Fiction from Katie Edkins Milligan: Witness

Summertime is reading season when for many people, the pace of life slows down a bit as days get longer and with that extra daylight comes a feeling that there is always time to read one more chapter or one more poem.

To celebrate the long days of June and July, we thought we’d offer a bit of fiction from our current issue, NDQ 88.1/2. Katie Edkins Milligan’s story “Witness” is the kind of story that draws you into its complex world and stays with you for days (or, in my case, months). It demonstrates how life happens in an instant and reality unfurls slowly over weeks and months. For more from this issue go here (and if you want to buy a copy to read on the front porch or on a long road trip or by the lake or after work in the evening, you can get one here.) 

As you likely know, these days are particularly challenging for many cultural institutions, publishers, and little magazines. So even if NDQ doesn’t float your boat, If you can, consider buying a book from a small presssubscribing to a literary journal (like our UNP stablemate, Hotel Amerika), or otherwise supporting the arts.

Witness

We used to go to the cineplex together on weekend nights, until Audrey turned into a teenager and became too cool and important for movie time with her mother. For years, when she was little, I took her with me to any animated thing or romcom or feel good, black-and-white rerun she was old enough to get into, and she’d sit there unquestioningly, happy to share the popcorn bag, her small knee knocking against mine in our seats. These days, she says she has better things to do, implying I do not. She says, Why do you like movies so much anyway? And now that she’s asking, I don’t know how to explain it in a way this new version of her will understand—the idea that a movie is a sure bet, that even if the beginning or middle leaves something to be desired, the very fact of it being a movie in the first place guarantees something relatively exciting has to happen at some point.

I have long known that real life makes no such promise. Which is why I was surprised to find myself, of all people, stopped at an intersection on a slow stretch of the Post Road at 3:47 this Wednesday afternoon to bear witness to the accident.

By all other accounts, the stage had been set for nothing more than a run-of-the-mill day in a pattern of run-of-the-mill years. There was the place itself: an idle intersection of two suburban streets. There was the broader context of time: a spring afternoon that, like most others in recent memory, felt far away from dramatic events taking place on the global stage. And there was me, like I always am. Not too skinny, not too fat. Neither uneducated nor meaningfully successful. The kind of middling, used-to-be-blonde wife and mother who feels threatened by her daughter’s blooming popularity—not just because it distances her from the child she has spent her adult life raising, but also because it highlights for her how real friends of her own have always been few and far between, how the wannabe, unredeemed Molly Ringwald parts of her own self are still there, the parts that never got the hatched-butterfly Hollywood ending, never grew out of the proverbial “it.” And then the cars came and crashed through it all.

I didn’t see the accident happen in slow motion. I didn’t fear for my own safety. I watched, in normal time, as a Toyota came from the left and a silver Audi came from the right and together they met in front of me, nose to nose, as if it was what they were always going to do.

 

In the sequence of seconds right after impact, I digested what I’d seen like a slow dive into warm water. The sound of the crash lilted in the air. The only things moving were flakes of metal from each of the vehicles, snowing down onto the pavement. And it was just the three of us—the two other drivers, and me.

I shifted my sedan into park, got out, and crept into the heart of the intersection, spellbound. Reaching the Toyota first, I tiptoed around to the driver’s side across eggshells of sprinkled glass. The face was shielded by an airbag, but I could see from his sloppy red hair and body profile that it was a kid behind the wheel, teenaged or just over.

I said, “Are you hurt?” I tried to sound respectful. He began to shift upright, and I stepped forward to touch the fingers on his dangling hand, but he groaned, and waved me away.

Something metal behind me creaked, so I turned around. I watched as the accordioned door of the Audi fell open and a leggy, brown-haired woman stumbled into the street, pushing away the balloon of her own airbag. She was bleeding from a small forehead cut. Her eyes darted around like she couldn’t tell where she was, and then she saw me.

“Ma’am,” I said, sounding eager, even though she looked to be about my same age.

“Jesus.”

She swayed, dizzily, so I hurried over to her, a speedwalk kind of approach. When I reached her I said, “You’re bleeding,” which sounded stupid and obvious as soon as I said it. I expected a sarcastic look, like, Oh thanks, but instead she nodded and raised her hand to dab at the blood. She pointed at her car and said, “I’m Claire.” She was in shock.

