A story I wrote long ago.
To the people driving up and down Highway 6, on the 3 mile stretch running east out of Cleveland, the scene must have looked terrifying, comical, desperate, and something like a profound sign of the times we live in.
A man (Mr. Hatch, a detail unknown to the passing drivers, but reported the following day in the newspaper) was carrying a shotgun and pushing a young man (Ralph Adams, a detail needed, and not reported until a few days after the incident in an all points bulletin to all of Northern Ohio, Lower Michigan, Western Pennsylvania, and Eastern Indiana). Ralph was 16 years old, heavy set, five four, 210 pounds, no tattoos, with sandy brown hair and freckles. Mr. Hatch was a nonviolent high school English teacher that had been “pushed over the edge” by the young man’s actions.
None of the cars on the highway stopped. As they whizzed by, the passengers and drivers may have heard Mr. Hatch cursing at the Ralph. Those with their windows down, no air conditioning, or the altra-conservative types, or those just soaking up the heat of the July day, maybe, hypothetically, lovers, a man and his wife, her head against the seat, listening to the radio turned down low and her husband humming some song that she could remember dancing with him to until early in the morning before they made love and after he had whispered some phrase that sounded like breath mixed with the low octaves of speech, heavy enough to drop down below her breasts and sink in, just at the center of her body. The lovers would have the long vowel sounds, stretched by the Doppler effect running hard against Ralph’s pleading.
Mr. Hatch did not react to the young man’s appeal to civility, and every time Ralph would slow and come closer to the man to talk about what had transpired that day, Mr. Hatch would push him violently, sometimes knocking Ralph down, and always point the gun directly at his head while saying, I should kill you, you damned son of a bitch.
This would have been the scene witnessed by passing drivers on the highway that July day, and any officer of the law going by would have stopped, but there was (also reported by the paper) ten miles south on that same highway, a four car pileup caused by a semi-truck driver falling asleep at the wheel. He, not reported in the paper, but a fact still important, had been with his mistress, Lula, all night at a hotel just outside the city. They made love, up all night, and he was on his way, first to drop his cargo, and then to tell his wife that their marriage was, finally, over. He never made it home, died behind the wheel as the semi rolled into a ditch, spreading oranges all over the highway, blocking the road, killing two other people, a wife going for groceries, and her 3-year-old son, that was “just like his father,” as the wife had always said, jokingly, to her husband while they were in bed, maybe before love making, maybe after. The semi driver awoke, as the truck slide sideways, shaken. His last thoughts, not reported by anyone, were not of his wife, or mistress but of open fields and childhood and all the time he had spent inside or on the road.
Ralph and Mr. Hatch were able to go about their long walk, the three miles down the highway, from Mr. Hatch’s “little girl” Alison’s bedroom to Ralph’s home that was positioned on a forty acre piece of land that his father did not own, but always wanted to buy. They walked and cursed and pleaded, while officers and officials gathered up oranges and sent the injured and dead off the highway and into plastic bags and hospital emergency rooms.
There would be, three days later, while the police were looking for Ralph and Alison, reports that said Allison had followed the young man and her father, keeping her distance, in her blue 1998 Dodge Neon, but the reports were never confirmed and a story, that was going to run in the newspaper entitled, “Young Love Drives Away Relatives,” was killed by the editor for lack of both news worthiness and supportive details.
When Ralph and Mr. Hatch got to Ralph’s parents’ front porch, officers on the highway were just finishing up their search for lost and dangerous oranges. The semi had been towed, and later would be described as “totaled” by the insurance report forms. The injured were arriving at hospitals and being poked with needles and getting high on very good pain killers. The husband of the deceased wife and child had not received word that his life as a small business owner, a lover, and a father, had been forever changed.
Mr. Hatch, reportedly, sent Ralph into his house and walk away, not to see him again. Not reported was the fact that he had pushed Ralph up on the porch and said, If I see around my daughter again, I will kill you. It is not reported that Mr. Hatch had stressed the word will, and that he had meant what he had said.
Ralph went into the house past his mother and into his room, where he gathered up his clothes, waited and went out the window. His bewildered mother could only describe his condition at the time as “shaken.” She, reportedly, was very worried and wanted her son to come home. It wouldn’t be until much later, after the news stories and public interest had died down, that her son would call her and tell her, that he was “Okay” and “Very happy.”
When Mr. Hatch had pushed Ralph up on the stairs of the front porch, and the blue Dodge Neon was just a few miles away, pulled off the road in a familiar grouping of trees, the engine idling, the hypothetical lovers, man and wife were at home. She the hypothetical woman, had pushed the man onto their bed, and was on top of him kissing him, and the only interruptions they would have to ignore while making love would be the phone ringing, an IRS man knocking on their door, a fire in the back room of their house, the neighbors complaining from a near by window about the noise, their dog jumping up onto the bed, a warning on television about sex being dangerous for America, and her family coming down from Detroit to stay for a week because a water main had busted and left them dirty, angry, thirsty and desperately seeking some comfort in their daughter’s company.