A 1958 Corvette was not equipped for a head-on collision with a mature maple tree. It went fast, but it didn’t handle curves like Shay’s Bend very well, especially on a rainy night when the driver had been drinking a little too much alcohol. Jason Ansbach's classic didn’t have airbags or seatbelts. Just before he hit the tree, he thought, "Not my beautiful Vette!”
A light came on in the farmhouse at the bend named after the original owner, one Howard Shay. Calamity at the bend was not a rare occurrence. Raindrops splashed on the shattered windshield and drizzled onto Jason’s forehead. He would have been appalled if he saw the front of his precious car crumpled all the way up the washboard-louvered hood. The impact demolished the dual headlights on the driver’s side, but the pair on the right still illuminated the uprooted maple, the tree as crippled as its assailant. The round dashboard clock, smashed as it was, kept ticking. It read 11:56.
The odor of gasoline vapor barely penetrated Jason’s consciousness. June Valli crooned Crying in the Chapel on the original Wonderbar radio. He wanted to change the station, but he couldn’t make his hands work. In fact, he couldn’t find his hands. Just moments before, his elbow had rested jauntily on the side window ledge, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips. He was fumbling for his lighter when his car hit the muddied gravel on the shoulder of the road. He braked hard and jerked the steering wheel to the left, too late. The right rear white sidewall exploded on impact.
His ensnared body pressed against the horn button on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, but no sound came out. A crimson stream ran down from his nose and into his open mouth. The taste of metal soured his tongue. His unshaved whiskers itched his neck, but he couldn’t raise his hand to scratch. He closed his eyes to fix his last thoughts on his angelic wife Angie. “I’m sorry,” he muttered through bloodied lips. He prayed with all of his failing heart that she would forgive him and mourn him.
He heard a wail, faint at first, in the distance. It grew louder and louder until he was sure the shriek would drive him mad. He begged it to stop. Finally, a carbonation of red sparkled off the raindrops on the shattered windshield.
An ambulance had arrived. "Hold on,” the paramedic shouted through the splintered side window. “We'll have you at the hospital in a couple of minutes. Hold on." At that moment, the injured man lost consciousness, on his way to oblivion.
Jason Ansbach was born to the good life, but one from which much was expected. The youngest of three sons, he never failed to ultimately disappoint. His father indulged his escapades and his failed businesses, too numerous to enumerate. After his father died, followed soon by his mother, no amount of brotherly advice or admonition could mute Jason’s zest for life. His oldest brother John, the prominent investment banker, could never resist Jason’s persuasive pleadings for a loan, even knowing he would never be repaid. The latest one was for a rare vintage silver blue Corvette. His middle brother Jeff, the deputy state attorney general, untangled his youngest brother’s brushes with the law. Most such episodes involved alcohol, jilted women, or business deals of a dubious nature.
The young man possessed the handsome features of a near-movie star, but his face was worn beyond his 38 years by too much drink and dalliance. Maybe his weathered vulnerability is what made him so appealing to women. He didn't intentionally flirt. He couldn't even begin to understand his own appeal, but he recognized its value. Women fell for him, and men liked to be around him. Some of it might have been his boundless loyalty. He was the one always ready to come to a friend’s aid immediately and without question, regardless of the circumstance.
He was a most persuasive wheeler-dealer who could convince a bear he needed a warm coat. He made lots of money when he worked and spent even more. He shared generously with his man friends and overwhelmed interesting women with extravagant experiences anyone else would consider excessive. He was always up, always ready with a bawdy joke, and always ready for an interesting new adventure - at least until the next of his calamities struck. Small wonder that no one could stay mad at Jason for long, no matter the provocation. Yet despite all evidence to the contrary, there were still lucid moments when Jason knew exactly who he was. It wasn’t who he wanted to be.
His parents and his brothers thought Kaitlyn the perfect wife for him. She was gorgeous and as socially polished as any debutant, even if a bit dim. For her, a cultural discussion usually featured the Kardashians’ latest antics. Jason was soon bored. The birth of their first son, and then a daughter, did nothing to curb his promiscuity. His philandering was partially out of boredom, partially habit, and partially to fill a festering emptiness. They divorced soon after Kaitlyn caught him fooling around with Angie Briggs. Nonetheless, he remained an attentive father, though occasionally forgetting a birthday or a teacher’s conference. He spoke of his former wife only with respect, even when she readily disparaged him to the kids.
