Weeks later, on a hot, still Saturday in mid-July, the second day of the Allenburg downtown merchants' Sizzling Sidewalk Super Sale, Wilma and I were headed for Main Street Beverage and Redemption to order the wine for our wedding party. Heavy thunder was rumbling to the north of town. Myra had spent the morning up that way with Hugh Gebbie, a family friend, and because of the way the sky looked in that direction, our thoughts were on the two of them.
With the wedding more than a month away, our mission might have waited, but we'd been up since five, and we wanted an excuse to stretch our legs. We had left the truck and the van at the county fairgrounds, where the farmers' market set up each weekend, and made our way down through Greenleaf Cemetery, crossed the river on the defunct railroad bridge, and turned up the steep, root-buckled sidewalk along Crevecoeur Hill toward Main.
We were happy. We'd sold out of everything, green and wax beans, beet greens, zucchini, broccoli rabe, all our lettuce, peas, salad turnips, onions, raspberries, rhubarb, and herbs. We'd also sold two dozen jars of my sister-in-law's strawberry jam, forty-five pounds of Lance Henault's wildflower honey, and $130 worth of my own fancy garlic, a first this season.
From the top of Crevecoeur where it bisects Main Street, on clear days you could see into Quebec through a gap in the hills, but not today. A leaden curtain of weather hung in between. "They're right in the teeth of it," Wilma was saying as we stepped into the crosswalk.
"They're fine. They're indoors--" eating ice cream and raspberries, I was about to say, because that had been the plan--feed the alpacas, pick the berries, swim in the pond, and make the ice cream--but I never got the words out.
A revving engine had me twisting the other way to catch a looming, yellow blur. My left hand went to Wilma's chest, and I shoved her back as I pivoted to my right.
My rump glanced hard off the car's fender, though I managed to tuck my head to the side and somersault from my shoulder to my feet again all in one motion.
The yellow car skidded and slammed backward into the tail end of a camper angled into the curb. It crashed against the bumpers of two more cars before coming to a stop.
Someone was screaming.
Wilma lay still, splayed out in the street. Three blue postal boxes stood on the corner behind her, bolted to concrete slabs. Somebody behind us who'd seen the whole thing later told police Wilma's head had struck the edge of one of those slabs.
She was unconscious, her freckles already faded and her lips gray, her eyelashes gold filaments in the unnatural brightness of the air. I touched her. She was bleeding at the back of her head.
A woman leaned over me and said, "I'm a nurse."
"We'll need a spine board," I said without looking up.
"Are you a doctor?"
"I'm a cop."
"Anybody have a phone?" the woman asked.
"Rescue Squad's on the way," somebody said. And already we could hear the siren.
The nurse dropped to her knee beside me and opened Wilma's eyelid. She felt her chest and her stomach. "She's breathing," she said, "but we'll want to support her jaw--keep her airway open."
"She's four months pregnant," I said.
The woman glanced at me. She had a tan and short white hair. "I wouldn't worry too much. Nature protects the fetus."
Behind her I could see the flashing lights of the ambulance.
"Take charge here, will you?" I said. "While I check out the driver?"
"Of course. Go."
It was a canary yellow BMW M3 coupe with temporary plates--brand-new. The driver had run the stop sign and swerved hard at the sight of us in the crosswalk, sending the car into a one-eighty.
Two onlookers, an Asian couple, were leaning down and looking in at the driver. I came up behind them.
"Excuse me, please. I'm an officer."
The couple nodded and stepped back.
"You OK in there?"
He looked like a kid--young man--twenty-one, twenty-two, with a wispy triangle of blond beard and a bloody nose. His airbags had deployed. He had an abrasion along his cheekbone, a fat ear, and glass and talc in his hair.
"Hey, in there! Talk to me."
"Are you hurt?"
"I'm bleeding, aren't I?" He was dabbing his nose with the sleeve of his sweatshirt. "Busted my Oakleys. Fucking airbags."
"If you're not hurt, I want you to get out of this vehicle."
He squinted up at me. "That was you, wasn't it? I almost took you out."
I pulled on his door. It moved a few inches before the hinges bound up. I yanked on the handle and it sprang wide with a pop.
"Come on, get out."
"Back off, asshole. I just wrecked my brother's car, and I'm not feeling that great, in case you can't tell."
"You drove through a four-way stop--asshole--and you hit me in the crosswalk."