I took a step back and checked her over for big, obvious injuries, like I’d know what to do if I found any. Nothing jumped out. Beneath the immediate confusion and fear, Claire’s clothes and her tan and her general bearing identified her as the confident, social, superior kind of woman who has historically tended to intimidate and ignore me. That’s what I see in Audrey these days—the beginnings of that kind of woman. But in the street, Claire began to wobble, so I reached out to brace her, and she steadied. She nodded again, as if I’d said something reassuring, as if the accident had reached out its hand and pulled me up to her level. “I was going to the doctor,” Claire said, and in my best TV therapist voice, I told her, “I understand. I do that too.”  Claire looked back at her Audi and reached out to squeeze my arm. Her palms were soft.

Of course, I understand a car crash is, in most ways, an unfavorable turn of events. But when you find yourself fantasizing about phone calls like, Mom, I need you! or, Won’t you join us for brunch?, this kind of Wednesday afternoon was like, I would imagine, an adrenaline dose of some fast drug. The kind that makes you do and say things you wouldn’t normally do or say. Claire asked me, “Did you see it happen?” and I told her, “I did,” but I’d been so mesmerized by the fireworks surprise of the crash I hadn’t registered specifics, like who swerved first.

 “Don’t worry. I’ll call for help,” I said. Like we were galpals. I unsheathed my cellphone from my pocket and dialed 911. While we waited, we stood together silently—not like we didn’t have anything to say, but like we didn’t need to say anything at all.

The paramedics who arrived rushed to Claire first. I stepped aside, and they laid her on a stretcher. But she looked back at me a few times as they raised her into the ambulance bed and gave a small, disoriented smile. Other EMTs extracted the young man from the Toyota, pulling him slow and steady like a loose Jenga tile. I could see he had a plainly broken leg, but he kept his head turned away, and I never did see his face.

Within minutes, people in different uniforms started photographing the cars and the road marks and general crash debris. They didn’t look bored, but they also didn’t seem particularly excited. I stood in the middle of the scene, wondering if I was in the way, if I was supposed to go back to my car and leave, when a handsome cop stepped toward me and introduced himself as Officer Taymore. He asked to collect my statement. He had that silver George Clooney look with contoured pleats in tan skin, the kind that makes me aware of my own face in close, awkward proximity. Officer Taymore asked me my name as a camera guy snapped pictures beside my right shoulder. I straightened up. I tried to say, “Lonna. Lonna Conrad,” like I give statements all the time.

Officer Taymore asked what I’d seen, and I said I’d been paused at the stop sign when Claire’s car and the boy’s car ran into each other. I dropped Claire’s name, so he asked me if I knew her, and I said, “Only from today.”

He frowned, and then he asked his big question. “Can you tell me if you saw what caused the collision? Was either driver behaving recklessly?”

The sun shone on me like a followspot. I intended to say, I can’t be sure, Officer, but something made me change my mind. Maybe it was the fast drug feeling, or the sight of Claire’s ambulance pulling away. Maybe I felt like I needed to give him more of an answer. Maybe, looking back on it, it was because of the way Claire had felt like two faraway halves of my daughter brought together—the grown-up, future one, cool and confident, and the one who used to hold my hand. In any case, the thing I said was: “I think I saw the driver in the Toyota on his cellphone.”

Officer Taymore shook his head. He thanked me for my information and wrote down my number. He told me they might be in touch for a more detailed statement. Like someone who mattered, I got in my car and finished my drive home.

 

Audrey was spread across a blanket on our front lawn, sipping at a glass of pink juice and swiping through screens on an iPad. Handling the trash is on her weekly chore list but, as I pulled into the driveway, I passed our garbage cans still idling, empty, taunting me to give in and roll them to the garage myself, like I usually do.