Angie, his latest wife, was different. He loved her like he had never loved anyone. She was genuine, attractive, bright, witty, and interesting. Most of all, she loved Jason with an intensity that fulfilled him. “My wandering days are over,” he told his brother Jeff on his wedding day. True to his word, he didn’t cheat on Angie for at least a year and a half. And then it was only a weekend with a business acquaintance. It meant nothing. Neither did the ones after that. He was always discreet, and couldn’t figure how Angie found out about them. But then Berkinbury wasn’t that big a town. Last week she threw him out. He hadn’t stopped drinking since.
Tonight’s heavy rains did nothing to lift his spirits. Concern for his best friend brought Jimmy Gooch to join Jason at Murphy’s Tavern, their favorite watering hole. Jimmy nursed his second Budweiser. Jason gulped his fourth.
“This time it’s different,” Jason slurred. “I love Angie more than I ever loved anyone in my life.”
Jimmy didn’t want to inflict more insult on his injured friend, but he had heard such talk from Jason too many times. So, he listened and nodded his head as if in agreement.
“I’m going to treat her better than she’s ever been treated before,” Jason continued. “I’m going to stay sober, and no more fooling around, no matter what.”
“You got a big mountain to climb there, buddy,” Jimmy answered.
“She’s gotta’ take me back.”
The wide-hipped waitress came over and asked if they wanted another round. Jimmy waved her off. Jason ordered a Grey Goose on the rocks. The waitress bent low for him to get a good look down her plunging black top. She ran her tongue over her upper lip and smiled. He winked and returned her smile. “I’ll be right back,” she said as she sauntered off, wiggling her behind.
“Don’t you think you’d better head home,” Jimmy said. “Boss warned that if you don’t show up for work tomorrow you’re done. At least give him a call in the morning.”
“To hell with him.”
“You’ve lost three jobs in the last two years. You can’t keep this up.”
“But I always find a better one,” Jason snapped.
Jimmy drained the last drop of beer from his mug and stood up. He fished some bills from his wallet and left them on the table. “I gotta’ get up in the morning,” he said. “You okay to drive?”
Jason wasn’t listening. He was dialing Angie on his cell phone for the millionth time tonight, but again she wouldn’t answer.
He sat alone and sipped his vodka, brooding. He tried calling Angie still again, and again her phone went right to voicemail. He rose from his chair and threw his phone across the room, bouncing it off the paneled wall. Then he grabbed his coat and headed out into the storm, determined to see her right now. If he went by way of Shay’s Bend he could be there in fifteen minutes, maybe less if he floored it. No cops would be out on a night like tonight.
The world was spinning in his head when he lowered himself into the front seat of the car. He peeled out of the parking lot, not thinking to turn on the windshield wipers.
He awakened in what seemed like a hospital with tubes running out of him, aching all over, amid a rainbow of noises and the whiff of chemicals. The bed linen felt like puffs of cotton balls. Even the dimmed lights hurt his eyes. There was someone in the room, but he couldn’t see who it was. Everything was white: the walls, the bed, the sheets, the blanket, and even the beeping and blinking machines to which he was tethered. There were no windows so he couldn’t tell if it was day or night.
“I have to see Angie,” he said out loud to the presence in the room. He struggled to clear his head.
Someone held his hand and gently stroked it with comforting fingers. "Mr. Ansbach, you've been in a car accident.” It was a woman with a husky voice, probably the nurse. He couldn't see her, but she sounded young. "You're going to be okay."
His mouth tasted like he had licked the grease off a gear. Needles stung his face and arms. He wondered if they were trying acupuncture on him. He raised his hand to the hurt in his chest where the steering wheel had bruised him. Then he must have drifted off to sleep again.
When he opened his eyes, he sensed his brother John was in the room. “They say you’re doing excellent,” John said when he saw his injured kid-brother's eyelids flicker. “You may be out of here tomorrow.”
“I have to see Angie,” Jason said.
“Let’s get you home first.”
“I’m not leaving until I see Angie.” Jason’s eyes flashed, agitated. He pulled at the wires constraining him.
John seemed to disappear for a moment. That’s when Jason heard his mother and father arguing in the distance, maybe out in the hall, just like they always did when he was growing up. It was something about Dad running around with the Bates woman.
Jason asked John why they don't come in his room. "You know why," John answered. But he didn't know why.
