A man lay splayed out against the asphalt. A thin but widening circle of pooling blood crowned his head. His face was pale and white. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and trailed down his grizzled face. His breathing came quick and fast. He spoke, and I leaned down to hear his broken whispers.
“The sky is a ball and I am bouncing it on my knee. We play four square with the sun and dodgeball, too. I love dodgeball. If I catch the ball you’re out. You’re out. But who are you?
“And where’s Goldie? She was around here somewhere. Oh, yeah, she chased a squirrel across the road. That car hit her Momma, and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You told me I should never let her off the leash.”
He wept and sobbed.
I tried to calm him. “Shh. It’s okay.”
His wild eyes turned in frantic circles. Lids fluttered.
“What’s that? Not the dark. I’m scared of the dark. Can’t you leave the door open, Dad?”
At this point, he shuddered. Tears fell down my face as I listened to him ramble. I just wanted to comfort him any way I could. This was all my fault. “It’s okay. Shh. I’ll leave the door open. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” I hoped he didn’t hear the emotional uncertainty in my breaking voice.
“Tell Brian that I forgive him. It’s okay. I never loved her anyway.
“Ooh. What’s that? There’s so much here. So much light. So much of everything. So much. Too much, almost. There is beauty in the not here, and the not here is there, it is really there. Whatever it is.”
He stopped and looked at me with a sudden and forceful clarity. “I forgive you.”
I thought about the dull thud when I hit him, and how quickly I had sobered up as I pulled my car over. I knew the police would be here soon, but I would not run. Tears streamed down my face, and I sobbed. “Thank you,“ I told him. “Thank you.” And for the first time in a long time I knew something close to peace, but it hovered beneath an oppressive veil of grief and guilt, yet he forgave me again.
“I forgive you.”
His eyes glazed over.
“Where’s the train? Where’s the train? I hold out the butter and it melts.”
I reached down to him and felt his burning wet forehead. He looked at me one more time, one last time – there was clarity in his eyes for just the briefest of moments – and then he looked through me towards the hills and the rising sun behind them. It may have just been his muscles finally relaxing once he gave up, but I thought I saw him smile.
I also thought I heard the faintest of whispers: “Beautiful.”
Distant sirens echoed through the hills. They sounded empty. They sounded unreal, as if from another world.
I reached out a trembling hand to close the dead man’s eyes. I closed my own eyes and prayed while his cooling blood congealed.
... Beautiful ....