“Practice got cancelled,” she called over to me when I opened the car door. Her bright yellow hair hung draped across her face like a gauzy curtain dividing her world from mine. Most of the time it’s like I’m an extra, living with Reese or Blake or some other blond starlet. But this time my daughter’s assumed nonchalance stoked the exultant sensation that, on this particular afternoon, I was the one with the interesting story to tell. While I’d already begun to feel anxious about what I’d told Officer Taymore—the impact to the boy I had implicated, the personal repercussions to me for potentially misguiding their investigation—my excitement swallowed up the guilt, and I slammed the door shut with a flourish.

“I was in an accident, Audrey,” I said.

She turned to look at me—not too slow, not too fast. She inspected me, and my sedan, and after a few moments she said, “A car accident?”

“Yes, a car accident.” I waved my hands into the air, away from the house and in the general direction of the intersection several miles away where the crash had occurred. “I mean, I wasn’t in it, in it, like mine was one of the cars that crashed, but I was involved in it.”

Audrey sat up. “I don’t understand.”

“I was driving home from work, and out of nowhere, two cars came and crashed into each other, just feet away.” 

“So, you mean you watched a car accident.”

“You don’t get it,” I said. “I was right there. I got out of my car and stood with a woman in all the glass and metal and everything until the police came. I helped her. And then I was the one who talked with the cops.” I didn’t mention what I’d said I saw.

“Were the people in the accident okay?” Audrey asked.

“I think so.”

“Well that’s good. God, Mom.” She tilted back over onto her stomach and refocused on her tablet. “You scared me. You can’t just go around telling people you were in a car accident if you weren’t actually in a car accident. It’s misleading.”

“I was part of it. I bet it’ll be in the paper.”

“You know,” Audrey said without looking up, “someone online said something the other day about honesty being a chapter in a book about wisdom. I’ll send you the link.”

“That’s a Thomas Jefferson quote, sweetheart.” I sighed and turned my back to her and the driveway. “Bring the trashcans up before you come inside.”

 

At dinner that night, Audrey told us she wasn’t planning to be friends with Lizzy Daiber anymore.

“She’s just not that interesting,” Audrey said.

My husband offered an absentminded nod, as if this were an acceptable thing for one sixteen-year-old to say about another. I could feel my cellphone in my back pocket, wedged against the seat of my chair. I don’t allow them at the table, but I was waiting for a follow up call from Officer Taymore—half wanting it to happen, half worried about him pressing me for more details.

“Lizzy’s been your friend for years,” I said. “She’s been sleeping over here since kindergarten.”

“I guess I don’t know why that matters so much.” Audrey held her glass of milk to the side of her shoulder like a fine Cabernet. “It’s just like she doesn’t care about anything important. You know what I mean?”

 “Lizzy was the one who brought you your assignments when you got your tonsils out,” I said. “You used to wear matching Halloween costumes.” Recently, at times like this, I imagine having known my own daughter at other points in my life. I picture her in the circle of girls who hosted the one sorority rush mixer I attended at my small college, or in a skirt-suit as the young female lawyer who called me in from an interview waiting room and said, I assume you’re here for the assistant job?

“I know, but Mom. Lizzy said she doesn’t even care about global warming. How am I supposed to be friends with someone who can see that picture of the skinny polar bear with no snow and not care about global warming?”

My husband said, “It’s a good question.”

I looked at Audrey intently and said, “I think you’re making a mistake.”

She squinted at me, puzzled. It’s not the kind of thing I normally say to her, but something about the adrenaline of my afternoon made me feel like I should. Or could.

“You don’t get it.”

Later that night, after Audrey and my husband went to bed, I sat with my laptop on the living room couch and Googled the crash. There was indeed a blurb about it on our local paper’s website—Two Injured in Post Road Collision—but it was shorter than I’d expected. They identified Claire and the young redheaded man—Claire Folt, 43, of Amesbury, and Asher Banning, 17, of Maple Heights, were both transported to Ridgewood Regional Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries—and they did mention me—Officers spoke with a witness at the scene for more information. As for the cause of the crash, they were equally succinct: Neither drugs nor alcohol are believed to have played a role in the collision. Investigations are ongoing.

In the aloneness of my living room, I toggled to the Facebook homepage and typed in Audrey’s name. I had to use my alias account to do it—Lexi Connors, Meridian High—because Audrey unfriended the real me months earlier. On Audrey’s profile, I found more of what I usually find. Filtered selfies with people I don’t recognize. Links to blog articles about vaguely-identified foreign conflicts and indie fashion startups that earn her an impressive number of likes.

