Slippery Slope

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Aerials: A type of freestyle skiing that involves launching oneself from a jump into the air to do twists, turns and flips before landing.

“Has your son had anything else to say?” Detective Samuel Kosner had his pen poised over his small notebook.

Jessica and Derrick looked at each other and glanced furtively at Little Rick, who was playing contentedly in the bright afternoon sun that streamed in through the windows.

“No. Nothing,” Derrick answered.

Despite that answer, the detective made a brief notation in his book before flipping the pad closed.

“Ms. Sanders,” the man turned his full attention to the woman on the hospital bed, “Are you certain the woman you saw in the road prior to your accident was Kristy Cole?”

“Of course it was!” Derrick answered, “How many times are you going to ask my wife the same question?”

“Mr. Dalton,” Detective Kosner replied, “I’ll ask as many times as necessary and I’d appreciate it if you would allow your wife to respond on her own.”

Derrick opened his mouth and then closed it again. His face was red. Jessica quickly reached out and covered his hand with hers, “It’s okay, Derrick.” She turned back to the detective, “If it wasn’t her, it was someone who looked just like her,” she answered.

Jessica was starting to have doubts. When she saw Kristy in her hospital room, her feeling was so strong that she was the woman who had also been standing in the road. That Kristy was the reason she had slammed on her brakes and spun out of control. But as each day passed, and her lucidity and health returned, as her concern turned more to getting out of the hospital and being able to care for her children, the incident became more a blur. She could picture Kristy very clearly as she was the first time she saw her, talking with her son and husband in the lobby of the lodge, but when she tried to picture the woman on the road, the face was not so clear. It was now more an impression that the two women were the same, than a solid fact in her mind. As she came out of her haze of painkillers and understood how her accusation had affected Kristy, Brent, and even her own son, she less sure if it was Kristy she had seen and that she had not merely placed her there, as a consequence of the trauma she had endured.

She could see the detective weighing her answer, as she was considering it for herself.

“So you think it’s possible it may have been someone else?” he asked her. Jessica sensed he was giving her an out. She sensed perhaps she should take it, if for no other reason than to end the constant questioning and the tension it generated.

“I – I’m not sure.” Derrick pulled his hand away and Jessica looked down at her fingers. Her hands were naturally quite slim and after days in the hospital they were downright bony.

The detective flipped back the cover of his book again and leafed through a few pages.

“I hope you don’t mind if we review a few of your answers.”

Derrick sighed loudly with frustration. “I don’t understand what good this will do.”

Detective Kosner’s voice remained steady and firm. “Now that I’ve interviewed Ms. Cole and Mr. Jendanon about their involvement in the accident, I would like to compare notes. This is a serious accusation.”

Jessica looked at her husband. He could be so quick to fly off the handle. It almost seemed to her that he wanted Kristy and Brent to be involved rather than being shocked or surprised that they were. She had to admit to herself it was odd considering how he had always spoken of the three of them as friends. If it turned out to be a certainty that it had been Kristy in the road, even she supposed there must be a reasonable explanation. Of course, she already knew that Kristy and Brent had insisted it was not the case and that they had simply come across the mangled guardrail. Jessica wondered how likely it was that someone could notice so small a detail.

“Of course,” Jessica said brightly and smiled over at her son, who had turned to look at the group upon hearing his father’s voice rise.

“Please describe the woman you saw.”

Jessica took a deep breath. Thinking back on the incident provoked her anxiety.

“She was about five feet eight inches tall. Thin.” Jessica felt herself falter. She now felt like she was describing Kristy based on familiarity rather than seeing her at the accident. She closed her eyes to continue, to picture in her head what she saw as she rounded the bend in the road that day.

“Five foot eight. White. Thin. Hair…dark. But her hair was mostly under a hat, a white hat. She was wearing a dark colored ski jacket, dark pants….” She stopped. There was something else, something that had frightened her, caused her to panic more than the fact that there was no time to stop, no way to avoid the woman and the car, more than the feeling of the car sliding along the ice toward the edge of the road. But when she tried to visualize it she couldn’t. She stared at her own hands again, without really seeing them. The detective interrupted the thought.

“The make and color of the car?”

Jessica shook her head. “I don’t know cars. It was a light color four-door sedan. It was blocking both lanes. I would have had to slowly inch around it. I wasn’t speeding, but I was going too fast to stop.”

“Anything else?” he asked.

“No,” Jessica replied. She was less and less sure of the details.

The detective looked at her for a long moment until she began to feel uncomfortable. Derrick seemed to sense it.

“I think Jessica has had enough for one day.”