His chest throbbed when he tried taking a deep breath. He had much to apologize for and many people to apologize to, starting with John. “I’m going to pay you back every cent I ever borrowed from you,” he insisted. “Jeff too. I’m going to get a new job, one of those steady jobs where I go in every day at nine and I’m home by six. No more messing around.” He was most sincere about it.
His brother nodded deeply, recognizing the change in his young brother.
“I promise. I promise,” Jason repeated.
“Of course,” his brother said. “I believe you.” He patted him on the hand with affection. “Rest now. Everything will be okay.”
Jason wanted to beg some more for John’s forgiveness, though it seemed his big brother had already forgiven him, and so had everyone else but Angie. He breathed a deep sigh of relief. Then the urgency returned. “I have to see Angie,” he said before John disappeared.
On his way out the door, John frowned at the nurse in the white uniform who was entering. Jason could see her clearly now. She was cute and looked a lot like the waitress at Murphy’s Tavern. Her tight skirt emphasized her bountiful bottom. When she bent over to take Jason’s temperature, he couldn’t help but look down her open top at a most attractive bosom.
“Stop it,” Jason admonished himself. “You promised Angie.” The nurse gave him a fetching smile. He told himself this time he must be strong or he would never win Angie back. “I’m so tired,” he told the nurse. “Let me sleep.”
Jason lost all fathom of time. It might have been minutes, hours, or days when his consciousness returned with a shrill wailing in his ears. He thrashed around, desperately trying to break out of whatever constrained him.
“There, there, my darling,” the saint-like woman’s voice comforted through the fog. She caressed his hand tenderly in hers, running her fingers over his muscled forearm like she used to.
“Angie? Is that you?” he whispered. Just speaking those words exhausted him.
"It's me, honey. It's me, Angie." She sniffled. “I'm here, I'm here."
"Angie. Is that you?" he asked again, straining to shake off the haze.
"Yes, my darling.
"I'm sorry," he sobbed. “I’m so sorry.” Then, gathering the desperate strength of the damned, the words gushed out. “I’m going to change. I promise you. This time I mean it. I’ll never hurt you again.” He wiped away a tear.
"No, no. I'm the one who should be sorry. I should never have doubted you. I should have understood. We'll start over. It will be better this time. I love you."
"I love you."
"Your whole gang's been calling: Tim, Egan, Barnie, Jimmy Gooch. They're waiting for you."
"I don't think I'm going to be ready for them for a long time. Maybe never. I've hurt you enough."
"It's okay, darling. They're your friends. I was wrong to try to keep you from them."
He couldn't get over the change in her. He faded out again into the peace of the forgiven.
"Let him rest," the nurse with the husky voice said to Angie.
When he awoke this time, all of the tubes, monitors, and bandages were gone. He felt no pain. Someone must have shaved him because his cheeks felt smooth as a newborn baby’s behind.
The cute nurse with the blond ponytail and husky voice was named Viola. “Time for me to give you a sponge bath,” she said. They were all alone. She walked over and locked the door. Then she approached his bed and took off his scanty hospital gown. She started to rub him down, but not with soap and water, just her bare hand. She climbed into bed with him. Then she raised her skirt and climbed on top. She wasn’t wearing any panties.
"But I promised Angie," he moaned, distress rising in his raw throat.
"Angie understands," she answered. From this angle and in this light, Viola looked just like his first wife, Kaitlyn, at this age - trim and firm.
“I have to find Angie. I have to talk to Angie,” he begged. The nurse with the pony tail just smiled and ran her moist tongue over her ruby red lips.
“You’re so good,” she purred.
She felt enormously heavy, as though she were sitting on top of him, grinding her knees into his chest. He couldn’t breathe.
"Get off. Get off," he tried to say, but the words came out like foam on the ocean. The sudden blast of a siren assaulted his brain, so loud it felt like it was right there on the ceiling above him, screeching in his ears.
“Hold on, hold on,” Viola squealed above the din.
“What do they expect of me?” he might have asked.
"Hold on, sir. We’ll have you out in a minute," the paramedic shouted. He sounded like the nurse with the husky voice, but he was wearing a rain-slicked gray paramedic’s jacket, not a white skirt.
A moment later the paramedic withdrew the oxygen mask and turned off the valve. "We lost him," he yelled to the driver.
The driver turned off the flashing lights. “Too bad about that beautiful car.”
“Poor bastard never stood a chance."
Jason Ansbach was dead at the scene with a crushed chest. His car’s dashboard clock read 11:59.
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