"I didn't hit you. If I hit you, you're dead."
"Are you going to get out of this vehicle or do I have to drag you out?"
"I'm comin'. I said I'm comin'."
The kid pulled the key and slid out into the street, groaning. He glared at the bystanders.
"What's your name?" I said.
"Jay Leno. What's yours?"
I reached out and clamped him underneath his jaw and whammed him back into the roof of the car. "You almost killed me, wiseass."
He hacked. "Let me go, fucker."
The kid took it, squinching his eyes. Tears came down his cheeks.
"What's your name?"
A siren whooped once. I let him have a last shove and let him go.
"All right, all right, all right, you guys! Knock it off!" A town cop pushed his way through the few onlookers. Young and bareheaded, caterpillar mustache, no older than the kid in front of me. I didn't recognize him.
"Cool your jets, guys, all right?" His tag read bergeron.
"I'm Hector Bellevance, constable up in Tipton. This kid ran us down in the crosswalk--me and my wife. She's been injured. Make sure you Breath-a-lyze him. I'll be filing charges."
"Charges!" The kid coughed. He spat blood into the street. "I'll sue you for assault, asshole."
I grabbed his throat again. "Well, then maybe I should make it worth my while."
"Hold it! Hold it! Jeez, you two!" Officer Bergeron took me by the arm and drew me away. "Go see about your wife, Mr. Bellevance. I got it from here."
I watched as the EMTs put a foam collar on Wilma. They had stopped the bleeding at the back of her head. I looked away while they intubated her. The nurse, whose name I never got, had already left.
At the hospital a gurney was waiting for us outside the ER. I touched her cheek as they wheeled her inside, thinking a thousand disconnected things.
I filled out some forms, phoned Hugh Gebbie, then went out and sat on an orange vinyl couch in the waiting room, which was unoccupied except for a scraggly-haired young woman in overalls and the small girl she was holding in her lap. The girl had a white dressing over her right eye. It looked like half a softball. Behind them rain was pouring into the parking lot, silver coins dancing on the roofs of the cars. When had that started?
Hugh and Myra hurried in, soaked, a few minutes before the orthopedic surgeon, Julius Kaufman, came out to introduce himself. He ushered us into a room where Wilma lay on her back, shoulders elevated slightly, plugged into monitors and an IV. An oxygen mask covered her face. Forehead smooth and eyes closed under her pale gold eyebrows, she looked terribly peaceful.
Dr. Kaufman told us she was probably suffering an episode of transient neurapraxia. "A temporary paralysis caused by the sudden compression of the spinal cord. Any sudden impact that sends the spine into extreme flexion"--he illustrated by dropping his chin to his chest--"is all it takes. It's the sort of thing we see with contact-sport athletes--football players, hockey players. They're usually good as new within forty-eight hours. In Wilma's case, all we know is she's taken a blow to the back of the head and a shock to the brain. She has to heal. I am confident she will."
"What does that mean?" Myra said. "Heal how?" She had been listening, looking down at Wilma, holding her mother's hand loosely in both of hers, her slender, berry-stained thumbs moving over the knuckles. Now she fixed her vivid green eyes on the doctor, and he drew back a little at her expression.
"Well, Myra, there may have been some damage to the tissue caused by her brain's smacking against the interior of the skull. Luckily for us, the brain is very good at healing itself. She could regain consciousness anytime. Oh--" He turned to me and Hugh. "Here's good news. The ultrasound says the baby's fine."
"Thank you," I said. "How about the CT scan?"
"To me it looks normal. When the radiologist gets here, he'll have more to say. At this point all we can do is support her and watch her. You know"--he looked back toward Myra--"it's really not all that much different from being asleep."
"It's very different," Myra told him. "Because we can't wake her up."
He smiled and patted her arm.
"I wouldn't want to be asleep if I couldn't wake up," Myra said after Dr. Kaufman had excused himself. She touched Wilma's hair. Her own wiry red hair, I noticed now, was flecked with raspberry burrs and sticks.
"Dr. Kaufman's right, Myra," I said. "First her brain needs to heal. Then she'll wake up."
"But what if it doesn't heal?"
"It will heal, sweetheart."
"You're just saying that. You don't really know that."
On the other side of the bed, Hugh scoffed at her, "You're a tough one, you are."
