“The Aftermath” by Jean Banas, acrylic on canvas, 52″ x 48″.
I was already running late. Carmine wanted to meet near Pape and Danforth at noon. Ten minutes to go as I sped down Coxwell Avenue from O’Connor to Danforth. I’d just scored two plates of primo hashish for Carmine from Robbie in East York. Robbie dispensed for some Montreal bikers. I stood to make a couple hundred for a simple handoff. But Carmine hated waiting for anyone. You didn’t want to keep the big man waiting.
The light turned green at Danforth and I signaled a right turn. Pape was a few blocks west. At the same time, a half-ton truck on my left started through the intersection. Just as I go to make my turn, a late-breaking black BMW comes racing westbound along Danforth through the red. Slams the truck’s rear end with a sound like an airplane falling from the sky, front end crumpled, red-faced, bug-eyed driver still belted into his seat, and the BMW now set into a violent spin directly toward my car.
For a second or two I found myself watching the whole thing unfold like a slomo YouTube clip—but I snapped out of it with an adrenal surge, squeezed the steering wheel, footed the gas, and lurched forward enough for the BMW to just miss my car. But it continued on a crazy spin, somehow circling back toward the intersection, where it hit a woman running across the street with her child. The child escaped injury, but the woman went down, black hair flying as the car took her out.
I sat there, knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, trying to process what had happened. My body shook; my hands started cramping. I let go of the steering wheel. A wave of vertigo overcame me. I bent to the dash and took a few deep breaths, hoping not to pass out.
Pandemonium ensued at the intersection. Sirens wailed. People cried out. I rolled down my window for air. Debris littered the street; people scrambled to and fro. I shut my eyes, clapped my hands over my ears.
Maybe I should have stayed and reported what I’d seen to a police officer. But with abundant witnesses around, I felt my testimony would have been at best superfluous. And I had all that hashish in the car, surly Carmine waiting. So I drove off.
I parked on the Danforth not far from Pape and took a minute to gather myself before I texted Carmine. Little snapshots of the accident kept flashing in my head. Carmine was parked in a lot on Pape and wanted me to go to him. Barely able to stand, I staggered down the leaf-strewn street. The cool autumn air tingled in my nostrils and pricked my ears, but everything was bathed in a weird yellow light that made me feel like I was dreaming.
Carmine bitched about being ten minutes late. He backed off when I told him about the accident.
“Think she’s dead?” he asked.
I shrugged. Didn’t want to think about it.
“Still,” Carmine said, unable to not play the heavy, “be early next time. Time is money.”
Went on with my day, feeling spooked and fucked up. Drank a few scotches to settle my nerves. I’d been off the opioids for six months. Yeah. I’d gotten in deep. Started with sciatica issues. Oxycontin blissed me out so much I could walk without gimping around. Grew to love the high. Long after the sciatica healed, I kept popping the pills. Felt sick as a dog when I wasn’t high. Don’t know how I crawled out of that hole. Guess I wanted to live. The new shit was killing folks. But the temptation never went away. It hung around you like a vulture circling a dying animal. When you’re jonesing hard, you don’t care. You almost welcome death. Go on, get it over with. And stress made you jones like nothing else. Would have been easy to relapse that night. But I didn’t. I just got good and drunk.
Then, watching the late night news, I saw a report about the accident. Drunk driver arrested at scene. Mother of three pronounced dead on arrival. Recent immigrant from Guatemala.
Man. One minute you’re walking along minding your own business, maybe laughing about something, feeling good, alive, looking forward to the rest of your day, the rest of your life, and the next minute you’re gone. Poof. Just like that. It was incredible how fragile we were, how nothing. I didn’t sleep that night. Kept replaying the scene in my head: driver’s red face, mother pulling child, hair flying as the car struck.
Next day I drove by the intersection. They still hadn’t cleaned up the debris and some police-tape surrounded the bus shelter on the southwest corner. Thought I detected a stain on the road, roughly where the woman had fallen. Could have been motor oil, transmission fluid, or God knows what. But something told me it was blood. Forensics weren’t needed at this point. No mysteries here. And no one was going to clean it up. In time the traffic would smooth it all out, smear it down into the asphalt.
