Afterward, when they asked her to describe what happened, all she could say was, "A thud and a whimper." The thud was more like an explosion, and she didn't realize until much later that she had been the one whimpering.
How many thousands of times had she taken the trash out over the course of her sixty-two years? Even though it was usually early morning when she dragged the heavy garbage can from her backyard into the alley, it wasn't unheard of for her to do it at night. There was no law against putting it out the evening before. Old Mrs. J. next door always put hers out last thing because she didn't get up until mid-morning and the garbage collectors came long before that.
If only she hadn't chosen that particular moment of that particular evening to venture outside, none of this would have happened. Five minutes earlier she'd have placed the can where she always did, walked past the chopped up tree branches Jose had piled at the side of the garage, and opened the back gate. Then she would have stepped inside the backyard and whistled at the dogs who would have come running from their favorite corner of the yard where they'd just peed against their favorite plants. After that, all three of them would have hurried through the mudroom into the house and gone to bed just like they did every night.
It didn't even have to be five minutes earlier. Just one minute and she'd have been safely inside the gate, calling Queen and Latifah to her. Instead, while her dogs were safely inside the yard alternately barking and whining, she lay on the other side of the fence, smashed against the woodpile, her arms pinned beneath her, the pain in her head so sharp it felt like her friend Sherry had taken all the knives from her blade sharpening business and stuck them inside her brain. She had a feeling blood was oozing from various parts of her body and she was having difficulty breathing. She couldn't seem to feel her legs at all.
She tried to call out, but her chest hurt too much, and anyway, she'd never make herself heard over the dogs. Besides, didn't she always tell everyone how dead her little street on the edge of Gulfport was at night? Usually she was glad for the evening peace and quiet as she sat on her porch listening to cicadas and the rustle of palm fronds in the breeze, happy that she didn't live in the center of town where the loud music from Salty's and the incessant chatter of happy drinkers at O'Maddy's would have rattled her bones and kept her awake.
She heard a noise and felt a vibration and realized that she was groaning. Let the pain stop! Surely someone would rescue her soon. Wouldn't Donte hear the dogs and come outside to see what the commotion was? If only he weren't so accommodating. Just the other day Wynn had apologized for the late-night barking and Donte had told her not to worry about it, that he never paid any attention, barely even heard it. On the other side was Old Mrs. J. Wynn couldn't see whether the elderly neighbor's trashcans were lined up in the alley or not. If they were, Wynn was doomed because once the trash was out Mrs. J. would have taken out her hearing aids and be quite oblivious to everything. Wynn wondered when everyone had started referring to her neighbor as "Old Mrs. J." instead of just Mrs. J. Did you reach a certain age and become officially old? When would they start calling Wynn "Old Ms. Larimer?"
Her head was throbbing, her legs were numb, the pain in her arms was excruciating and she desperately wanted to drift into a pain-induced sleep. She knew enough to know she mustn't, so she forced herself to keep thinking.
Why hadn't the car stopped before it hit her? The driver must have seen her. First of all, it wasn't that dark a night. She hadn't bothered with a flashlight because the light from the half-moon was strong enough to light up the alley. Even without that, the driver must surely have been able to see her since his headlights had definitely been on. There was no question in her mind about that. As she'd deposited the trashcans and turned back toward the house, the dazzle from the car's beams had completely blinded her. She'd turned her head away, assuming that the car would stop, and the next thing she knew she was being crushed into the woodpile.
Wouldn't any decent human being have stopped to offer help? Why did the driver just carry on down the alley as if nothing had happened? She felt rage rising up inside her. What kind of a person did that? The anger was partly directed at the driver and partly at herself. She could have waited until morning to put the trash out. But she'd done it tonight so that she could get up early tomorrow and get straight to work without any interruptions. She had so many jewelry orders to fulfill for Valentine's Day it was overwhelming. The kids were always nagging her to get organized, so she'd taken their advice. She'd created a list and a schedule for the following day so nothing would distract her. Not even taking out the trash.
