I have no idea what possessed us.
Kenny’s got shotgun that day, and he’d been complaining most of the way about his warm soda. We were in the last leg home, and the warm weather made short work of the sodas from the machine at school after about 20 minutes of California sunshine. He kept sloshing it in his hand and I could hear the liquid fizz and slap on the thin aluminum.
“Toss it out!” somebody yells, and the roar of the wind and the blaring music blend to make it a cacophony of loud kids and road noise and distorted guitar. “Toss it out! See if you hit that old guy!”
The idea was evil, sinister. It caught like wild fire. “YEAH!” the thunder rose, “YEAH, THROW IT AT HIM! THROW IT!”
Kenny’s a spineless little whelp and he does as he’s told or as he thinks will make him popular, so he hits the button and sends the window slicing down into the car door. Not all the way, but enough so he can stick his hand outside with the can held between his puffy, marshmallow fingers. He’s got a shit-eating grin on his face and his frog-eyes are staring straight ahead when he does it. For a minute, I get a glimpse of his profile. He’s like a mayonnaise sculpture, with foamy spit bubbles just inside his lips, and that fuzz on his face catching the bright afternoon sun and glinting, his soft cheeks and swollen jowls seamless.
The whine of the motor to retract the window seems deafening to me, and we’re really huffing along now, launching down the final approach to that great hill ahead of us. There’s a moment of still clarity when I see everything like in slow motion, and he flicks his pudgy-but-not-fat wrist, those marshmallow fingers releasing the top of the quarter-full can. He never aims, never looks where he’s tossing it, keeps his eyes dead forward, that stupid, split-lipped grin on his face, the scar from where the dog tore his lip as a child a white slash over his talc-colored face. It takes off with a mind and intellect all its own, a missile now, an intelligent bomb, and turns end for end as it sails through space in the clear, humidity-free No-Cal air.
I’m driving and I can’t afford to take my eyes off the road, but I can’t pull them away either, and the can topples on a graceful arc punctuated with tiny diamond droplets of shimmering Sprite spewed from the top before centrifugal force pins it to the bottom of the can. The tumbling stops partway through its course. The can sinks with an assassin’s accuracy and speed I would’ve said was impossible.
The bottom of the can rang loud enough for us to hear it over our din and the deafening crash of music, a sickening dink! which sent it flailing and spilling its guts off into the day. The old man caught it right behind his left ear, about halfway up his head. It couldn’t have been a more accurate throw. And it was pure, unadulterated luck. Dumb, blind, moronic luck. Stupid luck. Shitty luck.
We all cry out simultaneously, some in horror and shock, some in amazement, some in disbelief. I don’t waste time reacting – my foot sinks farther to the floor and the V6 reacts with no hesitation, slamming us into the soft, thick seat cushions and really takes off, zipping into warp drive and getting up that slow, easy rise before the steep incline.
Robby’s screaming “YOU GOT HIM! HOLY SHIT YOU GOT HIM! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” He sounds like a macaw speaking, some old pirate’s bird, because the laughter strains his face beet red and the veins are jumping out on his neck, his eyes squeezed shut, tears streaming down his cheeks. He’s doubled over in the back seat – no seatbelt laws then, so he didn’t have one on – and banging his fist on the empty seat behind me.
Me? I turn the music off, and I whip around, but the car’s gone beyond the bend and the old man is out of my view. I ask Robby what happened, what happened dammit, what happened, did it hit him, did he get it? Even though I knew, because I saw it. Robby’s saying the old guy’s hands shot to the violated spot and he dropped to one knee, right there just beyond the shoulder of the blacktop on Kirker Pass Road, about five miles or less from our home town.
Just an old man walking down the road, minding his own business, not hurting anyone. And now I look on that and it could’ve been me, it could’ve been my dad, or someone I care about. And a group of rowdy kids being stupid sent a soda can on a deadly trip out a moving car window.
I think about that old guy from time to time, and wonder if he’s all right. If he got up. If the hard edge of the aluminum cut his scalp, or if he got a concussion from three stupid teenagers doing something stupid and thinking there were no consequences, there were no ramifications, and there were no penalties to be paid. It never even crossed our minds. It never occurred to us that he didn’t deserve to be hit because he’d been walking on the side of the road. But I knew this time I couldn’t ignore that memory, couldn’t keep it inside anymore, because it was wrong. Wrong.
If you’re still alive and out there, mister, I’m sorry. I genuinely am.
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