A few uneasy days passed. Your problems really begin only when you start thinking about them. So you do things to distract yourself. Drive around town. Maybe watch a flick or two on TV. Smoke dope or drink until you can’t think. Try to forget what you are, forget those events that trouble you, forget yourself. Tell yourself that under no fucking circumstances will you relapse. But nothing helps.
Found myself cruising along O’Connor a few mornings later. Yeah, cruising. Had the tunes turned up. Still like my metal when I’m in cruise mode.
It was a crisp, sunny day. Rusty leaves blowing around. Full autumn. I won’t say I had resisted my demons. I won’t say that. I’m not here to lie about myself and paint a picture that would somehow, unfaithfully, ennoble or validate me and my existence. I know I’m fucked. I know I’m lost. I fell in a long time ago. I passed the event horizon a long time ago. Once that happens—as we all know—there is no escape.
Robbie had another delivery for me, and Carmine would be waiting, but I couldn’t bring myself to go up to Robbie’s shitty apartment and swap nothings with him while he scaled the hashish. I sat in front of his building for almost an hour. I couldn’t do it. It was comical. I sat there laughing to myself like a cretin. I wouldn’t have thought it funny if I wasn’t high as a kite.
To be honest, Robbie and Carmine bored me to death. I didn’t fear them anymore. I didn’t like them. They had nothing to offer me. I don’t know why I was mixed up with them. Easy money? But it was nothing. It was a nothing gig and only sanctioned my status as a nothing. Maybe that was the answer, after all: that they confirmed what I believed about myself.
I turned down Coxwell and headed toward the Danforth. Almost noon. I drove slowly.
When I got to the intersection, I felt dizzy. I turned right on Danforth and parked near a Greek pastry shop. Don’t know what I was doing. Trying to regain my bearings? Reliving the horror? Going for another adrenaline rush? Except for a dented signpost, chaotic tire marks, and flowers lain by the southwest bus shelter, no sign of the accident—but I thought I could still see a bloodstain on the road. I was sure of it. I wanted to get a closer look. The noon traffic was intense. I was too high. I stumbled around the intersection. People gaped at me. It was too much. I returned to my car. Took me a few minutes to get it together. Eventually I drove away.
Later, Carmine called me.
“You junkie piece of shit!”
Man, he was mad. I would have shit my pants if I cared.
“I want out,” I told him.
“Out, you cockroach! You’re on the hook for five large. How do you expect to pay that back? Out? You’re lucky I don’t come there and break your legs right now.”
“Don’t Carmine me. I don’t wanna hear it. Now listen here, sonny. Tomorrow you show up to Robbie’s by ten thirty, no ifs ands or buts. Show up or you won’t be talking to nobody no more. Understand? You fucking junkie. You couldn’t stay clean even for a few months. You’re pathetic.”
He hung up. Pure buzz kill. But he was right. I was pathetic.
That night I couldn’t sleep again. The usual monsters danced through my head. Kept seeing that BMW dude’s red face, looking right at me, wasted out of his mind. Too drunk to feel anything. Too drunk to know.
Unable to empty my head, I dressed and went out. Got in my car and drove to the intersection. The streets were all but deserted.
I parked near the bus shelter, exited my car and walked to the middle of the road, looking for the exact spot where the woman had fallen, perhaps a bloodstain, likely dried by now. A cab appeared, so I jumped back to the sidewalk. The cabbie slowed and looked to see if I wanted a ride. I waved him off and returned to the middle of the intersection.
There, I thought. Found it.
A circular or perhaps somewhat oblong stain, roughly two or three feet in diameter, darkened the asphalt almost to black. I was certain it was blood. I checked if any cars were coming. When I saw the coast was clear I kneeled down, lowered my face to the stain and sniffed it. I shut my eyes and sniffed it, hoping to discern or dispel I don’t know what.
Salvatore Difalco is the author of 4 books. He splits his time between Toronto and Sicily.