, Quarencia Press and Transfigured Lit. He has had stories published in anthologies by Palm Sized Press, Pure Slush and Down In The Dirt.
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