Alan Taylor’s black ‘76 Chevy smashed into the bridge guardrail Friday night at precisely 11:42 p.m. A split second later, it catapulted into the power lines, flipped over on its back and dropped like a dead raven on the Amtrak rails below.
At 11:57 p.m., Alan slumped upside down inside his car. At least the seat belt works. He moaned, lifting his left arm. He tried to move his legs. What am I doing here? He wiggled to free himself. Twisted metal came between him and the buckle. He felt blood flowing into his head. He laughed. Good thing I’m drunk. Yeah, good thing I‘ve been hanging upside down every night at the gym. The alcohol continued to do its job. Look at me — not a tense muscle in my body. I’m in great shape for the shape I’m in. I can sleep anywhere. Craziest trip I’ve taken. Might as well relax; the police will be along soon.
The state highway patrol officer was certain no one was alive in the car. He glanced at his watch. It must have happened after 11:40 or the eastbound Broadway Limited would have further remodeled the Chevy — along with everything inside it. He wondered what getting hit by a train would feel like. I bet it wouldn’t have made any difference to whoever was in this car. Dead is dead.
Alan’s mother worked all day in the retail outlet her husband owned before he died. Before retiring, she soaked her feet and took two pain killers. I don’t want to wake up during the night. I am so tired. I really need to sleep. She shut her eyes at 10:14. It seemed only moments when she opened them again at 11:05. She glanced at the clock. I don’t want to be awake. This is absolutely crazy.
For a few minutes, she stared at the little sparkles in the ceiling and tried to find Orion or Ursas Minor. Then she rolled several times, first to the right but her shoulder ached; then to the left but her right arm went numb. Why, God? Why can’t I sleep tonight? It has been a long day — and a long week. This isn’t fair.
She stumbled to the kitchen and put a mug of milk in the microwave. When it was warm, she walked sipping into the living room. Outside, the well-lit street was quiet. She was glad they were finally able to move away from the tracks. That Broadway Limited used to wake her up every night at 11:40. When Dave died, she used the insurance money to upgrade. This was a good move. This milk is good too. She felt sleepy again and returned to the bedroom. Just as she turned back the covers to crawl in, she heard a train whistle — it was the Broadway Limited. How can that be? We live twenty miles from the track?
Something is wrong. She slid out of bed and dropped to her knees. Lord, watch over that train tonight. You alone control what is happening. You are able to protect it and anyone concerning it. She prayed for its passengers, then for people who might be on the crossings. Alan. He’s okay. He’s at work, at Leek’s Cafe. He called and said he would be working until midnight. She prayed: Lord, keep Alan out of the path of that train. Keep him safe tonight. Help him to understand that You love him. May Your goodness lead him to repentance. She crawled under the sheets, closed her eyes and was instantly asleep. It was 11:41.
Alan looked again at his watch. It was 12:06. He was no longer laughing. My mother will never trust me again. I told her I already had my license back and now she will find out. What will I tell her this time? I keep lying to her. I really don’t want to but she keeps asking personal questions. I have to say something.
He wished he had been a little kinder to her at supper. She talked about his future. She said I have so much potential. Yeah, I think so too — so why can’t I get a decent job? And why does everything I touch turn into a bill at the end of the month? Why can’t I get my act together? Why did dad have to die anyway? I am so bloody unlucky. Look at this mess. My car is totaled. Why does everything happen to me?
He could see the broken power lines above him. He could smell the oil and gasoline bleeding out of his car. By turning his head, he could see the Amtrak bridge and the broken rail. He knew what time the trains came by; he used to live less than 500 yards from this spot. I just missed the 11:40 express. God — what a coincidence. His mind stopped, suddenly sobered on that thought. Only God could do that — only God. Why would He bother with a bum like me? I don’t deserve any favors. I... He... why me? For a few minutes, he tried to shake thoughts of God but could not. Tears began rolling out the corners of his eyes and up into his hairline.
The state highway patrol officer slammed his car door and slid down the embankment beside the bridge. He pointed his flashlight directly in front, fearful he might stumble onto a hot wire from the power lines or broken glass and sheared metal from the Chevy. He stopped. What is that noise? It sounds like someone singing... in the car. He reached the battered mass and peered inside.
Police Log: Arrested and booked Alan Taylor, twenty, on charges of reckless and drunk driving, driving without a license and speeding. Unable to give a breathalyser but car contained several bottles of beer and the suspect behaved in a manner consistent with someone who was not in control of their faculties.
“Can you believe this,” the officer laughed? “This black Chevy hit the Amtrak bridge rails and somehow flipped upside down off the bridge, hit the power lines, broke a bunch of wires, landed top down on the tracks below, minutes after the train goes by — and inside the car, the drunk driving the thing was hanging upside down. It took us nearly an hour to get him out of there. The lucky idiot didn’t have a scratch on him. Want to hear the really strange part? When I got there and even the whole time he was in my custody on the way to the station, he had the face of a child. He looked like someone who just got a medal or something. He kept singing some song over and over — not in tune mind you, but it sounded a lot like Amazing Grace.”
© Elsie Montgomery