I typed Claire’s name in the search bar. There were nine online Claire Folts, but only one in Pennsylvania. I clicked the picture and her face popped up on my screen: a smiley, relaxed version of the woman I’d met hours earlier beside her smashed up sports car. There’s this scene in Great Expectations where a gleamy, freshfaced Gwyneth is talking to Ethan Hawke in the park. He’s tripping over his words, but she’s so composed, the sun shining all over her, her clothes and the grass and the trees all nineties, Technicolor green. That’s what Claire Folt looked like in this profile picture. The picture on my own real account is a family shot from a trip to Disney when Audrey was ten.

I scrolled through Claire’s page and learned she was in Marketing at the local branch of a Philly ad shop. She’d graduated from Duke around the same time I went to school and stayed involved in alumni affairs. She’d spent a weekend in the Adirondacks a few months back, with a group of women in leggings, and there was a handsome man named Julius in several of her recent pictures. She frequently checked in at a local yoga studio I’d gone to once with a Groupon.

I tried to picture myself standing beside this on-screen Claire Folt, the way I’d stood with the woman who had grabbed for my hands earlier that afternoon on the side of the road. I wondered if the friends in her photos had ever seen her the way I’d seen her—shaking and afraid of being alone for a brief moment in time. I thought maybe not. Perhaps because I still felt emboldened by the rush of the day’s events, or anxious to hold onto them, or because Audrey had challenged the validity of my involvement, I signed into my real account and sent Claire a friend request.

 

Since the accident intersection is on my commute, I passed through it on my way into work on Thursday morning. While it wasn’t as if I’d been expecting to see the roads still taped off, or little CSI men hunting around with magnifying glasses, it felt like something should have been different than the day before. But aside from a faint tire stain on the asphalt, it looked normal. The idea that the whole thing could be gone so quickly was unsettling.

By the time I got to my office, two things had still not happened: Officer Taymore hadn’t called to follow up, and Claire hadn’t responded to my Facebook friending. Afraid to miss the muted buzz of either notification, I propped my cellphone against a picture frame on my desk to keep the screen in my line of sight.

Throughout the day, I found myself initiating an uncharacteristic number of conversations. “So, did you hear about the Post Road accident?” I said to Moira with the tacky red hair at the desk in front of me who talks about her online dating, and Isabelle in the bathroom, and Elise, the guard in the lobby. None of them had heard about it, so I offered various, puffed-up details about the events that had taken place. “The driver from one car was about to pass out, so I let her lean on me until the ambulance arrived,” and, “I didn’t even know if her car was maybe going to catch fire.” The exaggerations felt forgivable as benign extensions of the questionable version of events I’d told the cops already, and the fact that I’d been there at all kept seeming like the thing that really mattered.

When I wasn’t talking about the accident at work, I was monitoring my blank phone screen and thinking about the accident at work. I sat at my desk transcribing numbers from other peoples’ wrinkled receipts into our iExpense system, fantasizing about expanded, alternate versions of the crash events. I played them like trailers in my head: One scenario where I really did see that boy, Asher Banning, texting at the wheel; the two cars thundered together and I leapt onto the scene and dragged Claire Folt out of her ruined Audi just before it burst into flames; someone got live-action shots of the whole operation on their phone and I landed on the front page of all the papers. Another where I was in Claire’s passenger seat when the accident happened; we were driving together to yoga at that shared studio, or brunch, or something else that would feel so easy and everyday; we were transported to the hospital in matching red ambulances like friendship bracelets. One more with Audrey behind the wheel of the Audi; we were on our way to the theater together like the old days, but this time I was teaching her to drive; I saw the Toyota coming and called out a warning, and we swerved away at the last minute.

As I prepared to leave my desk at the end of the day, I turned my phone off and then on again, theorizing something could have glitched in the signal, but when it booted back up the Facebook and voicemail icons were still blank. I checked Facebook on my work computer and, finding nothing there either, decided it was possible Claire wasn’t accepting my friend request because she didn’t recognize my account. I changed my profile picture to a close-up headshot—the best one I could find—and logged out.