Detective Kosner nodded. “May I speak with your son again?”

This time Jessica was the agitated one. “No,” she said, a little too loudly. Her gaze moved quickly over to her son but he seemed to have not noticed.

“But Jess – maybe he’ll say something else. Now that he’s talked to Detective Kosner and gotten to know him a little,” Derrick insisted.

“Absolutely not,” she replied. “He’s a little boy and I don’t want him to have to continually relive that day. Detective,” she pleaded, “I would swear Little Rick has changed since that accident. He was always such a carefree and happy child. He seems so quiet and pensive now.” She looked back at her husband.

“Derrick, I think we need to drop this whole thing and just move on!”

Little Rick ran his Iron Man action figure along the windowsill. Windowsills were great. They could be a stage, or a launching pad off a big ship, or, like now, the science lab in Tony Stark’s house where Iron Man could be repaired and could plan his next adventure. Mommy was still in the big hospital bed, but he had sat with her for a long time today and went through the pages of his favorite Dr. Suess book, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” until Gamma kissed him on the head and said, That’s enough, Mommy needs to rest.

Right now, the policeman was talking to Mommy and Daddy and their voices were by turns getting louder and then hushed. Little Rick knew when they were hushed that they were talking about him. Everybody seemed to want to talk about how he wasn’t talking much recently. It was true he hadn’t felt much like talking since the bad accident but it wasn’t a big deal, he just didn’t feel like it. What was wrong with that? Grampa was they only one who didn’t seem to mind that he had not much to say. Grampa just played ball and gave him ice cream. Everyone else wanted to know how he was feeling. He was okay. He was very unhappy that the doctors had put him in the big machine to check his head. His head was just fine but the doctor told him that they were afraid he had banged it and hurt his brain. His brain seemed okay to him. He could still ’member all the football teams and the alphabet and could count all the way to 100, which he had been told many times was good for a kid his age.

So Rick knew they were talking about him and that the policeman probably wanted to talk to him again. He hoped not. The more questions he was asked, the less he wanted to answer. No one seemed to like his answers, anyway. When they asked him about the lady, he asked, Kristy? And the adults all looked at each other and raised their eyebrows like he said something important. But, what about Kristy, they pressed him. She was nice, he said. Kristy and the long-haired man who was funny and gave him cool hockey clothes to wear. Rick talked a little at first while he played but at one point Daddy took Iron Man and told him to concentrate. That just made him cry and hug Gamma. Daddy was mad at him but after a few minutes gave Iron Man back, so maybe not so mad.

Talking to Policeman Sam was scary. Usually, he liked policemen. Firemen, policemen, ambulance guys – they were all cool, especially their cars and trucks. But Policeman Sam only wanted to talk to Rick about the car accident and he didn’t like him one bit. He was nothing like the policeman who had visited his preschool and let everyone take turns sitting in the back of his cool car. Policeman Sam leaned in and called Rick, “Buddy.” He told Rick that he could say anything to him, could tell him secrets. Rick knew that was a trick. Mommy had told him that it was bad if a grown up asked him to keep secrets. And the policeman didn’t seem to like it either when he said that Kristy was a nice lady. But she was, so Rick decided he had nothing else to say. When he was asked if Kristy and the long-haired man had asked him not to talk he simply stared. Rick could see that there was just no talking to some people.

Little Rick didn’t want to think anymore about that day; it made him feel tired. He remembered it so clearly and just wanted it to go away. He and Mommy were singing Kidz Bop “Fight Song” when he heard Mommy scream. That was when he looked out of the window and saw the lady in the road, standing in front of a red car parked the wrong way. She was wearing a green hat and a yellow coat. She was standing with her legs spread apart, leaning back a little. He wanted to forget it. He wanted to forget how, as they slid off the road, Mommy frantically tried to turn the wheel to stop the skid, how the woman raised her hands and for a split second, that seemed much longer as the car slid in a circle and his face was just feet from where the woman stood, he saw the big silver metal gun she held, pointed right as him. He felt weightless as they slid from the road like he did that time on the roller coaster Daddy took him on at the water park near the beach, the same way his stomach felt when they were at the very top and started to go down. He closed his eyes tight as he felt them tumbling down the hill, as he heard Mommy screaming and heard crashing until he only heard crashing. He squeezed them tight until the car stopped moving. He squeezed them to try to get the picture of that big metal gun out of his head. He had seen guns before, watching movies and cartoons. But it was different to see a real one, and to see it pointed at him. The next time he was able to see something other than the gun, other than his Mom, not moving, was when he opened his eyes and saw Kristy, smiling at him through the window.

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