The elderly man shuffled through town, slowly winding his way through the awakening streets.
“There’s Mr. Habbard, faithful as ever,” waitress Bonnie Davis noticed as she re-stocked the café’s twelve tables with jellies & napkins before opening, “that means I still have five minutes.”
Frank stopped to wipe his perspiring brow and waved at Office Williams before continuing the three mile walk through the business district cul-de-sac.
“Seems like they hire younger and younger people nowadays,” he muttered as he passed a girl doing hair at Haley’s Halos’ front window, “Angel would be about her age this year, I imagine.”
Angel. That’s what he’d named the little waif those two decades ago. She had looked so tiny and ethereal lying there in the road like a broken porcelain doll. Lifeless, he had found, after he had staggered out of his car and clumsily checked her pulse. Too drunk to realize what he had done, Frank had stumbled back to his car, mumbling under his alcohol-soaked breath about why a child would be out at such an hour. Back at his house, he only got as far as the porch swing before collapsing into a drunken stupor’s heavy sleep . . .
“Frank, what are you doing out here? What time did you get home last night, anyway?” his wife, Alice accused, “I thought you must have slept over at Elroy’s . . . Frank, the hospital called me in on a special emergency,” so distracted that she failed to notice her husband’s more disheveled than usual, state, “I was going to walk over, but since the car is here, I can drive—”
“No, honey, let me drop you off. The car’s acting up again,” Frank had risen, immediately grasping his head between his large hands in a death grip that would have squashed a watermelon.
The massive headache would take hours to dissipate, but Frank’s memory of the previous night’s catastrophe sharpened; and, like a developing picture in a photo lab, the shot of the child angel lying in the road came into focus against the backdrop of his car’s bright headlights.
“Oh, God, what have I done?”
Frank sighed as he approached Coppersfield Cemetery. Resting against the large oak tree sheltering the tiny headstone, he knelt to replace the wilting daisies with the wildflowers he had picked.
“I’m here again, Angel. I hope you like these new flowers. You’re probably tired of hearing it, but I am so sorry for the accident, baby. I’ve wished a thousand times I could wind back the clock and never have driven that night.”
The man’s watery eyes overflowed, as they did so often these days, pooling in little rivulets onto his scraggly beard. Eventually, he arose and made his way six plots north to his Alice, depositing the remaining flowers in the urn there.
“Kinda wish I’d told you about Angel, old girl, but I wanted to save you from the shame of it all . . .”
An hour passed before Frank was again passing back through town and further where his modest trailer sat. Exhausted from his trek and the emotions it invoked, he fell into the monthly Saturday afternoon ritual of reliving the incident from his past that had forever defined his future . . .
He was cleaning blood and blonde hair fibers from the front fender while Alice was working her emergency shift at the hospital. Two hours later, she trudged around the bend, her wrinkled brow creased deeper than usual.
“Oh, Frank! The saddest thing! A little orphan girl and she couldn’t have been more that four years old, was brought in—a victim of a hit-and-run over at Jefferson’s Junction—Frank, you’re white as a sheet! Are you feeling okay?”
“Your patient—the little girl—how is she?” he managed to croak out.
“That’s the worst part. We couldn’t save her. By the time she was found, she had lost too much blood. Seems she has no parents, poor thing. She wandered away from the Mason Home. We’re starting up a special fund for her burial.”
Frank Habbard, reformed alcoholic, advocate for “Men Against Drunk Driving” and anonymous philanthropist for Mason’s Orphanage. His wife was so proud of her husband and his new image that she could never understand why he refused recognition for his efforts . . .
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