Just Numbers

October 16, 2011
Four years before, four years to the day. He was a young boy, one immature and rowdy. He would laugh loudly with his friends, talk obnoxiously to his teachers, and whistle at passing girls. So normal his life style was back then.

The air had begun carrying the chill of winter, and the leaves that had not yet fallen to the ground hung loosely, rotting in the very place where they had once prospered. One month into school, and just newly fifteen, he stood in his huddle of burly kids in shoulder pads. Their breath formed crystals in the darkening air, the sweat on their faces glistening in the bright stadium lights.

His mother was in the stands, as always, in her mittens and scarf. When his father had heard the news, about his boy starting varsity football as a freshman, he had flown from Detroit, where his company was currently growing. But more important to him than his mom or his distant father, in the stands also sat Charlotte Rayne. She had a bright white smile and blonde, curly hair. Her blue eyes were caring, and there was an air to her that made him feel at peace.

“Johnson! Did you hear me?” The coach was yelling, his voice rough from years of abuse. “We need to score this touchdown in order to win.”

“Yessir,” The boy murmured, his mind elsewhere.

“Good. Team on three. One. Two. Three.”


Three years before, three years to the day. The same boy, now toned with muscle and heart racing with chance, pressed the gas pedal hard, spinning off onto the dark road. The asphalt was cool and slick, causing his tires to spin for a second before he peeled around the bend. Being the first of his friends to have gotten his license, he always showed off to them.

The stars were bright tonight, but he had no time to notice. The only stars he saw where the two in front of his car, guiding him down the long stretch of road towards home. Music blaring, he laughed with his friends about how breaking curfews was just an essential aspect of being a teenager, even though his mind ran through the consequences that would greet him at his house.

Eleven ‘o clock, his mom had said. No later. He checked the red numbers on his dashboard, seeing that it was just after two.


Two years before, two years to the day. He stumbled into his house with the first scent of alcohol on his breath. His mother, small and upset, began sobbing as soon as she noticed. He misplaced his steps, he slurred his syllables, something that her athletic, talented, confident son had never done.

In a drunken haze, he shouted at the woman, breaking her brittle heart even further. He tripped and fell to his knees, vomiting on her white carpet. Tears ran down her cheeks, and when he looked up at her, she saw lines of water running from his eyes as well.

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” He whispered. He hadn’t spoken the word ‘mommy’ since third grade, when he decided he no longer needed a pet name for his mom. She held is head as he cried, she sobbed and he sobbed and they sobbed together. He promised he would never do it again, that he was wrong. He said that Charlotte had told him not to, had begged him not to, but he had anyway. He said, in jumbled speech, that this was the only truly regrettable thing he had ever done in his life. The only one.


One year before, one year to the day. He lay in his dorm bed, staring at the ceiling. He had opened the windows to listen to the crickets chirp, like he used to every night at home. He had been here, at his college, for a week now. His roommate, a funny, ripped football player, had gone out with his other friends to the last party of the summer. He had been asked and asked to go, but he refused each time. Alcohol would be provided to the underage college students, and he wanted no part of that. He remembered that night with his mother vaguely, but he still recalled the promise he made to her. He picked up his cell phone, and dialed the number he had memorized years ago.

“Hello?” Her voice was quiet, groggy, but it was a voice he knew well.

“Hey, Charlotte. I’m sorry for waking you up. I just… I just needed to hear your voice,” He said quietly, picturing her in her dark room, cuddled under her blankets.

“No, it’s fine. Is something wrong?” Her voice was so sweet, even through the telephone.

“I just miss you, Char. I just want to come home,” He had to hold himself back from crying. His chest ached, and his eyes began to sting.

“I’m coming up to visit next week, honey. We’ll do our best to see each other until school is out, and I come to college with you. Do you think we can do it, Ronnie? I think we can.”

“I think we can too. I just… It’ll just be the hardest year of my life,” He whimpers, feeling all of the fight drain out of him. “This year.”


This year, this year to the day. He cries from behind his steering wheel, remembering harsh words. Snow has come early this year, causing a sheet of ice to form over the road. His vision is blurred, with the taste of his last shot on his tongue. He sees her crying face in front of him, her hating eyes, her piercing words. Replaying in his mind is the fight they had today, and the words that came from behind her bright white teeth today. We’re through.

He remembers now, two years before. The promise he had spoken to his mommy. But promises were meant to be broken. He had gone to the bar. In a self-centered rage, he had gotten drunk and slid behind the wheel, heading towards his home. He needed his mother’s warming embrace, her forgiving heart, her tearful smile.

As he turned a particularly sharp turn, the wheels slipped out of his control, just as his life had.


The next morning, the nineteen-year-old face of Ronald Johnson appeared in the obituary of the Sunday newspaper. People mourned all over the small town. Charlotte Rayne mourned, Laura Johnson mourned, as did the world at the loss of another child whose life, like everyone’s, were just numbers ticking down until zero.





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LASwan said...
Oct. 21, 2011 at 9:13 am
I loved this. Wow! Great storytelling, painful twists and turns, perfect use of the countdown to Johnson's demise. This couldn't beany better; keep making stories!
 
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