It wasn't like she didn't know how to make lists. When she was a teenager, her home economics teacher had taught her class how to prepare dinner. Before they started cooking, the first thing they had to do was list all the tasks involved, then break them into steps and write out a detailed schedule: when to peel the potatoes, at what point to put the pie in the oven, when to cut the bread. Everything had to be thought out so it would all come together at exactly the right time for when the assumed husband came home from work. Even back then she'd been pretty sure there would be no husband, but the planning process had been useful. Over the years, she'd forgotten all about it until recently when her daughters told her in no uncertain terms that now that they were off to college she had to find a way to get herself organized since they would no longer be home to help her. They left in September and she muddled through all the December holiday orders, getting them done only by pulling several all-nighters. That's what made her decide this next holiday, Valentine's Day, would be different.
The list for tomorrow was sitting on the drafting table in her studio. Above it, little papers with individual orders were hanging on a clothesline she'd strung up. (She'd stolen the idea from Kat's restaurant where they clipped all the food orders to a clothesline and the short-order cooks picked them off one at a time.) Her tools were laid out and everything was ready for her to cut, clip, twist and cajole metals, stones, gems, clasps and chains into the beautiful pieces her customers expected. And now as she lay crushed against the woodpile, she knew for certain, none of that would happen. Three years of slogging away to create a successful business, and in a few seconds a stranger had just blown it to pieces.
She heard a car in the street and for a moment her heart lifted. If only the driver would turn up the alley. But they didn't. Why would they? No one ever drove up the alley at night. Apart from the jerk who'd used his car against her like a battering ram.
She'd been so pleased with herself for creating tomorrow's list that her reward had been to take out a bottle of pinot noir and call Michaela. Sipping wine and catching up on Mikki's exploits was the best way to end any evening. Wynn was so proud of both her daughters, and when you thought about how far they'd come and what they'd had to endure, it was pretty amazing that they were so well adjusted. Most moms complained that their daughters were taciturn and didn't want to share anything with them, but Mikki was such an open book that sometimes it was hard to get her off the phone. They'd had such a lovely conversation this evening but then it started getting late and Wynn felt guilty because she knew she had to get up early the next day, so she told Mikki she needed to end the call.
"But Mom, don't you want to hear about this really cool yoga class I took yesterday?" There was a wounded tone to Mikki's voice, but Wynn reassured her that not only would she hear about it next time they talked, but she'd also look forward to finding out what happened to Mikki's best friend, who'd been accused of plagiarism. Now she wished she hadn't been in such a hurry, or that Mikki would remember something she needed to tell Wynn and call back. It wouldn't help though. If she rang and Wynn didn't answer, Mikki would assume she'd placed the phone on silent and gone to bed.
The dogs were still barking and she could hear them both jumping up and down against the fence. She was always trying to get Queen to shut up, but for once she was happy her dog was so badly behaved. Or perhaps it wasn't bad behavior at all; this time Queen was looking out for her. What about the Russian couple across the street? Wouldn't they wonder what was going on? She never spoke to them beyond saying hello because they barely spoke a word of English, but surely they'd know how to call an ambulance?
How long had she been lying there? She was starting to feel cold. She'd padded out in only her pajamas and slippers, thinking it would only take a minute, but the slippers had flown off when she was hurled into the woodpile and the pajamas weren't enough to keep her warm on such a chilly evening. Only a few hours earlier she'd crowed delightedly to Mikki that the temperature was going to fall into the thirties overnight, a rare occurrence in this part of Florida.
"Finally we're having a real winter!" She'd smiled, excited that she could wear something other than the flimsy nightshirts she lived in for ten months of the year. Now she wondered how long she could lie there, cold and injured. The light from Mrs. J's bedroom went out, and Wynn felt hope drain from her. Her body started shaking, and the shock and anger she'd been feeling began to morph into something else.
What if no one found her until it was too late?