Authors: Diane Hoh
HE ROAR OF THE
motorcycle’s engine is so loud it can be heard from a great distance on this still, quiet spring night. An elderly woman named Myra pruning her favorite rose bush, the blooms pink with a faint hint of vanilla in their unfolding petals, lifts her head at the sound, and the straw hat she is wearing over her graying hair tilts slightly backward, exposing a lined forehead above slightly puzzled blue eyes.
Two houses up the street in the small, pleasant town of Twin Falls not far from Salem University’s campus, the little Johnson boy, just turned seven and proud of it, fights to maintain his balance on the brand-new, shiny red and silver bicycle given him the night before at his birthday celebration. He loves motorcycles, and when he hears the unmistakable roar coming from somewhere behind him, he loses his concentration, then his balance, and topples off the bike. It rolls forward several feet, and then quietly lies down on its side near the curb, as if waiting for the little boy to catch up.
Although he has scraped his knee, drawing blood, the boy is too interested in the possible approach of a real, live motorcycle to cry. He pulls himself to his feet and stands in the middle of the street, eyes bright with anticipation.
It is twilight. The street, its neat white or brick houses and the fully leafed, large trees lining the avenue, are all bathed in faint purple shadows as darkness begins to silently swallow Twin Falls, gobbling it up block by block.
Any vehicle on the road at this hour is required to turn on its lights. That is the law.
But, though the roar of the bike increases in volume and intensity, the woman tending her roses and the little boy in the street see no sign of a light approaching.
If he had seen a light, the little Johnson boy would have moved out of the street and onto the curb to watch the motorcycle fly by, and would have counted himself lucky to see such a sight.
Myra, puzzled by the loud roar of the motorcycle when she can see no sign of the vehicle itself, rises to her feet and steps out into the street to peer down the avenue, thinking perhaps the roar isn’t that of a motorcycle, after all, but someone’s power lawnmower. She has seen the little Johnson boy in the street trying to ride his new bicycle, and wonders if she should call to him to move to the curb, just in case. But his parents might not like that, might think she’s just being nosy.
She does see a light then, but it’s confusing, because it’s a double set of headlights, coming toward her end of the street. She may be old, but she knows perfectly well that motorcycles don’t have two headlights.
that dreadful roar, so loud it could easily finish off what’s left of her hearing?
The cycle appears out of nowhere, only slightly illuminated by the headlights of the car still some distance behind it. It is a huge Harley-Davidson with, it’s true, no headlight at all, and only one rider. It swoops with a roar out of the purple shadows, catching the little Johnson boy by surprise. He wavers, his eyes widening in astonishment, and then that amazing self-protective instinct kicks in and he dives sideways, out of the path of the oncoming motorcycle.
But the boy misjudges the distance between street and curb and, as the rose-tending woman up the street watches in horror, the little Johnson boy misses the grassy area just beyond the curb, and falls too soon, his head slamming into the cement curb with a deadly thwacking sound.
Then there are three more sounds, each one breaking the early evening silence in a different way. There is the triumphant roar of the motorcycle as it races away. There is the shrill scream of Myra as she rushes across the street to aid the injured boy, and then the agonized shriek of brakes as the approaching car tries desperately to avoid hitting her.
The sound when the car hits her is quieter than the earlier sound of the boy’s head thwacking into the curb. It is a softer noise, almost gentle as the sedan with the shrieking brakes collides with the woman, knocking her backward and under the car. It keeps going for a few more feet, dragging its victim along with it. When the car finally slides to a complete halt, the hem of a blue denim skirt clings to the bottom of the left front wheel.
Hearing the odd assortment of sounds from inside his house, the woman’s husband rises from his leather recliner in front of the television set and hurries to the front door, opening it and calling, “Myra? Myra?”
The little Johnson boy lies perfectly still, his legs limp in the street, his head on the curb. A small pool of bright red, looking very like the round shiny red apples he often drew in first grade, forms beneath his skull.
survive and go into second grade in September.
But Myra’s pink and vanilla tinted roses will have to be pruned by someone else if they are to retain their customary glory. As the coroner tells her grief-stricken husband later, “She was dead before she hit the ground. Heart attack. Sorry, Milt.”
The Twin Falls police will hunt for the Harley-Davidson. But, as one of the officers on the scene tells the grieving Milt, “Far as we know, the biker isn’t guilty of much. He didn’t hit anyone. Wasn’t speeding, according to witnesses. They said the bike didn’t have a light on, and we could ticket him for that, if we find him. But we’re sure not gonna hang him for that.”
Alone in her room on the campus of Salem University, Echo Glenn hears the roar of a motorcycle as it approaches campus and thinks, What a racket!
Then she returns to her studying.
ELL, I DON’T CARE
what anyone says, I think it’s scary,” Delores Jean Cutter said. Immersed to her neck in the bubbling whirlpool in Salem University’s infirmary, she shook her head. Dark, short, hair curled damply around her pink cheeks. “I mean, that little boy could have been killed. And that old woman
All because of some idiot on a motorcycle! Echo, could you please hand me another towel? This one’s soggy.”
