Alfred Lee

Maybe Next Year

     "Just tell me, in your own words, exactly what happened.  The orders of events as you remember them, Matthew."

     "I'm not sure what happened first.  I was driving my Mercedes, taking Sharon back to her dorm.  A person was walking in the street.  I was talking with Sharon.  I always talked to Sharon when she was in the car.  I have this terrible habit of looking at her when I talk to her.  It doesn't matter that I'm driving a car fifty miles an hour down a busy street at dusk when the visibility is slightly distorted due to the bad lighting.  You know what I mean. That sort of haze that forms all over the road cause you can't quite distinguish everything you see clearly," Matthew said. "Sharon was looking and talking a mile a minute at me.  We didn't see the girl until my Mercedes was nearly on top of her." 

There.  Another key detail to this event.  The person on the road at the wrong time was a girl.

     "Anyway, Sharon looked up at the road first, I think.  I remember she just sort of opened her mouth but nothing came out.  She had this weird look on her face like she'd seen a ghost or something.  Her eyes were as wide as they could be.  Then, all of a sudden, she found her voice and yelled!  A scream that would have waked the dead. 

     "The next instant, I caught movement out of my left eye's peripheral vision.  I reacted as fast as I could, but I guess it wasn't fast enough.  I remember she was wearing a rain slicker.  I thought that was strange since the forecast was for more of the same hot, dry weather we've been having for the past ten days.

     "The next thing I knew, this pedestrian put up her hands in front of her face as her body kind of turned toward the left headlight of the car.  Then, it just sort of slid into her in slow motion.  What happened next was strange beyond belief.  She disappeared!  Right before my eyes!  One second she was being struck by the front of the Mercedes and the next she was gone!  When the car hit her, I remember thinking how it appeared like it was molding with her.  Anyway, she vanished into what seemed like thin air!  I thought that I must have hallucinated the whole thing.  I glanced over at Sharon and she was moving, too, but in slow motion.  Everything was moving in slow motion."  He took a long deep breath.
  "What happened next?"

    Matthew went for a cigarette but couldn't find his pack.  Then he noticed the no smoking sign over the door.  He looked at the interviewer for some sort of recognition but found none.  Only that bland, expressionless, face with no eyebrows!  The guy had no eyebrows!  I swear to ...  Never mind, he thought.

     "The next thing I knew, this girl was slowly coming at me.  She seemed like she was diving at me, trying to get at me through the windshield with her hands.  They hit the glass first.  I could almost hear them breaking against the hard surface.  Next came her face.  It contorted up like a funny face you used to make when you were a kid, remember?  You'd push your nose and lips against a pane of glass and they'd get all squashed up!"

     Matthew felt a thin trickle of sweat slowly winding its way down the right side of his face.  He had to try and play it off cause he knew you are never supposed to let them see you sweat.  He swatted the side of his face like there was a fly or mosquito on it.  He got that droplet of sweat though.  He didn't think the man saw it.

     "And next?" the interviewer asked.

     Persistent cuss, thought Matthew.  "I want a glass of water, if you don't mind." He had to stall him until he could figure out just what was going on.  Where was he?  Why had they brought him here instead of a hospital?  Was he hurt?  He didn't feel hurt, but you never know.  Better to be safe than sorry.  And who was he?  This man with infinite patience and dressed in a plain white lightweight suit.  Why was he asking him all these questions?  Why was it so hot in here?

     "When we are finished.  Please, Matthew, continue."

     "Very well.  Where was I?"

     "You were saying that her face looked comical pressed up against the glass as it was slowly crushing all the bones in her face."

     "Did I say that?  I don't know if they were being crushed.  I didn't hear them the way I heard her hands snap at the wrists, her fingers being shoved up in their sockets.

     "Anyway, the next link in the chain of events was when I noticed Sharon crashing into the windshield after her right shoulder hit the dashboard twisting her slightly up and backwards.  The back of her head struck the glass with such force that it shattered instantly.  As the back of her head and neck went through, a long sliver of broken glass penetrated the back of her neck and shot straight through to the other side like a knife.  I remember she was looking at me with an _expression of disbelief, yet in awe of the whole situation.

     "Don't you see how ironic this was?  After you get past the grotesque manner in the way all this was happening.  Can't you see it?"

     "No, tell me, Matthew.  What do you mean?"

     He just noticed that the man wasn't writing any of this down.  Was there a tape recorder hidden behind that large plate glass window?  If not, what was, or should I say, who was?  He held his questions and continued.

     "One was coming in while the other was going out.  You could say one girl was leaving my life while another was dying to get into it!  I know.  That was very cold, very callous, indifferent, apathetic, insensible, and heartless.  You could even say soulless.  Well, I'm not any of those things. It's just that certain situations tend to make you think of things, look at things in a different light, so to speak.  Do you understand?  I'm not totally insensitive, honest!  I just, well ... oh, never mind."

     He needed a cigarette in the worst of ways.  He was now sweating like a pig and no longer cared who saw it.  Let them all be damned.  Especially this pompous ass who was interrogating him and all those people watching behind that glass, he thought to himself.

     "Please, Matthew.  Continue."

     "Is that all you can say? `Please continue?'  Don't you understand how I feel?  Aren't you the one who's being cold now?"  The man just stared at Matthew with those unemotional eyes.  Never glancing away, never looking down or to the left or right.  Always staring directly at him, into his eyes.  It was enough to drive a person crazy!

