Colt Jackson pedaled his secondhand Schwinn 10-speed along the shoulder of Seven Hills Road as fast as he could, glorying in the breeze of a sun-soaked, late spring day. Graying hair streaming from under his helmet, he marveled at the endless blend of color flashing by on his right as he sped past the continuous stream of roadside wildflowers: yellow agrimony, orange volunteers, white liverleaf, purple aster, scarlet beebalm, and the occasional burgeoning clump of black-eyed Susan. He had been riding the bike for a year and a half and had become so skilled that he was able effortlessly to dodge the frequent obstacles littering the side of the road. Beer cans and bottles, soiled diapers, hubcaps, and the occasional discarded inexplicable lone shoe no longer bothered him even at high speeds. He had learned to love the musical ping of the occasional pebble spurting out from beneath his front tire, the buoyant feeling of flight without wings.
He slowed as he approached the bridge over Cottonmouth Creek and stopped alongside the concrete barrier. He grinned as he waved to his friend Hank, who was fishing below. Laughing, Hank hollered up, “Today’s the day, ain’t it Colt?” “Yessir,” he yelled, “I’m headed to the courthouse this minute to get my license back!” Hank waved him on. “Get yourself gone, then, old son!” Colt pedaled off, quickly getting up to speed again on the long downhill straightaway leading into town. As much as he had come to enjoy riding and the improved physical health it brought, he was thrilled at the prospect of driving again when the need arose. With only two more miles to go, he felt like he could ride all day if that’s what it took.
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On the day the State of Tennessee had seen fit to revoke his right to drive a motor vehicle, and the judge had taken his license, Colt had been more amused and taken aback than angry. Half smiling, he had told his public defender, “I still don’t get how they can convict me of drunk driving. It was only tree!”
The public defender ran a hand through his thinning hair and inhaled. Exhaled. Opened his mouth to speak, shut it, shook his head, turned around, and started to walk off in search of his next client. He abruptly turned and walked back, stood almost nose-to-nose with Colt, clapped his right hand onto Colt’s left shoulder, and glared into his eyes. “Colt. I’ve been a PD for twenty-five years. I have represented people who were so drunk that they should’ve been dead. Never in my career has a TBI lab tech called me and offered to have her agency pay for a private lab to provide independent confirmation of the level of THC in a subject’s blood at time of arrest. You were so fuckin’ high you should’ve needed a spacesuit. And DUI doesn’t just mean driving drunk, it means driving under the influence. Of any controlled substance.”
He had walked out of the courthouse and up the hill to his rusting and dirty ’78 AMC Gremlin, an emerald green relic he’d kept running himself for over 30 years and lovingly called Gizmo, glancing over his shoulder every 50 feet or so worried a cop might be following him to see if he tried to drive away. When he was sure he was unobserved, he collapsed into Gizmo and drove several blocks to where he’d stashed his kit under a moss-covered boulder in the shade of a looming water oak alongside the Cumberland River. Again he assured himself no one else was around, pulled his bag out from beneath the rock, and took a few moments to contemplate the worm-scrawled hieroglyphics carved into its covering of mud. With great care, he rolled a quarter inch-thick joint, sparked it, smoked it ‘til it singed his calloused fingertips, then tucked the roach into the front pocket of his jeans.
Hands laced behind his head, he leaned back against the oak and watched the river roll along. A solitary unhurried heron glided by, and a squirrel scurried out onto an overhead limb and chittered at him. He eased his battered pocket Merton from his frayed and faded denim vest and caressed the cover with its black and white picture of the smiling long-dead monk. He had been carrying the book so long, referring to it almost every day, that the edges of its thick, once-white pages were a dog-eared, grimy gray. Eyes closed, he flipped through it, stopping at random and sticking his pointer finger between the pages then reading the passage closest to his fingertip. “A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.” He smiled, chuckling. “You never let me down, Brother Tom.”
Eventually, Colt stood up and returned to Gizmo. As soon as he was on the highway and headed home, he had been overcome by a gut-clenching fear that he would be pulled over. His eyes darted from the oncoming lanes to his rearview mirror and back again, jittering like mad as he searched for cops. His palms sweated so profusely he had trouble maintaining his grip on the age-slick steering wheel. A tenth of a mile from home, he noticed a blue glow cresting the crown of the hill he was descending and began to panic. The cruiser sped toward him, siren screaming, so Colt braked and pulled to the shoulder. He reached for the glove box, but his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t open it. The cruiser swerved left and sped by, and as the siren Dopplered and began to fade, Colt uttered a shuddering moan of relief. He rolled the last few feet to his driveway before stumbling out, crawling a few feet, and puking into the rain gully along his poorly graveled drive. He staggered to his front door and had considerable trouble steadying his hands enough to get the key into the lock. Once inside, he fell onto his couch. His last thoughts before passing out had been that he would sell Gizmo tomorrow then go buy a bicycle from the Goodwill store.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now, eighteen months later and with only a mile to go, Colt was nearly giddy at the prospect of taking his reinstatement papers from the judge. He hardly noticed his surroundings as he daydreamed about what he would do with all the money he had saved not having to keep Gizmo running. He had been to both of the used car dealerships in town and sat in a couple of cars. He was seriously entertaining the idea of buying a well-maintained 1985 El Camino that Hank had on his lot if he could talk him down another hundred dollars or so. He planned to buy a mountain bike and start touring Tennessee’s State Parks, and he wanted something he could easily haul his bike and camping gear in.
Even if he hadn’t been so distracted, he would not have noticed the car approaching from behind as it began to veer toward the right shoulder. Even if he had noticed it, he would not have had time to react before its passenger side front fender grazed his left knee, sending him careening off the shoulder and down the bank of the drainage ditch. As his front wheel slammed into a large tire laying on the bank, his bicycle stopped abruptly, but Colt kept going, ejected up and over his handlebar. He was amazed to be overcome by a strange sense of peace. He raised his arms like Superman, and smiling as he enjoyed his brief flight, he was grateful to notice the drainage ditch remained rather full of water after the recent spring rains. And that was the last thought he had for a good long while.
Saturday, July 29, 2017
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I want to give a shout-out to a handful of bloggers I follow and admire, all of whom accepted my invitation to review and comment upon one or more of my previous posts. I am grateful to each for taking the time to offer me encouragement and advice. They are a diverse group and worth a look, so please take some time to drop by their blogs.