Daddy stopped the car just behind an old pickup truck. He didn’t have his lights or siren on or anything. He hit the radio and told Helen we was at the wreck. I asked him why not just pull around everyone but he only smiled, smoked the last of his cigarette and flicked it out my window. I always think it’s gonna start a fire when someone does that, but it never does. The radio called Frank, but wherever he was, he didn’t answer. The door creaked open and Daddy got out, told me to stay put and walked down the hill towards the wreck. Daddy said ‘ole Howard Campbell jackknifed his horse trailer on the Bridwell Bridge. Usually, he won’t let me ride if he gets a call but said it was only a wreck.
He shook hands and talked to people as he passed their cars like when he’s walking in the parade. There was a bunch of cars parked, waiting.
“Helen,” I said into the radio, making my voice deep.
“Go ahead, Sheriff,” Helen said through static.
“Just kidding,” I said. “It’s me.”
“David, you stay off this thing or I’m gonna tell your father.”
Daddy picks me up every afternoon from school in his police car but he won’t next year when I’m in the sixth grade. He’s been the Sheriff of Newton since before I was born and the youngest Sheriff ever in Indiana. He could probably whip anyone in town, even if he wasn’t the Sheriff, but he never has.
People stood outside their cars talking. Some were pointing towards the bridge and then smashed their fists together like they saw what happened. Father Jim leaned against his car and fanned himself, heard him say no one was hurt, only a horse, and then he thanked God. I sat behind the wheel and pretended I was chasing somebody but got bored. I climbed out the window, because I couldn’t open Daddy’s door, and walked down towards the bridge, dragging my fingertips along the cars. I could see Mr. Campbell talking with my Daddy.
Daddy saw me right away and pointed back up the hill like I was a dog supposed to get. Mr. Campbell’s truck was smashed into the side of the bridge and his horse trailer was leaning against Mrs. Sturgeon’s yellow car. Men were standing and looking inside the trailer and I heard something slam hard against the side and everyone standing there jumped back. I saw Billy Yoder’s dad laugh.
Daddy walked over to where I was standing, put his hand on my shoulder and turned me around away from the wreck.
“What happened?” I said.
Daddy said the two cars hit each other and everyone was fine. He told me to go back and get on the radio, tell Helen to have Frank just forget about coming.
“Can’t I stay here with you?”
“No,” he said. “Now go on and tell Helen.” His hand left my shoulder and gave me a little push back towards the car.
I jumped when I heard him whistle. It always scared me when I didn’t know it was coming. He didn’t use his fingers, just curled his lips and it was louder than a car horn. Everyone stopped and turned around. He said for everyone to get back in their cars and turn on the radios. He said that they’d be able to clear the road in a bit. Since it was the only bridge back into town without going out to Old 24 and cutting around, everyone was just gonna wait. Most of the people didn’t move at all, just stood there.
Daddy climbed onto the yellow car and scooted himself across the hood until he stood with the other men. I saw him flip the snap on his holster, get his gun and check the bullets. He snapped it back shut and nodded at something one of the men said.
The trailer rocked again as the horse struggled. One of the men kicked at the horse and yelled at it to shut up. A hoof kicked through the trailer window and disappeared again, glass fell to the car hood. Daddy climbed inside the trailer holding the gun and then I knew then what was gonna happen.
Next thing, I heard a noise like someone throwing a firecracker down a well. The men outside the trailer took their hands away from their ears. I could see my Daddy step out, his gun still in his right hand. Mr. Yoder slapped him on the back, said something and they laughed.
I’m not a baby, but I started to cry and not because of the stupid horse. Someone else coulda done it, but he did it and then he laughed about it. I didn’t want anyone to see me so I ran down the hill towards the creek. I cut my arm on the bob wire fence along the cow path. It was bleeding pretty good and didn’t want to wipe it so they’d see it when I got home. I turned once and saw my Daddy and the other men watching me run away, pointing. Then I heard his whistle. I yelled “Fuck you!” but not really so loud.
It was way after dark when I finally got home. Mom didn’t say anything. She kinda smiled at me and looked sorry when I walked in the kitchen but she didn’t notice my arm. My supper was on the table even though everything else had been cleaned up. Daddy was in his chair in the living room, the TV was on and some newspaper was on the floor by his feet. I could only see the back of his head and saw how he was losing his hair on top. He never turned or said anything, and for the first time, I hated him.
steven woods: Husband — Father — Salesman — English Teacher — Football Official — Fly Fisherman.