EFORE ALL THIS HAPPENED, I was a loyal reader of the newspaper. Mr. Grange, my eighth grade social studies teacher, had expected us to read the paper daily and bring in a report for current events discussion on Fridays. He trained me well. For twenty years, I’d kept this habit, minus of course the Friday discussions.
I was home in the afternoon reading the paper because I was “between jobs.” My boss’ wife had decided to take over my position of bookkeeper, receptionist, and gopher. “We just don’t have the money anymore to pay someone and I need something to do!” she’d cried.
By now, to be honest, I was wishing someone, anyone, would offer me a job, even part-time, so I’d have an excuse to be there less.
So, no health insurance once the month was out and every day scouring the want ads, which by the way were worthless. You call one minute after reading the ad to find the job was already filled. Most of the time I surfed findajob.com. I snail-mailed, dropped off or emailed my resumé to thirty-nine places and my cell rang once: “Sorry, but that position has been filled.”
Thank God for mothers glad to have someone back in the house, since I could no longer afford my apartment.
I’d already skimmed the national news and headed into the local when I noticed an item at the bottom of the page: “A Montblue girl was hit by a car yesterday evening, Montblue police said. Susan K. Byron, 14, daughter of Joseph and Christine Byron of Montbleu, was struck in a hit-and-run accident between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. on East Linden Street while riding her bicycle. Byron was taken to Mercy Hospital in Scranton where she remains in critical condition.
Police are investigating. Anyone with knowledge of the incident, please contact Sergeant Gene Myers at 570-555-2930.”
Would the mother be the same Christine I knew in school, who, like me, pretended to have her period in order to get out of walking the balance beam? Only then she was Chrissy Wilkes, but her boyfriend senior year was Joe Byron. She was in Business Ed and, as far as I knew, not headed for college, so it was possible she married Joe soon after graduation.
Wow. I couldn’t get this whole thing out of my mind. Maybe it was a distraction from jobless hell, maybe I’d liked Chrissy more than I remembered. Whatever the case, could she use some help during this ordeal? After I sent out another batch of resumés, I’d find out exactly where her house was and go see what I could do.
“You’re going to bust in on these perfect strangers during the worst time of their lives?” said my mother. “Have you thought this out?”
Well, no, I hadn’t, but I said, “Chrissy and I were good friends in high school. We just lost touch, that’s all.”
Finding the place wasn’t hard. I stopped by the liquor store where Terry Wright was the manager. Plunking down a bottle of chocolate vodka on the counter (expensive and hardly the best time to waste my money), I said to Terry, “Where exactly does Chrissy Wilkes live? I think her name is Byron now.”
Unless someone was fundamental Christian and never touched the stuff, Terry knew most people in town who drank anything other than beer. He was an avid gossip.
“Oh, you know about her daughter? Terrible, terrible,” he said. “I just heard the driver turned herself in. She must feel like blowing her brains out.”
“No, the driver!” He leaned over the counter. He was short, about as wide as he was tall, blond and flaming. “You know who it was? Remember Vera Lithgow? A drunk even in junior high? She looks about sixty now, all wrinkled up. I see her every so often, comes in for a case of Grey Goose.”
“Vera?” I said, momentarily stunned. Terry could be extremely catty and while I usually enjoyed him, sometimes it got on my nerves. There’d been a brief period during which Vera and I had hung out, when we both worked at Troutman’s department store, the summer after our freshman year at college. Vera hadn’t returned to school after that. I’d later heard she was pregnant, though not who the father was.
“You know her now?” Terry said.
I shook my head. “Was she drunk when she ran over Chrissy’s daughter?”
Terry rolled his eyes. “So I imagine. She’s always loaded, far as I know.”
“You shouldn’t talk about your customers like that,” I halfheartedly teased him. “What do you say about me?”
I Stopped Reading the Newspaper continues...