The Accident

Carl and I generally wake up at about the same time. As he gets showered and dressed a lot faster than I do, by the time that I emerge from the master suite, he is sitting reading the Austin American Statesman. That morning was no exception except that he complained that he felt exhausted and a little ‘woozy’. I stared at his familiar face, and decided that he did look grey. His skin had a dank cast and, instead of their usual lively glow, his brown eyes looked dull and listless.
“You OK?” I asked.
 “Like I said, a little woozy, but its passing!”
 “I worry about you Carl. The doctor said that you might have another heart attack at any time. Do you think that this is one of those times? If so you should take it easy, and we should go to the clinic.”
“Nope, please, dear, don’t worry. I tell you, this coffee has done the trick. I feel great. As I mentioned last evening I have some pressing paperwork to attend to. I’m going to drive to the office and take care of it.”  

The hall clock chimed 8:00 as I watched him drive out. I turned into our home office and sat down. Then I was with him in the car. We had already turned from Foster Ranch Road onto the east bound three lanes of Southwest Parkway. The median between us and the west bound traffic was bright green in the morning light. The risen sun was brilliant and, since we drove due East, it almost blinded us. We passed the Boston Lane light and then the one at Travis Country Boulevard. He began to drive erratically. I put my hand on his arm,
“No Carl, no, pull over. You are having a heart attack!” At the point where the road curves to the south he kept driving straight across lanes. We ploughed off the road, through a mound of bluebonnets and made toward a tree.
I shouted “NO” and braced myself for impact. An impact never came. We were still in bed.

 Carl was shaking me, “Calm down Mary, calm down. It is only a dream.”
I relaxed and snuggled up behind his back. I held him in my arms as I drifted off to sleep. How I loved this man! A few minutes later, I decided to get up early and make him his favorite breakfast of pancakes. I crept out of bed leaving him snoring peacefully. In the kitchen, I discovered a shortage of milk and eggs. I decided to make a quick trip to Randall’s to buy these items and berries for a dessert which I planned for our son’s nineteenth birthday celebration that evening. Driving down Foster Ranch road felt like ‘deja vue’, then I turned onto Southwest Parkway and, as in my dream, bright dawn blinded me. The road was empty, and I enjoyed the translucency of the new March leaves on the trees. Everything seemed alive, but I didn’t share in its exuberance. I felt an ominous foreboding. The deer appeared right after I passed the Travis Country Boulevard light. I don’t know why I swerved, instinct, I suppose. Then I was going through the grass and bluebonnets. I saw the tree, already marred by Carl’s car. I screamed as I tried to brake and felt the car gliding toward it. 
Carl had stopped snoring and was shaking me, “Mary, Mary, wake-up. You are having another night-mare.”

Relieved, I snuggled against his back and slept, I think. Soon I heard noises in the kitchen and went to investigate. It was Margaret, our first-born, making herself coffee.
 “Good morning, dear, you are up early for a Saturday?” “I know, Mum, but last night I was called to do a morning fill-in shift at the clinic. They are short staffed.”
“Do be careful dear, at this time in the morning, the rising sun is blinding on Southwest Parkway.”
“I know, Mum, but I’ll be fine. It is not as though this is my first time to make this drive.”
 I watched her reverse out of the drive-way and turned into the study. I sat at my desk examining e-mails, then I was with her. We were stopped for the light at Travis Country Boulevard. She was sipping her coffee. When the light turned, she started with a jerk, coffee spilled out onto her lap.

“Ouch,” she yelled. I knew what was going to happen. As we swerved across the road, I saw the tree already standing a little crooked with its bark marred by the morning’s previous impacts. I knew that she was going to die. This time I screamed. 
Carl had me in his arms, “Mary, Mary, wake-up, wake-up.”
“It’s a recurring dream, or should I say night-mare,” I explained.
“Let’s get up,” he suggested.