She faced him. "No, I'm not. I just don't think it makes sense to pretend that something worse can't happen to her when it could."
"Myra. You're too young to be so cynical. Don't you believe in the power of positive thinking?"
She frowned. "Not really."
"I do. I believe the mind exerts its own force upon the world."
"So are you saying negative thinking could hurt Mom?"
"No, I'm saying good thoughts are healing thoughts."
Myra exhaled, her mouth trembling. Then she crumpled into tears and covered her face with her hands.
Hugh gave me a helpless look.
I went and held her. She pushed her face into my chest.
"She's going to be OK, Myra. 'Transient neurapraxia.' Transient means it's temporary. It goes away."
"Daddy," she said, pulling back to look into my eyes. Her tearful, red face was her four-year-old face the day she crashed her Flexible Flyer headfirst into a bank of frozen snow. "You know what I hate?"
"This shouldn't have even happened. You're supposed to stop at stop signs."
"The laws aren't foolproof, Myra. Everyone makes mistakes. Some fools make a lot of them."
"Fools abound," Hugh said. He was gazing out the window at the rain. "Foolishness is a fundamental condition of humanity."
"But when fools break the law, you're supposed to do something about it," Myra said. "There's supposed to be some punishment, isn't there?"
"That's your dad's department. I'm just an old geomancer."
She almost smiled.
"He'll lose his driver's license," I said, "and his insurance company will be paying Mom's medical bills."
Hugh chuckled and shook his head.
She turned to me. "Dad, you know what? I wish you wouldn't have had to push her."
I shrugged. "Might have been worse if I hadn't."
"That's not what I mean. I feel bad for you."
I knew what she meant--I just wasn't ready to face it. I hadn't been paying attention. For whatever reason, I had escorted my wife into the street without looking. If only I had looked.
Hugh had to get back to his animals. At around five the rain let up, and Myra and I left to find something to eat in the hospital cafeteria. Later, driving through Tipton village on the way home, we saw that one of the twelve giant white pines bordering the village cemetery had come down and flattened thirty yards of wrought-iron fence along with the hearse house, where the cemetery sexton kept his mower and tools. When we arrived at our cabin up in the hills, we were relieved to find we still had power. The tomatoes and leaf crops had taken a beating, but they'd recover. The sky was still pale when we went to bed.
Sunday morning we rose with the sun, as usual. The birds' early chorus sounded especially rich, as if they were celebrating having survived the storm. It was going to be a sparkling high summer day.
We ate yogurt and berries, and then I went out to restake the tomatoes. The vines were mostly intact, I was glad to find. All in all, my crops were in pretty good shape. The corn was fine. I had close to a thousand highbush blueberries heavy with red fruit, and they had held up nicely. As Agnes, my mother, used to say, "Healthy plants will always bounce back from ordinary calamities." She was right.
Midmorning, Myra and I drove in to the hospital. Wilma was unchanged. Dr. Kaufman, a nurse told us, would be in sometime after eleven, but I had too much to do to sit there and wait, so I left Myra at Wilma's side and returned to the farm. Around noon, when I went inside for a bite of lunch, the red light on my answering machine was blinking.
I hit PLAY.
"Morning, Mr. Bellevance. Greg Bergeron, Allenburg Police, at about eleven, little after. Hope your wife's doin' OK. Listen, I'm calling in regard to the negligent motor vehicle incident yesterday involving yourself and your wife. You might want to alert your attorney. Ring me back and I'll explain." He left a pager number.
I dialed it, and he phoned back. He asked about Wilma and said he knew Dr. Kaufman--she couldn't be in better hands.
"Good to hear," I said. "So what's this about my needing a lawyer?"
"OK. Guy that ran you down yesterday? He's a Canadian national named Sebastian Tuttle. Vehicle he was operating is registered to his older brother, Jeremy Tuttle. Who you already know, correct?"
"That's right." Jeremy Tuttle and his father, Harold, were large-scale hog and egg farmers. Jeremy managed the Tipton Egg Works, a recently erected eyesore on King's Knob, a few miles west of the village.
"Vehicle involved, it turns out, wasn't insured, OK? So these three guys, when they left here yesterday--the Tuttles and their lawyer, from Montpelier--these gentlemen were talking like maybe you were the one that caused the accident."
Excerpted from The Errand Boy by Don Bredes. Copyright © 2009 by Don Bredes. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.