12 Steps

by Tamuira Reid

1. Theresa killed a man with her car. It wasn't her fault but still.

It was dark. The road was long. Oldies played on the radio. The kind of music people dance to when they think no one is watching and there is still that chance of something good happening.

He hit her, not the other way around.

Thought it was a deer, she told the police. Same kind of thud, thick and heavy. It was raining but not too hard. The impact dented the hood, busted the window, the glass splintered and folded in on itself.

The paper runs his photo with details for a memorial service at the Y on Harrisburg Street. He was nineteen, worked weekends at a Ford dealership. Best damn worker bee we had, his boss would tell reporters when they turned up at his store, on the hunt for details.

Theresa folds the story into a square and hides it under her mattress. Sometimes she feels him breathing but doesn't tell anyone.

2. A television crackles from a corner of the room where his two little sisters sleep, arms and legs locking. They always do this; try to wait up for their brother. Sometimes he brings home candy or soda or other deliciously bad things their mother will not let them have. Junior, I wish you'd stop bringing that crap into my house, she will say to his back as he opens the fridge and sighs.

Her first born. Her son. How secretly proud she is of the man he's becoming. The man his own father turned out not to be.

3. The last thing he saw was the glare of headlights. Like rays of sun coming straight towards him.

4. The silk blouse and the gray slacks from Macy's with the pleats down the front. They go into the washer with extra Woolite. Theresa studies the water for signs of death but it's all over at this point. She lets the lid down slowly, disappears into the kitchen for another cigarette.

People call and she tells them. Didn't see him coming. Out of nowhere. I held his hand. Sometimes the people who call are friends. Sometimes the people who call are strangers. Fucking drunk bitch, they'll say and then hang up.

5. She was sober when she hit him. Ninety five days without anything, she'd tell the police. But no one would believe her, even when the blood tests showed she was telling the truth.

6. Junior was gifted at selling cars. He could move the whole lot in a day if he wanted to. One time a middle-aged woman came in to look, I'm broke, don't push me and went home with a brand new Ford Focus an hour later.

7. Her sponsor told her to do the Twelve Steps. Do them like your life depends on it because it does. Twelve Steps later and she was done with drinking. Wine bottles became candleholders and the house was always clean.

It was a strange feeling, being so alert and alive.

She decided to buy a car. She was a healthy person now and healthy people owned cars.

The teenaged salesman at the dealership was pushy and desperate, smoothest ride in town and built Ford tough!, but something told her he needed the sale. He needed that money to come through.

The new Ford Focus looked good in her driveway. Neighbors passed by and thought, how the hell Theresa get that?

8. Just don't forget about college, Junior. You get all crazy about this car business and it's not a future.

Relax, ma. A year selling and I'll be able to pay for us all to go to Harvard.

9. He didn't die on impact. A part of his life still hung to the air and shone all around them. Or maybe it was the headlights.

10. Keep coming back! It works if you work it so work it!

She still couldn't stomach all of the sayings. But they were right about the it works part. So far so good.

I want a new life, she said when her ex-husband answered the phone.

I'm not giving you any more money, Theresa.

That's not what – Jesus. Is that all you think I want? Money?

She made a mental note not to call her ex-husband again. He was her ex for a reason. He reminded her too much of herself.

11. His eyes still open to the sky. His hand in her hand. And then he went.

There was a gas station sign glowing dimly across the freeway. They had the snacks Junior's sisters coveted the most.

12. Theresa calls his mother. Every day. To Apologize. For the accident. It was an accident, a horrible accident, she says into the phone. There's breathing on the other end but no words and it stays like this until one of them hangs up.