Even though it was only 7:30 we did so. When we were seated at the breakfast table reading our newspapers, our son Andy appeared. He wore his biking gear, clinging tight to his body. You would see every lean muscle. I thought that he looked gorgeous, so fit, so healthy, so full of life.
“Good morning,” we chorused,” happy birthday, nineteen today.”
 He bowed in acknowledgement. “Yes, good morning,” he responded, “I’m meeting up with the team. We are going on a twenty miler, be back in plenty of time for the birthday celebration.”
My heart sunk, could my nightmares be a warning? I looked at him with motherly love. I didn’t want to sound overly interfering but had to give my warning.
“Drive carefully, dear! And, please don’t speed, the limit on Southwest Parkway is 55.”
He gave me a dead pan look of resignation. “I’m safe,” he said, “and anyway there is no traffic on Southwest Parkway on a Saturday morning.”
“Good,” was all I could counter, “But please, son, no texting or phone use while you are driving. It is illegal for good reason.”  

He leant over and kissedd me on the forehead and prepared to leave. Carl and I followed him to his car. We stood and watched him drive out onto Foster Ranch Road. He sped off far too fast. I could hear the roar of his engine, even after he had turned onto Southwest Parkway. After a few seconds, I experienced a wave of terror more profound than any that I had experienced in my nightmares, then nothing. 

By 8:45 am Carl and I were on Southwest Parkway driving east to Randalls to get the milk, eggs and berries. At Travis Country Boulevard, the road was blocked by a police car. A policeman directed traffic to U-turn and find another route.
“It’s a fatality!’ I said with sinking heart.
“So early in the morning,” mused Carl, “Who was out so early on a Saturday morning?”  I strained my neck but could see nothing. Carl continued his monologue, “I wonder if it was a heart attack, or someone avoiding a deer, or someone texting, or spilt coffee.”

I wasn’t listening to Carl’s speculations; my nightmares were too vivid. They came back to me striking me in the heart, so that all I could do was worry. I pulled out my phone and called Margaret.
“Good morning dear. Sorry if I woke you up but have you heard from Andy this morning?”
“Come on Mum,” her voice had the tone that you use with a small child, “He is on a ride with his team. Of course, I haven’t heard from him. They don’t let phones distract them.”
“I suppose that you are right, I just wondered,” I explained, “It’s his birthday!”
“Mum, of course I know that it is his birthday,” again her tone was gentle as though she was talking to a small child. “I texted him a birthday wish early this morning.”
It was my turn to be instructive but my foreboding pressed upon me and I couldn’t speak. I rang off.

 By 9:00 am we returned from Randalls and took the short cut up Boston Lane, the two-lane road was full of traffic for the police had now moved their barricade to the Boston Lane light. 

Hours later, when the police arrived, I let Carl talk to them. I didn’t need to hear what I already knew. I refused to look at the body. I let Carl do the identification. Later, much later, in the afternoon, Carl and I drove to the spot, the place that I already knew. We parked, and Carl got out to take pictures. You could see how a moment’s distraction for someone driving way too fast in the middle lane would go straight into the median, across the grass and bluebonnets into the tree. It stood there just as I had seen it in my nightmare, its bark torn and marred. The ground was churned up where the team who cut him out had parked and there were ruts where the tow truck had pulled the car out.

The Tree

There is an oak tree hulk standing on the banks of the River Wear in Durham City. The tree is dead and is black inside. It looks, for all intents and purposes, as though it was burned out after being hit by lightning. At one time there was a plaque on the tree supporting the local folklore that this was the tree in which Charles II hid after his defeat at the 1651 battle of Boscobel. It is true that the Durham tree is hollow and could be used as a hiding place, but as the battle took place near Worchester in the south of England while Durham is in the north; geography doesn’t support the legend. Charles’ epic escape from the battle field across England to find an eventual passage to France is a well recorded narrative; worthy of a Hollywood movie. It involves numerous disguises, many close calls, and imaginative hiding places including an oak tree. Boscobel Park now has a “Son of Royal Oak” grown from an acorn from the ‘original’ Royal Oak which was destroyed by visitors who gradually hacked it to pieces as each took their small souvenir. The tree on the Durham river banks is too large to have been one of those souvenirs although it could be a son or even grand-son of the original Royal Oak.