 

Audrey left her phone on the kitchen counter after dinner that night, and I heard an incoming call. I whipped around, thinking it was my own cell, but instead I saw Lizzy Daiber’s face smiling up at me, framed by Audrey’s neon case. Audrey must have assigned the picture to Lizzy’s number back when their friendship was something they both agreed upon. I looked at the easy grin on the screen and wondered if the poor girl knew she was in the process of being cut out.

I brought the phone upstairs and leaned against Audrey’s door to listen for a few seconds. Then, because I heard my husband moving around in our nearby bedroom, and I knew how he would roll his eyes if he caught me lingering at Audrey’s room, I straightened my shoulders and knocked with one careful finger. “Honey,” I said. “You left your cell downstairs.”

Audrey opened the door with an accusing look on her face. She said, “I’ve been looking for that everywhere.”

I handed her the phone. “Lizzy called.”

Audrey squinted at me. “You didn’t answer, did you?”

My instinct was to say, “No, Audrey. I didn’t answer.” But I couldn’t shake the idea of Lizzy Daiber, alone in her bedroom with a quiet phone in her hands, wondering what she could do to make her old friend pick up. I took a shaky breath and said, “I didn’t, but I bet she misses you. I think you need to call her back.”

For a moment, it looked like Audrey might have heard me. She frowned like she was waiting for me to go on. But then she gave a quick, back-of-her-throat laugh and walked back to her desk.

I sighed. “Are you working on your Vietnam paper?”

She responded over her shoulder, tossing the words like a cigarette butt. “Actually, some of us are thinking about not turning it in. As a protest statement.”

I wanted to say, You’re being ridiculous. But I admired her audaciousness, her showmanship. I wondered how it came to her so naturally.

 

Yesterday, while running Saturday errands, I convinced myself I saw Claire Folt at the supermarket. I was at the beginning of the hot cereal section, staring down the length of the aisle to the end where it opened into the back of the store, when I glimpsed a quick, whip pan shot of a middle-aged brunette woman strolling past, a grocery basket in the nook of her arm.

As if on cue, I abandoned my cart and began to move toward her. I speedwalked to the end of the aisle and turned left, weaving around other shoppers in the direction the woman had gone. I saw her up ahead, paused beside a refrigeration trough. I wanted it to be Claire. To see her in that environment would have injected a shot of the accident’s adrenaline into my reemerging day-to-day. I could have said, What have you heard from the cops? I could have seen how she remembered me. As I beelined, I wondered whether the run-in was a timely coincidence or if I’d been unknowingly passing Claire Folt around town for years. I came to a stop behind the woman and, just as I raised my hand to tap her shoulder, she turned around.

This person was, of course, not Claire. She had similar, though not identical, coloring, and a related haircut. But she was taller, and her face—now inches from my own—was wider and flatter and confused. She looked like the kind of stranger you see everywhere, anywhere, on any day of your life. Because of the way her body had shifted when she turned, I was planted strangely close to her, close enough to smell her lotion, and we were both fixed for several seconds in surprise. A random, passing sales associate slowed down to observe our encounter. Not-Claire unfroze, and took a step back.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, my voice scraping. “I thought you were someone else.”
I hurried away, heading for the exit, leaving my half-loaded grocery cart in the oatmeal aisle where I’d deserted it.

A headache knotted behind my eyes on the drive home—part embarrassment, part disappointment. I pulled up behind a cop car and it felt like a coincidence. I still didn’t know how I would explain the statement I’d made but, more and more, I needed Taymore to call anyway. The whole experience was starting to feel like a story—an interesting thing that had happened to someone else.

 

Later last night, my husband and I were getting ready for bed, and while toothbrushing his nightguard he accused me of acting “fishy.” I sat on the closed toilet lid and said I had a secret to tell him, and he said, I’m listening, with his hands still in the sink. My husband is quietly handsome in a red hair, pink skin kind of way. Sometimes, when I study him in our shared space, I think about how he’d be well-cast in a television commercial about some pleasant ingredient in the monotone of daily life: an advertisement for pet insurance, or a new, stripey flavor of toothpaste. I picture him in that ad and then I feel guilty, for giving him no better than the kind of superficial, assuming review he’d get from a stranger.

