by Leigh Lundin
I write about Florida crime news because it's so weird, offbeat, even kinky and often awful, such as the guy arrested for returning used enemas to a Jacksonville pharmacy or the woman who was arrested this week not for breaking and entering a man's home, not for swimming nekked in his swimming pool, but for answering the call of nature in his backyard. She reportedly blamed President Obama.
But sometimes I stumble upon incidents that grab the throat or seize the heart and won't let go. Years ago, a dear friend told me of a wandering high school classmate who'd been sent from her parents' home in California to Plymouth, Massachusetts. She had trouble fitting in and no one was surprised when she disappeared that autumn, supposedly hitchhiking. The grandparents had a large wooded property and the following spring, they began trimming back the overgrowth. There at the back of the property under an apple tree, they found their granddaughter where she'd hanged herself.
But what shocked me was what the girl had with her: A favorite book, a guitar, and an alarm clock. A god-damned alarm clock. To this day that haunts me, a girl I never met setting a date and time to meet her own destiny with… an alarm clock.
Death. Cold, cold, but very, very personal.
I suppose such an incident might inspire a writer, if one could figure out whether it's the beginning of a story, the end, or the journey itself. Or perhaps it overwhelms an ordinary writer, too existential, too esoteric in its implications.
I've been driving a couple of hours each day mostly on Interstate 4 and the Florida Turnpike, enough that I had to buy a new set of 225-55R16s. Details, fodder for writers, where the rubber meets the road.
So this past week I'm running up the Turnpike at 70mph, 120km/h if you're reading this overseas. Ahead, brake lights. Smoke. Dark smoke, billowing black. Flames reaching into overhead girders.
I'm not a gawker, never have been. Cate says, "Oh, my …."
Out of my peripheral vision, I see a car has smashed into one of the support pilings under an overpass. It's reinforced concrete, two feet in diameter, an immovable object. The Japanese car that plowed into it is not an irresistible force. It's concertinaed into a third of its original length.
Flames, heavy smoke. No ambulance yet. By evening, efficient Turnpike crews will have painted the columns, swept up the glass, repaired the melted asphalt, shampooed the last vestiges of molten metal and fricaseed flesh. That's what your Turnpike tolls pay for.
"Oh," says Cate softly. She turns, drawn by the horror. I focus driving through the traffic and smoke.
Through the flames she can see the rear of the car. "There's writing on the rear window," she says.
"Writing?" I can't turn to look even if I wished.
"Writing, white shoe polish, like…" Only one application comes to mind, a date with destiny. "Like on honeymooners' cars," she says.
Honeymoon bliss, perhaps but certain fiery death in the afternoon.
Sometimes we stumble upon incidents that grab the throat or seize the heart and won't let go. Whether it's the beginning of a story, the end, or the journey itself, it's haunting.