74. A Sacrificial Chump?

I didn’t sleep so great that night.

Leo, dead.

The cement truck driver, imprisoned.

Trees, scorched, maybe killed.

For all I knew some bystander kid permanently traumatized by the sight of the cinder that had once been Leo.

Jen… Well, who knew? Elated, probably. Guilt didn’t seem to be her style.

Not like it was mine.

Doris made her usual snuffling, snoring sounds, like a little engine. I tried to keep my tossing to a minimum. I folded my hands over my chest and stared at the ceiling, resigned to the anxiety that chokes so hard in the dead of night.

I had waded into the flow of history and diverted it. Who knows all that I had changed by setting in motion Leo’s death? Sure, it was one thing versus another. Leo lives for sixteen more miserable years and one set of things happens. He dies today and a different set of events unfold. In the end the oceans rise anyway, the sun turns into a red giant and cooks the Earth, even the cockroaches die. Vanity, vanity, of course I get it.

But we live on our petty plateau and act as if our lives have meaning.

As soon as you step back from the cosmic, billion-year view, oh, yes, it all means too much. The meaning smacks you down steamroller flat.

What about the drunk in the cement truck? Was he just collateral damage, a sacrificial chump who served our greater purpose? Our greater purpose being to free Jen from her minimal responsibilities to another human being who had, incidentally, smothered her in riches for decades?

Or had we spared someone else from the time-bomb that is a drunk behind the wheel of a cement truck? A mom with three kids on her way to soccer practice. One of the kids being the future inventor of practical fusion power or the cure for cancer.

Old useless Leo being, in this happy scenario, the means by which the lethal drunk is dumped in prison and prevented from causing even more awful future damage.

Maybe I rubbed at my face. I might have made some whimpering sounds.

“You awake?” Doris mumbled.

“Can’t sleep.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” I lied. “Sometimes you can’t sleep.”

“You’re just old.” She rubbed my chest for a few seconds. She fell asleep again.

What was wrong, really wrong, was that Doris was not the type to deal in shades of gray. Artie, first. Now Leo.

I couldn’t tell her.

I couldn’t let her find out.

Revealing the day and hour was one thing. Bad enough, but probably not a deal-breaker.

Changing the day and hour? I already knew her opinion about that.

Those romps with Jen? I’d rather get a house call from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse then to let Doris find out.

As I stared at the dark ceiling, the picture in my mind was of me, mincing across a freshly frozen pond, the thin ice flexing beneath my not insubstantial weight.

Tomorrow: Blood money

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