“It has to do with the car crash,” I said.

He turned off the faucet. “The one you saw this week?”

“Of course.” The way he said it. “It’s about what I said to the cops.”

“Lonna,” he said. He wiped his palms on his pajama pants and walked into the bedroom, leaving me in the bathroom alone. “It wasn’t even that big of an accident. Nobody died. You weren’t even in it.”

My husband has curated, over the course of a nineteen-year marriage, a particular talent for calming me down by presenting counterarguments in little, parsed down bits. “Your sweater is small. You put it in the dryer.” Or, “She didn’t invite Jada either.” Normally, I see it as one of the ways we work. But last night, I followed him into the bedroom, resenting his dismissal.

“I told them I saw the kid in the Toyota using his cellphone.”

“I know.” He pulled back the covers on his side of the bed and got in.

I got in too. “That wasn’t exactly true.”

He turned to look at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean I didn’t really see him on his phone. He’s a kid, so he could have been. It seemed like it was his fault at the time. I don’t know why. It all happened so fast.”

My husband sighed. “Okay. Did the cops arrest the kid?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Did they charge him with anything?”

“I don’t think so. Not yet.”

“Well, then, you know what I say. Let sleeping dogs lie.” He picked up his book from the bedside table, and then he turned to me and asked, “Why did it seem like it was his fault?”

“I don’t know.” I studied the wall behind his head.  “It was more I didn’t want to say it was the other driver’s fault. She reminded me of Audrey.” 

“You hold onto her too tight,” he said.

I spun to face him, railing against his usual composure. “You don’t worry about the kinds of things she’s doing recently? About her turning into a different kind of person?”

“I worry about you turning into a crazy person,” he said, smiling. “She’s sixteen, Lonna. Of course she’s going to turn into a different kind of person.”

“I feel like I’m losing her,” I said, like it was the truest thing I’d ever thought.      

He reached for my hand and said, “Welcome to parenthood. Glad you could join me.”

“So, you don’t think I should try to get in touch with the cops myself?”

“What are you going to do, call 911?” He looked at me closely and said, word by word, “Let it go, Lonna.”

I squeezed his fingers. “Does it at least concern you that the most exciting thing that has happened to either of us in months is an accident you say didn’t even happen to me at all?”

“Speak for yourself,” he said, dropping my hand, and smiling, and turning back to his book. “My office just got Windows 10.”

After we turned out the lights, I lay awake. I caught on the ticking of our wall clock, and then I couldn’t stop hearing it. I thought about the woman from the supermarket and how she wasn’t Claire, but what if she had been? I thought about Lizzy Daiber, and whether she had given up on Audrey, or not just yet.

 

I woke up early this morning and marched into Audrey’s room.

“Get up,” I said. “We’re going to yoga.” I flipped her light switch and pulled back her covers, like I was in a play about a mom waking her kid up for school.

“Jesus,” Audrey said. “Calm down.”

I’d signed us up for the crowded nine o’clock Sunday morning class at that studio I’d been to once and Claire frequented, a class I would typically never brave. Audrey shuffled to the car and, as soon as she got in, I zoomed to the facility’s parking lot. As we walked inside, Audrey looked at me and said, “Are you wearing sweatpants to a yoga class?”

The attendant behind the desk had smug eyes, so I tried to look confident. Audrey yawned. The woman pointed us to a sign-in sheet, and I stepped up closer to the desk and started scanning the names. After a few seconds, Audrey said, “Mom, there are people behind us.”

“Can you tell me,” I said to the attendant with an imitated nonchalance, “if Claire Folt is here this morning?”

Audrey glanced at the woman too, and then back to me. She narrowed her eyes and said, loud enough for others to hear, “Who’s Claire Folt?”

