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45 Second Red Light
The sun was shining fiercely down on the quiet neighborhood street. Shimmering waves were rising from the sun-tortured asphalt, appearing for fleeting moments like shimmering patches of water before vanishing, leaving thirsty those unfortunate enough to be tempted by the illusion. A traffic light turned yellow, and a car eased to a stop. A mother and her little three year old boy were watching the pedestrian signal.
"Is daddy home yet?" the child asked. "I want to tell him about the new slide at the park!"
She turned her head and spared him a brief smile.
"He'll probably get home at the same time we will," she responded.
She then looked forward, just as the glaring red pedestrian signal shifted to the white walking figure. Underneath a countdown was showing how much time was left to cross the street. The woman lifted her son onto her shoulders and started across the street as the numbers ticked down.
Meanwhile, a man was rushing to his home, driving at least ten kilometers over the speed limit. He began to accelerate up a hill, hoping that the upcoming traffic light was green. That would allow him to get home faster, where he could finally be with his loving family after a long day at work. He smiled at the thought of embracing his wife in a hug and spinning his little son around. Distracted by his fantasy, the driver noticed the red light a little too late. He slammed on the brakes, hoping that he wouldn't bump into the red minivan stopped in front of him.
While the driver struggled to stop his car, the woman, crossing the street, had her son on her shoulders, and was about halfway across the street. The numbers on the pedestrian signal were still ticking down, 29...28...27
The woman didn't feel any urgency yet, and still walked at a leisurely pace. Her son smiled and waved at the driver of a bright red minivan, laughing at the little plushie crow that was perched on the driver's headrest. The mother stopped in front of the minivan as the driver waved back, also waving the wing of the little crow at the same time. The mother smiled warmly and was about to continue walking, when suddenly the minivan lurched forward and slammed into her midsection. She crumpled to the ground and coughed up a torrent of blood, before the world goes mercifully black. Her boy fell off her shoulders and hits the ground. At first he started crying, but once he saw his mom lying in a pool of blood, he stoped. He was too stunned for tears.
It seems like a moment where everything should freeze, where the world should wait with baited breath. But the numbers across the street didn't stop, and underneath a blinking red hand the numbers seem to tick by, faster and faster, 20...19...18
The man who was driving home groaned in annoyance. He had nudged the bumper of the minivan in front of him, causing a little dent and sent it forward about half a meter. The damage wasn't too bad, as far as the driver could tell, but the minivan driver would probably want to sue, and every moment he wasted sorting this out was another minute away from his waiting family. He got out of his car and walked over to the driver's side of the minivan. He had expected the driver to be angry or annoyed; instead he found a look of absolute shock.
He took out his wallet regardless of the minivan driver's unexpected reaction. "How much do you want me to pay you for the damages ma'am?"
The minivan driver turned to him, her voice hushed.
"You don't have to pay me anything."
Then her voice rose "But you should talk to the family of the woman you just killed!" She pointed her finger to the front of her car.
The man rushed to the front, and vomited at the sight that awaited him. He took out his cell phone and hurriedly dialed 911, but one glance at the crumpled body told him it was too late. He looked closer at the child that stood stunned beside the crushed woman. Then his eyes widened and he dropped his phone.
"Oh God...oh God no...oh God," was all he could mutter, as he looked at the body again. The realization of what he had done struck him full force.
Tears started streaming down his face as a voice came from the dropped phone.
"Hello?" it asked. There was no reply except for pained, racking sobs.
"What has happened?" the voice repeated again, a bit more worried his time
The man dropped to his knees. "I...I just killed.....," he said into the phone, his sobs preventing him from finishing the sentence
"Oh my god... I just killed...."
"Killed who?" the voice demanded, it's tone forceful, but with an undercurrent of concern
But the man ended the call without finishing his sentence. He knelt beside the woman's body and cradled her head in his arms, stroking her hair lovingly and tenderly. He stared into her empty, dull eyes for what seemed to be an eternity before softly closing them.
"My wife" he whispered. As his tears fell, they sparkled for an instant, their perfection glistening in the air before they disappeared into the sun-tortured asphalt. Meanwhile, across the street, the countdown finally reached it's close, 3...2...1 and the light shows a glaring red hand once more.