Benny loved watching the cars as they rolled away under the Interstate bridge. Since he reached the age of forced retirement the old maintenance worker felt life come to a stand still around him. He would go there in the afternoons, look at the cars rushing beneath him and wonder about the people he saw. Who were they in their busy lives, chasing after a dream somewhere at the end of the freeway?
Today, Ben had no such thoughts, only regrets for a wasted life. He watched the traffic speeding away under the bridge and began to take another drink of cheap stale wine, mumbling about the unfairness of life.
The loud explosion as a Simi-truck drew near, pulled him from his thoughts. A front tire blew out and caused it to swerve back and forth in a mad jerking motion, finally turning too much as the truck tipped on its side, slid under the bridge and out the other side. Cars coming up too fast did not have time to slow down and no way to pull around it. One after another began to crash into the underside of the jack-knifed rig, as well as each other.
Benny stared in shocked amazement as the destruction unfolded. The squeal of tires and grind of metal as more smashed to an instant halt. Slowly, as if in an unreal dream, it finally came to an end. People screamed from pain, some climbing out of the wreckage only to fall where they were, barely able to move. He watched as others came running up to help, yet lost as to what should be done.
He saw two men point to a car on its side, yelling about the smoke coming from it. Benny also saw the body of a woman within, struggling to get free. Half running, half sliding down the embankment from the top of the bridge, he rushed toward the car as flames began to spout from the engine.
"Get back," one of the young men shouted, "that things gonna blow!"
Benny could see the young woman, trying to get to something in the back of the vehicle. As he reached the front windshield Ben started kicking as hard as he could, busting glass and pulling the remainder free so she could escape.
"Get out of there girl," the old man said as he stuck an arm through the opening. "The car's on fire."
"My son is in there!" The woman yelled back at him as she was forcible pulled from the car.
"I'll get him," Ben told her. "You just get yourself safe."
As Benny climbed in through the front of the car he could see the men standing back, still fearful of coming closer. The young mother remained near, not wishing to leave her child. He reached around the seat and found the child crumpled on the door of the turned vehicle. Seeing a cut on the boy's head he was careful in his hast to get the child free of the car.
"Easy, son. I got ya." He kept talking even as he moved, his breath coming in gasps with the smell of gasoline growing every second. His fingers slipped as he fought with the release catch of the seat belt, then the child was free and Benny was headed back out.
"My baby!" The young mother took the boy in her arms and held him close as Ben hurried them away-- the flames rapidly moving toward the back end of the car.
"We have you, you're safe," someone said as the young men quickly ushered them to cover behind a van. Bot men gave Benny a look as though he had done something wrong, until finally one spoke.
"Man you reek," the young man sniffed the air with a scowl. "Surprised you didnít go up in flames yourself, you old drunk."
Benny turned away with a sad frown, and slowly made his way home. He knew they spoke only from their guilt at not trying to help, but the word of an old black man would only start trouble.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tears came to Benny's eyes the next morning as he sat on his front porch, a folded newspaper rested in his lap. The headlines spoke of the many injured and killed in the multi-car-pile-up the day before. But also it told of two local heros that braved the flames of a car to save the lives of a young mother and her child.
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