They all take lunch at a nearby Wendy’s. Reminded of what his wife said to him that morning, Kilroy tells them about the dream she had, of the sky crinkling down like twisted metal, crushing them and everyone she knew.
Most of the guys listen and nod and chew like cows. Higgins pretends to be crushed by the ceiling and laughs at himself stupidly.
After Kilroy finishes telling the dream, Lara smiles at him from two tables down. He feels like he has to smile politely back, not for her or for Ray, but for decency. Her smile showcases wide canines that overlap the shorter teeth next to them, a natural growth unguided by braces or retainers, and Kilroy begins to doubt her father is as wealthy as Ray.
Ray doesn’t listen to Kilroy, but waits for him to finish so he can tell a family story to Lara. The rest of the men block their faces with bread and hamburger and Kilroy thinks about his wife. He doesn’t tell the men that when she told him the dream, she also asked him to be careful today. Kilroy promised he would and then she kissed his forehead, her lips moist on his skin. He believes those things aren’t for telling, only for doing.
* * *
Back on site, Kilroy supervises a few men while they finish shoveling hot asphalt at the end of the stretch. Nearly through the job, he figures Ray has just brought Lara onsite to let her get used to the guys and let the guys get used to her, or maybe just let her see the equipment and smell the road. But by dusk, Ray already has Higgins pointing out controls to her on the Navigator. She stands in the closed-off lane, leaning to her side, one skinny elbow resting on the concrete median as she listens to Higgins yelling over the growls of the engine.
Kilroy watches them from fifty yards back and tries to remember how long he’d worked before being trained on the roller. At least two years. Maybe three. Kilroy thinks it’s no wonder guys without the name Morelli or Bidwell hold up liquor stores, pick pockets, lift jewelry, beat and kill for Nikes. They’re robbed every day in plain sight, in clear days like this one when the sun lights the roads and every inch of pavement reflects its glory. That could just as well be his son learning about the Navigator, standing around onsite, not lifting a finger. Not all criminals are like Derek. They’re like Ray and Lara, too.
Ray comes to Kilroy and the shovelers and says he’s leaving, taking his wife out to dinner. He’s in jeans and boots, but his flannel shirt doesn’t hide his platinum watch.
“Watch Lara,” he tells them, hand on Kilroy’s arm as he passes, walking to his car. “Good work today.”
The sky fades into navy and the wide hazy clouds that once shadowed the city now drift over the interstate. The sun grips the city skyline the way it tends to in spring. Stars interrupt the coming darkness like stray pebbles in concrete and they all stand and watch Higgins like they have nothing better to do.
The Navigator grumbles and cruises past, asphalt crackling beneath its instruction. Every inch of blacktop gets squeezed by the smooth rotating steel, coming out even and uniform, the air pressed out. Men watch: quiet, tired, deflated.
* * *
Higgins finishes and parks the Navigator while headlights continue to sweep over the hill, a few cars and semis. Kilroy notices the darkness creeping up on the interstate, everything hazy in the twilight. In the West, shadows hide behind the city buildings. He tells Higgins to turn on the arrows.
Higgins walks with a firm back, a swagger in his steps Kilroy hasn’t seen. When he gets to Lara on his way to the sign, he stops and talks to her. It takes a minute, but he eventually makes her laugh loud enough for Kilroy to hear. When they split, it’s Lara who dashes down toward the arrow board while Higgins struts back and points over his shoulder.
Kilroy feels jealous for something, but he can’t name it. In his mind, he replaces Lara with his son, Derek, and pictures him running toward the sign. Kilroy wonders if Derek and Higgins would’ve gotten on alright, if the three of them would’ve gone to bars after work, maybe somewhere in the city where they’d visit enough to be called regulars. He wonders if Higgins would’ve made them laugh too, loud and unashamed, making so much noise that other lonely saps would turn their heads to see what it was all about.
Some of the guys walk by shovels resting on their shoulders like rifles and load them into the trucks. The darkness thickens and the stars rise like a pestilence.
Kilroy looks back, the dotted arrow still black and silent. Lara hasn’t figured out the sign yet, maybe can’t find the simple switch on the back. But he’d give up his pension before jogging over and doing it for her. Let her feel stupid for awhile.
A car passes over the hill, luckily with headlights on.
“Ray’s niece ever turn on a light before?” Kilroy asks Higgins.
Higgins doesn’t laugh or speak, just holds up his hand like he’s directing traffic, letting Kilroy know it’s not his turn. Kilroy wants to ask him why he’s defending her, why he can’t see who she is, explain how people like her and Ray are the reason the two of them drive over potholes to get here by sun-up and drive back in darkness.
And that’s when they hear the screech, the sick pop of the impact.
Kilroy turns his head just in time to see the headlights go out, the outline of a car slammed into the concrete dividers, knocking them sideways like overlapping teeth, sparks raining sideways. He runs to the sound, the embers of headlights green on his retinas. With three guys in front of him, he knows he’s too late to be the one who calls for an ambulance, the one who inspects the injured driver, or the one who turns on the arrows to prevent another accident. But he keeps running, his knees stabbed repeatedly with the pounding impact. There may be more he can do and he wants to see it. In his thirty-nine years, he’s only witnessed one accident, a poor widow in a conversion van who had been protected by the bulk of her vehicle as it hurled orange barrels across the freeway. This car doesn’t look so lucky. Closer, Kilroy smells hot rubber, radiator steam and airbag gas.
A petite figure comes running toward him through the dark. At first it looks like it has no arms. Then he sees it is Lara holding her face in her hands. She snorts exactly like Kilroy’s wife when she cries in her sleep, when she sees things she wishes she hadn’t, tragedies that every once in a while come true. Lara, half-blind to her surroundings, runs straight into Kilroy’s chest.
One of the guys turns on the arrow, says, “Here, moron,” while Lopez pulls out his phone to call an ambulance. Higgins is already on the wrecked Honda, peering in the windows, pulling on the handles, shouting, “Man? Are you alright?” Steam pours out of the rolled-up hood.
Kilroy holds Lara as she lets herself weep with guilt, muffled in his shoulder. He looks over her black hair as it flies up, tickles his cheeks, gets caught in his own gray. In the orange glow from the arrow, Kilroy cares much more than he wants to. He imagines how she feels, what it’s like to be responsible for an accident. He wonders what it takes to repair a conscience sustaining that type of injury.
What Kilroy doesn’t know is that this will be the last time he ever sees Lara. After this night is over and her tears have dampened the shoulder of his shirt, she will quit, unable to deal with what she’s done.
But in this moment Kilroy can’t stop thinking about the next nine months, envisioning a future that will never be. He pictures him and Lara working side by side, shoveling or taking turns on the ten-inch paver. He would explain the power of the Navigator, even take the blame for her mistakes until she could trust herself again. With that much time, he thinks, it’d be just long enough to teach her.
The End of the Rainbow
Great Afro-Americans in History
Excerpts from the Daily Rumpus
Pee Bar(dom) and Bailie
Garin Cycholl William Allegrezza
Before I Was a Savage
Life in Necropolis: Four Letters
Market Is Stumbling but You Don't Have To
The Choice Between Someone & Somebody
The Other Side
Girl in a Suitcase
If It Hasn't Already
Dancing Pink Roses
Feeding the Animals