“Morning Meeting”

Gregg Aldus was fuming. The sun was in his eyes as he crawled eastward with the morning rush hour traffic (talk about an oxymoron—there was plenty of rush, and more than an hour), and his sunglasses were on the hall table in his apartment. He had no idea why Phil, his boss, wanted to see him at 8:00 AM “sharp,” when the office didn’t even open until 9:00. Nothing is ever that urgent with life insurance. It was 7:55, and he was still at least half a dozen stop lights west of the parking garage, and the idiots ahead of him didn’t seem to be able to get more than four cars through a light. What else could go wrong?

With a sigh of frustration he punched the Sync button, muting ZZ Top in the middle of “LaGrange.” “Please say a command.” At least Siri had a more pleasant voice than Letty, the receptionist, although he couldn’t look down Siri’s blouse from this side of the dashboard. Both sides of Letty were an eyeful.

“Phone,” he replied, smiling at his own recurring question about what the owner of that electronic voice looked like. Scarlett Johanssen came to mind. “Call Phil.”

“At least I can let him know I’m close,” he thought, then slapped the steering wheel as the light changed again, and the cars in front of him braked to a stop. Still three ahead of him. The phone rang twice, and Phil picked up.

“Aldus, I was just sending you a tex….”

The impact of the car behind him slammed Gregg’s head against the headrest, and then his whole body recoiled forward. He always stayed a good eight to ten feet behind the car ahead of him in case he needed to change lanes, so instead of his shoulder harness catching him or bouncing off of the airbag, Gregg did a face plant mostly in the middle of the steering wheel. Just then his truck was shoved into the minivan ahead of him. That collision caused the airbag to explode from the center of the steering column.

He hit the top of the steering wheel just above his hairline. It opened a gash about three inches long and immediately gushed blood. His nose had broken, and his upper teeth had gone through his lip and pierced the faux leather padding in the center of the steering wheel. With the front-end collision, the exploding airbag filled the air with the talcum powder and cornstarch. The powder stuck to the blood pouring out of Gregg’s forehead, nose, and mouth. The tensioners in the shoulder harness had been too slow to catch him, but the lap belt kept him from being thrown into the lower dash and breaking or badly bruising his knees. He would discover later, however, a hairline fracture in his left forearm, and two broken fingers on his right hand.

Although he was more than a little dazed, Gregg didn’t lose consciousness. The pain would come later, too. Almost as soon as the airbag deflated, he was unbuckling his seatbelt and reaching for the door handle. He was vaguely aware of Siri telling him that she noted he had been in an accident and had called for assistance.

The driver behind him would be in worse shape, Gregg thought. Help now. Be angry later. He pulled the handkerchief from his right rear pocket, wiped the blood out of his eyes, and headed for the black BMW stuck under the back bumper of his F150.

Beemers have a good “collision cage,” so despite the steam coming from the pierced radiator and the accordion folds in the hood and quarter panels, Gregg was able to open the driver’s door without too much extra effort. The airbag had deployed at impact, of course, but the driver had taken it hard. He was still slumped forward against the shoulder restraint. His glasses had been broken in two at the bridge of his nose, which was probably broken, too, and he was bleeding from his nose and small cuts in his eyebrows and cheeks from the glasses.

Gregg reached in and gently eased the driver back against his seat. “Hey, buddy, are you…? Phil? What the hell?!”

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