“THE NIGHT OF”
The Night Of
It was humid out, she said.
I like it though, he said. I wasn’t complaining.
She kept her eyes on the road, but chanced a quick glance in his direction. He was still slumped in the passenger seat, knee up on the dashboard, right elbow resting on the door, his head leaning on his right hand fist. Despite the air-conditioning turned up, the window on that side was open a crack, just enough to make the maximum amount of noise as air passed in and out of it.
The radio was loud, louder than she liked, or would be comfortable driving with if she were on her own. He also picked the station – something to the left of most of the more popular stations. Sometimes it was talk radio—discussing local politics and news. Other times it was jazz; other times it was classical. With the noise of the wind, it was hard to tell which of the three they were getting this time. She knew better, though, than to ask him to close the window (fresh air was important), or turn up or off the radio. She didn’t want it turned up; she knew how he’d react if he knew she wanted it off.
They were on their way to his doctor’s appointment. She had a two-and-a-half-hour window off of work for it. A half-hour for the ride there, another for the ride back. If everything went smooth, and it took forty-five minutes as planned, wait included, they could stop at their favorite food truck on the way back.
It had all his favorite food, two fold-up chairs, and small table with a big, rainbow-striped umbrella in the center, now weighed down by two sandbags, since the wind picked it up once, and threw it on the two-laned highway, almost causing a massive six or seven car accident.
How was he doing? She wondered. She looked over again, trying to not to make it obvious. He had his dark shades on, and the baseball cap, too, pulled down over his head. Both could be said to be blocking the light, which could still feasibly be bothering him.
But ever since the night of, he’d gotten cagey about a lot of things and would suddenly snap at something little that was out of place and had been bothering him for a long time, though he hadn’t let on – a reoccurring noise in the room, sounds from a table or people around them in a restaurant, a car honking its horn in the street.
She listened to the car now---for anything like it. All she could hear was the wind from his window, static from the radio as they drove further away and lost the signal, and just the car itself, in good shape, running smooth against the road. She even allotted time for them to take the scenic route, instead of the shorter route through their town and the next, which would take less time, but had more lights, and more stops and starts.
The night of…she thought. She tried to brush it away as she focused on the road but there was so little traffic, so little of anything else to distract her that she couldn’t. Plus, maybe running it through her head one more time, she might see something different. Something else that spooked him about it that might help her understand how he was feeling a little bit more.
It was eight or nine pm. She should know by now since she filled out the police report. They finished dinner, she was washing dishes. He said he was going outside to get some air, maybe drop by the deli or the bar (but not the gas station; the only other thing in walking distance from where they lived). She took it to mean he was going out to smoke a cigarette. She was able to quit cold turkey; he was still prescribed a patch and was having issues. So long as it wasn’t around the house, it was fine by her. They were both young, both agreed to quit. He’d come around to it when he would.
The bar was infrequent. He might run into someone they knew there and stay for a drink or two. When he didn’t come back after the usual ten minutes, with something from the deli they already had in their cabinet (vegetable oil, rice, some outdated spice, etc.), she figured that’s what happened.
Fifteen turned to twenty minutes. Twenty to an hour. She finished dishes, the counter was spotless. It was when she was on a stool, cleaning cabinets, she realized she was worried. She called the deli. Closed. She called the bar. No answer. It just rang and rang. Probably some Kris Kristoferson song drowning it out entirely.
She didn’t want to go out. He had an independent streak. He didn’t like to be checked up on. But she went to the door, put on her coat hanging by it, and opened it to leave. When she did, she saw something at the end of their foot path, which finished at the sidewalk. It was low to the ground and moved in the mix of dark and lamplight from the street.
She walked closer to it, leaving the door open behind her, and felt her fears more and more confirmed as she got closer to him.
“What happened?” she asked, as she bent down, trying to touch him, take care of him, though she didn’t know where or how to begin.
“I think I…,” he said, or started to say. “I think I maybe passed out for a little.”
“A little?” she asked. “How long have you been out here?”
She got her arms around his shoulders, now that she could tell which side he was facing and got a look at his face in the half-light. It was bruised, she could see, and from the stains on the sidewalk and smudges around his mouth and cheek, she could tell he was bleeding.
“My God,” she said. She reached for her phone in her pocket, realized she left it on the counter in the kitchen while she was cleaning.
“We have to get you…” she said. She wasn’t sure. Could she leave him alone? Did this just happen? Was or were whoever did it still around? He kept trying to get up.
“Stop it,” she said. “You’re in no shape for that.” She took his jacket off, already pulled halfway down his arms, as if to hold them back., balled it up, and turned him on his back so he could lie down on it and use it as a pillow. She didn’t remember hearing that specifically somewhere but it just felt like the right thing to do. Only downside was seeing a dried line of blood coming down from what appeared to be his right ear. Maybe it was just from something else. Something inside her, though, said, that doesn’t look good.
“Wait here,” she said. “I’m going inside for just one second.” He was so dazed and confused, it didn’t seem to matter to him. She rushed up the path and ran into the house anyway, grabbing the phone off the counter, and did the sprint back, checking for her keys before closing the door this time behind her.
She called 9-1-1 on the way to him.
“Police or medical?” a woman’s voice answered on the other line.
“Both,” she said.
“Ma’am,” the woman said, “do you have a police emergency or a medical emergency?”
“My boyfriend’s just been jumped outside our home,” she said, “and he’s lying here, and he’s full of blood, and hardly conscious.”
“Is whoever attacked him still there as well?”
“Not that I can tell.”
“I’m sending an ambulance and patrol car. Do you need me to stay on the line?”
“If you don’t mind.”
The ambulance was there first. Police after. She could still see it all in front of her—the lights, the static from their radios; hear herself answer questions she barely had answers to. Did he owe anyone money? Made anyone angry in the last month or so? Buy drugs off the street? No, no, and no.
“Ange,” he said.
“What?” she asked, turning to him. It was the first thing he said to her in fifteen, twenty minutes.
“You’re speeding,” he said.
She was. Her knuckles were white gripping the steering wheel, too. She took a breath, loosened up, let her foot fall back from the gas pedal.
“Thanks,” she said.
“No problem,” he said. He barely moved from how he was sitting. “You can turn that off if you want,” he said, nodding towards the radio. “Can’t hear it with the window down, anyway.”
She chanced one more look to her right to see if she heard wrong. He just sat there, though, watching the road. She let her right hand go of the steering wheel and quickly turned the radio off, then resumed driving.
Matthew Corey is a writer living in Ridgewood, New York. He goes back-and-forth between poetry and prose, and sometimes tries to accomplish both at once. He tries to find the contours in a story that more match experience itself, rather than the rigors of a traditional way of telling a tale. His work can be found in the Lascaux Review, Two Cities Review, and he was the winner of the 2019 Miriam Chaikin Writing Award for Poetry.
Header photography by Amanda Bylone (@brothbaby66)
Amanda Bylone is an artist based out of Los Angeles, California originally from Atlantic City, New Jersey. While primarily an oil painter, her photographs focus on her Southern California surroundings and moments of spontaneity and beauty. Her official website is amandabylone.com.