“That’s because you’ve been waving it around, too close to the whirlpool bubbles, while you were talking, Deejay,” Echo said. But she got up from the stool where she’d been sitting with an open book in her lap, took a thick, white towel from the tall, wide supply closet and slung it carelessly around Deejay’s shoulders. Her part-time job at the infirmary required her to see that the people who used the whirlpool had what they needed. Sometimes she felt like an attendant at a country club, but the job brought in needed funds. Beggars couldn’t be choosers. “The article in the campus paper said the biker didn’t do anything wrong except forget to turn his light on. He didn’t hit that woman or the little boy.”
Deejay Cutter slapped at the whirling water with the flat of her hand and said emphatically, “But it wouldn’t have happened if the motorcycle had had its light on, Echo!” The other two girls in the whirlpool all nodded agreement. “And why are you defending the guy, anyway?”
Echo had no idea why she was taking the side of the biker. She didn’t even know who he was. No one did.
“Well, at least the attack happened in town,” Ruthanne Widdoes said, standing up and stepping stiffly out of the tub. Ruthanne had arthritis, a painful disease unusual in someone so young, and spent more time than anyone else in the whirlpool. She was very tall and thin and had told Echo that her pediatrician had said she’d “grown too fast.” “He made it sound like it was my fault,” she had complained to Echo one day as she stepped gingerly into the tub. “Like I did it on purpose.” Now, Ruthanne added, “It’s not like there’s a wild biker loose right here on campus.”
Echo didn’t say anything, but she was remembering the sound she’d heard the night before when she was studying. The unmistakable roar of a motorcycle’s engine arriving on campus. But that didn’t mean anything. There
a few bikes on campus. They were cheaper to run and easier to maneuver in traffic than a car.
“Well, I just hope he
in town,” Deejay said. “I don’t like motorcycles. Too noisy.” Deejay’s problem was tennis elbow. Still athletically inclined, she had switched to swimming, saying it was a form of “hydrotherapy,” like the whirlpool, only not as warm and bubbly.
Marilyn Sexton nodded agreement. Tall and blonde and as shy and quiet as Deejay was talkative, Marilyn had what Echo thought of as “sad eyes.” The victim of a tragic house fire when she was a teenager, her legs and arms not only pained her from time to time, they were badly scarred. Marilyn never wore shorts or tops without long sleeves. Echo was certain that only Marilyn’s roommate and her whirlpool room companions had ever seen Marilyn’s cruel scars.
The three girls were very different. Deejay was popular and outgoing, Marilyn shy and quiet, Ruthanne a little brusque but very capable and efficient. In spite of her pain, Ruthanne accomplished a lot on campus, heading fund raisers, chairing committees, and making the dean’s list. The three seemed to have little in common. Echo was sure they would never have become friends if not for their shared need for the whirlpool’s soothing waters.
Echo tolerated the trio, but she didn’t consider them close friends. She had no close friends. Her choice.
“Are you going to the picnic tomorrow afternoon, Echo?” Marilyn asked as she climbed out of the tub.
“No.” Picnic? An entire Saturday afternoon spent in the hot sun, with ants nibbling at her ankles and people throwing water balloons at each other? No, thanks.
“You’re so antisocial, Echo,” Ruthanne accused as she toweled off her long, skinny legs. “You really don’t like people, do you?”
“That’s not true!” Echo protested halfheartedly. But she knew it was almost true. She wasn’t even sure she liked these three, although she had talked to them more this year than to anyone else on campus. But that was solely because of her job at the infirmary. She spent almost no time with them away from the whirlpool room. It’s not that they were that bad; Deejay was fun, Marilyn was nice enough, and Ruthanne, when she wasn’t complaining about pain, could carry on a very intelligent conversation.
But they had all been handed their educations on a silver platter. None of the three worked part-time to help out with expenses. They actually got “allowances” in the mail from their parents, money they were free to spend as they liked. And they all had parents who had shown up on Parents’ Day.
No one had ever taken the time or energy to spoil Echo Glenn, that was what it came down to. She was jealous. So how could she possibly like them?
Besides, they were all so wrapped up in themselves. If any one of the three had ever taken the time to ask her how
was, how she was feeling and what she was thinking, the thick, curly hair on her head, the same color as the burnt sienna crayon in a Crayola box, would have turned white with shock.
“I guess I’m not surprised that you defended that biker,” Ruthanne continued as she dressed. “You’re sort of the type.” She wasn’t accusing, she was just stating what she saw as fact. “Always trying to stir things up. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see you sporting a black leather jacket and boots any day now.”
“Stuff it, Ruthanne,” Echo said bluntly. She knew exactly what Ruthanne was referring to. That business about trying to get more girls’ restrooms installed at the stadium. At every game, there were long lines of waiting females. Echo had missed some really spectacular plays standing in line. So she’d gone public with her complaint. So what? It hadn’t done any good, but she’d felt better because at least she’d done something: circulating a petition, denouncing the administration’s lack of response to that petition from the steps of the library. I wasn’t trying to be different, she thought defensively, I was just trying to accomplish something useful, that’s all. Everyone’s so apathetic. No one wants to rock the boat. As long as Ruthanne has a date for Friday and Saturday nights, and probably Sunday, too, she couldn’t care less if she has to stand on line until her teeth fall out.