The man cries then vomits. It starts with a foamy leak down his T-shirt, followed by a stream of color and guts. He is embarrassed. This is a good thing, I think.
Still, I suspect this may be an act rehearsed for the moment. He has been making the rounds, apologizing to my family members. I light a cigarette and offer him one, so he can say what he came here to say and get it over with.
We are sitting on my porch in Tampa. This is summer. It is too hot for this.
“I killed her,” he says, “but I don’t feel like a murderer.”
His breaths become quicker, shorter.
“If you’re a Catholic you can ask someone for forgiveness,” I say. “Otherwise, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not my job to absolve you.”
He is a bald man, much older than I am, with a bulbous stomach barely covered by a God is Good T-shirt. I wonder if he wears this shirt often. Maybe he was when he hadn’t looked left, when he pulled out onto a clay road, when he forced my cousin’s car into a cement culvert. Dead when her neck snapped.
The man hadn’t looked left.
With his bare hand, the man tries to wipe a chunk of something off his chest. As he talks I don’t listen because I don’t care what he says. His words will never matter.
Instead I think of the cruel dice game of the Fates: my cousin driving home from her weekend-long college orientation. She was probably happy, maybe a little hung-over, eager. And it was her birthday. Eighteen years.
She spent only a part of one day as an adult, and now her casket rests high in an above-ground mausoleum, stacked on top of other enclosed bones—a giant filing cabinet waiting for a spiteful God to one day open and finger through.
“She’s in a better place,” I hear the man say. “I just know she is.”
But the man can’t know this, of course. The best he can do is believe. This is the word the man should have chosen.
For now though, at least in this moment, I feel there is likely no better place than here, each of us confined to one individual circumstance at a time, all riding out our small segments of chronology until a crash comes for us, too.
I worry that this is it for us, as it was for my cousin, and that she in her dust-bin afterlife will never again get to feel joy, shame, or whatever it is her accidental killer gets to feel, right now, as he repents.
Still, I believe the man didn’t mean it to happen.
He is innocent.
I get him a rag to clean his mess.