The attendant looked bored. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Whatever,” Audrey said. She pointed at the studio room with her water bottle. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

We unfurled our mats in the back row just as the instructor was saying, Beautiful Sunday! I surveyed the spandexed crowd, and confirmed Claire was not there. I couldn’t decide if I was relieved or disappointed. I’d usually overthink about being seen, about seeming like I’d followed Claire to the class. But I’d also usually be home in a bathrobe on a Sunday morning, toasting bread or wheeling the garbage cans up the driveway. Throughout the poses of the sixty-minute session, beside my daughter, I threw myself into the class. I reorganized my body in ways I hadn’t in a long time.

When it was over, I was soaking in sweat. “Let’s go for brunch,” I said as we rolled our mats back up.

“I’m meeting Kit in an hour.”

“Who’s Kit?”

“You don’t know her.”

I sighed and assented but, on the drive back, I skirted the normal route and pulled us up to the intersection where the crash had occurred.

Audrey looked up from her phone, noticing for the first time we had gone off course, and said, “Why are we stopping?”

I pointed at the crossroads and said, “That’s where the accident happened.”

“What accident?”

“The accident,” I said. “The one from this week. The one I saw.”

“Oh. I thought you meant like an accident accident,” Audrey said. “I’m going to be late.”

Back at home, my wet yoga clothes clammy against my skin, I Googled the crash. Nothing came up beyond the initial local paper blurb, five days old, which had since been archived. My phone, similarly, was still notification-less. I felt silly, and canceled, which feels worse than when you were never anything at all.

 

“I’m here to see Officer Taymore,” I said to the elderly woman at the front desk of the police station. “Does he work on weekends?” I didn’t know if that was a stupid question to ask about a cop but, in any case, the woman nodded and called over a passing patrolman to bring me to Taymore’s desk. I wondered what it would feel like to have the kind of job that didn’t sleep, not even on Sundays.

This was my first time inside of a precinct and it was a bit of a letdown. Instead of Olivia Benson gumshoe detectives rifling through crime clues, there were mostly just people at desks. Like I’d stumbled upon the town’s behind-the-scenes staging area.

When I sat down in front of Officer Taymore, I had to remind him who I was. He was clicking through pictures on his computer of some surveillance shots at the local mall.

“I’m Lonna Conrad,” I told him. “From the Post Road accident on Wednesday.”

“Right, right. What can I do for you, Ms. Conrad?”

I took a deep breath and said, “I wanted to talk with you about what I said I saw.”

He waited for me to continue.

“I told you I saw the driver of the Toyota, Asher Banning, texting behind the wheel,” I said. “And I’m afraid that information might have led you in the wrong direction. I hope I didn’t get him in too much trouble.”

“Ms. Conrad—”

“I kept waiting for you to follow up, but you never did. What I need to say is, I don’t know exactly what I saw, but I know I shouldn’t have said what I said. I want to help you figure it out now. I’m willing to accept the consequences.”

“Ms. Conrad.” Officer Taymore put up his large, George Clooney hand to stop me. “We don’t believe Asher Banning caused that crash.”

I fumbled. “You don’t?”
“We looked into what you said, but Mr. Banning’s cellphone battery was dead at the time of the collision,” he said. “Figured you must have just been confused.”

I could feel myself shrink against the cloud of important commotion around me.

“Confused,” I said. “Is the case closed?”

He gave me a look like, You watch too much TV. “I’m sure you understand I can’t tell you that.”

I wanted him to go on, but he didn’t. It felt so unfinished, so pointless. After a few moments, I said, “So, what happens now?”

“Well, nothing really.” He leaned back in his chair and refocused on his screen. “Other than that we all get on with our days.”

So here I am, parked outside the station, small at the perimeter of the silhouette the building casts on the pavement, struggling to summon up the sensations of my fading experience at that intersection: the magnet energy that grabbed at me when the cars came together; the sound of my voice layered on top of an ambulance siren soundtrack. The specifics of the memories feel borrowed, faraway, but I keep trying for them. Like Lizzy Daiber chasing after her old friend, losing ground.

~

Katie Edkins Milligan is the recipient of the 2021 Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize in Fiction. Her work is forthcoming in Fiction and Tahoma Literary Review, and she is Fiction Editor at Gulf Coast. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Houston, where she’s an Inprint Brown Foundation Fellow. Find her at katieedkinsmilligan.com

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