This tree was the reason that Zoe selected Prebends Bridge as her rendezvous spot. It stood close enough to the bridge to offer a good view of anyone standing on the east end. This point is the confluence of five pathways. There is the river bank path going upstream; the path going downstream, an oblique path climbing the steep river banks to a tunnel under the ancient monastery buildings leading to the cathedral close; the pedestrian only road across the bridge and its continuation up to the ancient city gate leading into the old Bailey. Zoe planned to conceal herself inside the tree’s charred interior so that she could watch whoever came to the bridge head. She had hidden there before and watched lovers ambling arm-in arm along the treed river banks. She had seen tourists, guidebooks in hand, staring up at the Norman cathedral perched on the promontory encircled by the river, and watched an elderly woman, who vaguely reminded her of her mother, with two white corgi dogs walking across the bridge, and then up the oblique steep path to the cathedral cloisters.

The only drawback to her place of concealment was that it smelt of urine; Zoe was not the only one who used the spot. She was careful not to touch the tree fearing that any contact might mar her clothing. She had arrived wearing a red combination summer / rain coat which she had now taken off and folded lining side out. Underneath she wore a pale green and white gingham summer dress with a flounced lace petticoat very much the fashion in 1960. Her brown hair fell to her shoulders with an elegant curl. It shone in the sun and haloed her youthful twenty-three-year-old face. She wore white pumps comfortable enough to walk in for she had walked to this spot from the home on the outskirts of the city where she worked as a live-in nanny. She arrived, several hours before their appointment at which time she didn’t mind being seen but now she felt that concealment was essential She was prepared with mace and a lethal looking kitchen knife both of which she clutched concealed in her purse.

 At about 2:45 pm Alex appeared. He walked through the ancient city gate and ambled to the bridge head. He was a sturdy good looking youth with blond hair and clean complexion. He wore a white shirt and dark pants clearly his Sunday best. He stationed himself at this, their agreed meeting place, and waited. Zoe smiled to herself, this was a good sign. She waited and watched. He carried a blanket. She deduced that, somewhere along the banks, he intended to invite her to sit on it with him. She suspected that he’d start gently moving on to necking or more if she was complaisant. She imagined that he would willingly get her pregnant and the abandon her as her father had abandoned her mother.

 “Men are all the same.” she told herself and clutched her purse tighter. She was waiting until she and Alex were the only people on the banks; for she didn’t wish to be seen with him. By well after 3:00 pm she saw her opportunity. By now Alex was becoming anxious.  While he peered in the opposite direction she stepped out from her hiding place and walked toward him.

When he saw her he started, “Where did you come from?” He held out his hand in greeting. He smiled, “You arose like a nymph out of nowhere. How did you do it?”

 “Oh, Alex,” she said, ignoring his question with a toss of her head, “I’m glad that you came. When we met at the rink I wasn’t sure.” She smiled her best coquettish smile while her hate for men simmered.

 They exchanged a casual embrace and then Alex held her at arm’s length. “You look lovely. When I first saw, you gliding across the ice in your pristine white skates I knew, from your graceful movement, that you are special.” He sighed, “Now I see you clad in white shoes looking like a wood fairy. Will you walk with me along the river banks? If we go around the loop we will end up at Elvet bridge where we can have tea.”

 “So sweet, so innocent; but not really! I know what he is up to, just like my Dad so many years ago. I won’t let myself get distracted by his nice gestures.” thought Zoe. She didn’t comment on his blanket but smiled as she slipped her arm into his. They walked slowly as she let him lead her along the exact path that she wished to take.

 Three days later a jogger found his body wrapped in a blanket hidden in the undergrowth not far from the tow path. The cause of death was a lethal looking kitchen knife thrust up his rib cage into his heart. He appeared to have died without a struggle.