pages Inperpetuity

by Lila Guzmán

Published in Issue No. 14 ~ July, 1998

The oncoming car wouldn’t stop. Didn’t the driver see me standing in the middle of the road? At any moment, I kept telling myself, he would notice me and swerve.

But he didn’t. Closer and closer came the headlights.

My eyes squeezed shut to block out the glare. I refused to jump out of the way, just like that night in 1952 when I died. I waited for the chrome to tear into my flesh. I waited for the inevitable pain, searing and white hot. I waited…

Brakes squealed like pigs being slaughtered.

A second passed before I slowly, cautiously, opened my eyes.

The car bumper brushed my skirt, my favorite skirt, the one with the poodle on it.

Ashen, mouth agape, the driver stared at me, then banged his head softly on the steering wheel, over and over. He unclenched his hands and stepped out of the car. “Are you all right?”

Words stuck in my throat. The best I could do was nod.

He took my elbow and led me to the curb. We sat down together, our gaze locked on his ’73 Omega’s white vinyl top.

“I stopped in time,” he said, his tone awe-filled. He swiveled toward me. “Does that mean the cycle is broken?” There was a glimmer of hope in the driver’s chocolate-colored eyes. Before I could respond, murmurs of approval drew our attention to the dark top of the stadium where spectators rated our performance.

“Purification #1155629 to commence in three minutes,” a bored sounding voice announced over the loudspeaker.

The driver slammed his hands under his armpits and rocked forward. “I won’t do this again. Haven’t I suffered enough? It was an accident, for God’s sake.”

“No. It was hit and run,” I gently reminded him. “You were drunk when you ran over that little boy.”

“But I stopped this time,” the driver insisted. “That should count for something.”

“I’m sure it will be credited to your account.” After a studied pause I added, “But I didn’t get out of the way this time either. Small wonder they paired us together. You refuse to admit guilt. I refuse to show remorse.”

In my head, I heard the Judge boom out my sin. Suicide and Murder. You stood in the middle of the road at three o’clock in the morning and killed yourself and your unborn baby.

But it was 1952, I had protested. With no husband and no prospects of finding one, death was better than living in shame.

Other paths existed. Perhaps some day you’ll see that. The Judge paused, as if he expected me to say something.

I didn’t.

He banged his gavel. You will suffer vehicular homicide in perpetuity.

“Match #1155629,” the stadium loudspeaker droned, pulling me back to my present purgatory. “Penitents, take your places.”

“Come on.” I took the driver by the sleeve. “Let’s get this over.”

He looked at me, his expression tortured. “Will it ever be over?”

“For you, yes, some day it will be.”

A minute later, I stood in the middle of the road.

At the other end of a ribbon of asphalt, he revved his motor and started toward me.

The oncoming car wouldn’t stop . . .

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Lila Guzmán has published short stories in Short Shots (I and II), The Roswell Literary Review, The Arizona Literary Magazine, and Lines in the Sand. Her non-fiction piece, "Edit Ink and Me: Going Undercover for the New York State Attorney General," appeared in the Austin Writer in June 1998. In July of 1998 she will deliver the keynote address at the Society of Southwestern Authors, titled "Flash Fiction, or How to Write a Story in 99 Words or Less."