The Concrete Path (Ginger Man 11A)

As he steered his red pickup truck into the Pleasant Hill subdivision, Charlie felt his stomach sour, as if preparing to vomit. He realized this was the one place he had been subconsciously avoiding since the night of the accident. He’d been to the crash scene at Pete’s Elbow, several times; he’d gone to the memorial service at the school; he’d visited the family at the funeral home, shed tears of pain with them; he’d even gone to that gathering at the Pizza Place, lifted a memorial glass of beer.

But he had to force himself to turn left at Greenfield Drive, fought the urge to speed past the third driveway on the right, the numbers 3218 painted in reflective yellow paint on the green mailbox to the driveway’s left. The urge to vomit was almost overwhelming as he turned into the driveway.

He put the pickup into park, turned off the ignition. The garage door was down; the part of him that wanted to vomit felt encouraged, perhaps this was a sign that nobody was home. Then he remembered that the Hoovers only kept the garage door open when both cars were home, James not wanting anyone to know when Lila was home alone.

Charlie opened the door of his pickup, swung his legs out, let his feet fall onto the concrete. Did his knees just buckle? Yes. He took a deep breath, exhaled. He knew this had to be done, knew his suspicions, crazy as he knew they were, would continue to bother him until he found what he was looking for. He stepped away from the pickup, slamming the door behind him with more force than was required.

He walked up the concrete path to the front door like he had so many times in the past. Before he could drive, he’d leave his bike lying in the driveway or front yard; after getting his license he’d park in the driveway if the garage door was closed (on the left side where Lila parked, leaving the space open for James’ car), or on the street if he saw the garage door opened with both cars present. But walking on this curved path, leading from the driveway to the front step — that was a constant.

It’s a good thing I know this path by heart, he thought, his vision blurred through welling tears.

He wiped his eyes as he approached the front door, and as he pushed the doorbell, he attempted to convince himself that he really did want someone to answer.

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