     "You were saying, Matthew?  About the similarity of the two women passing through the glass?"

     "Very well.  Let's get this thing over with.  I suppose you want my recollection of what happened next?"

     "Please," he nodded.

     "The car continued to move forward but seemed to be picking up speed.  I can't remember putting on the brakes, but I must have.  The whole accident: car, unknown girl, Sharon, and me, we all started turning sideways, to the left.  The front of the car went to the left while the back end went to the right.

     "At this time, the girl's body started back down the way she came, right into the path of the left front fender and tire.  That's when her rib cage must have been crushed.  Sharon's body, now lifeless I'm sure, continued through the windshield straight into the street and came to a dead stop after rolling for about twenty to thirty feet or so.

     "I guess that's about it.  I must have blacked out when my shoulder strap kept my body from sustaining any major damage, although I've got a severe cut on my forehead.  Must have caught a piece of that flying glass with it.  I got a terrific headache.

     "Can I have that glass of water?  Will I be able to go home now?"

     "There is one more question, Matthew.  Just one more, then I'll get you that water.  I promise."

     "Okay, but this better be the last one.  I want to drink my glass of water and just go home.  If that's all right with you?"

     "Sure, Matthew.  What ever you want.  Just answer this one last question.  Tell me whatever pops into your head, okay?"

     "Okay.  Shoot."  He leaned back in the chair, feeling the softness of the cushion.

     "Matthew, who was responsible for killing Sharon Bass and the other girl, Jenny?
A few moments later, the interviewer opened the door and spoke to the observers.

     "You can come in now, Dr. Peterson.  He's gone back into his repression."

     As the side door to the observation room opened, they all stood there staring at Matthew Smite.  Dr. Peterson was the first to speak.

     "What happened to him, Dr. McClaughlin?  He was so responsive.  You had him talking about the accident, his speech wasn't slurred, his pupils weren't set.  What triggered him to recess back into his catatonic state?  I've never seen anything like it in my entire career!"

     "I can't explain it as well or as eloquently as such a learner man as you, Dr. Peterson. However, I will try to recap the true events leading up to Matthew's present state.

     "But, first, let's allow one of my attendants to take Matthew back to his room.  Then, we can continue this back in my office."

     Back in his office, after everyone was seated, the man in the white lab coat continued.

     "Matthew mixed up some of the facts.  The truth of the matter is he was in love with a young girl named Sharon Bass.  She never felt the same way as he did and, after trying to tell him in her own delicate way, she jilted the guy over the phone, rather than face him and view his grief.

     "Matthew wasn't satisfied with that, so he went to Sharon's dorm at the town's pre-med college.  When she refused to reconsider, he flew into a rage, grabbing the nearest item, a water glass, and proceeded to smash her in the head with it.

     "All the commotion coming from Sharon's usually quiet room caused her next door neighboring girlfriend, Jenny, a total stranger to Matthew, to come charging into the room.

     Matthew, seeing this intruder as an interference, picked up a miniature metal toy model of a Mercedes that was on the glass-topped coffee table and beat Jenny profusely about the head and upper torso.  When all was said and done, he had crushed Jenny's face beyond recognition, all the bones in both her hands, her larynx, and punctured both lungs with her collapsed rib cage. Sharon's scull had been cracked open and he also had stabbed her through the neck with the broken water glass, killing her instantly.  She fell to the floor through the glass top coffee table.

     "Matthew then sat down in the middle of the room, recessed into a catatonic state, and has been that way ever since.  With one exception."  He paused while he re-lit his pipe.

     "Don't stop now," said Dr. Peterson.  "Please continue."

     "Do you know what today's date is, Doctor?  I'll tell you.  It's June 30th, 1993, the anniversary of Sharon and Jenny's death.  Every year, at precisely the same time that Matthew got into his car and drove over to Sharon's dorm to take her life and the life of an innocent girl that was just trying to help, he comes out of his present state.  He asks for a doctor, and relates that same story you just witnessed.  He's been doing that for the last twelve years!  I know because I've been listening to it in the hopes that I can bring him out of it so he can stand trail for his crimes.
   "Do you think me wrong, Dr. Peterson?"

     "No, Dr. McLaughlin.  But tell me one fact that you left out.  What was the girl's name that lived next to Sharon?"

     "I thought I told you that, Doctor.  It was Jenny.  Her last name was never recorded in the records.

     "Now, if you don't mind, it's been a very long day.  I'd like to freshen up before I go home to my wife.  I thank you for being my yearly witness.  One of these years, Matthew will come out of it.  I'm certain of that, aren't you?"

     "Why, yes, Doctor.  I'll see myself out.  Thank you for letting me see your pet project.  Maybe we'll get him next year."

     At that, Dr. Peterson got up, put on his raincoat, shook the doctor's hand and left the office.

     Dr. McLaughlin went back to his desk and picked up Matthew's case study.  Before locking it in his safe for another year, he took one last look at the photos of the dead girls taken from the college yearbook printed at the end of that school year.  He looked their dates of birth written next to the date of their deaths.  Jenny's was July 1, 1959. But, he knew that.

     There they were in all their beauty, soon-to-be graduating seniors.  There was Sharon Bass and Jenny McLaughlin.


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