One Step Back.

Sarah D

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The headlights were too bright for his eyes, and he squinted out onto the highway, eyelids heavy. The lanes seemed to blur into red and white lights, and he couldn’t focus. In the back his daughter slept with her head lolling, the sucker he had bought her dangling from her hand. ‘The best dad in the world,’ she’d called him when he handed the candy to her. He grinned lopsidedly, then frowned as his eyelids drooped. He shook his head. They were halfway home. He needed to pay attention. He didn’t dare to listen to the radio or open the window for fear of waking his daughter up, but he was quickly dozing off. He knew he couldn’t. Again, the familiar forms of cars and trucks wilted and became hazy shadows as his eyes crossed, then refocused. He temporarily considered pulling over, but he had work and she had school. They’d left for home from their visit to grandma’s later than expected, and he was going faster than he should. His eyes were closing more than they should. Stay awake. Where was he going? Oh yes, back home. He shook his head once, twice, three times. He drank some water, one hand on the wheel. He pinched himself. Stay awake. Their exit was coming, he knew that. Past two more overhangs, and they would need to shift to the right lane. The first overhang came, and he bopped his head to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to stay alert. The second approached. He kept his head up, but his eyes fell closed. And snapped open. The exit! He was surging past it at 65 miles per hour on the other side of the road. Immediately, he jerked his arms and swerved in a desperate attempt to reach the exit before he passed it, but he forgot about the other lane. He forgot about the cars that had traveled with him the past dozen miles, and as he turned he was blinded by headlights and suddenly his world was shaking. He saw glass shatter and light scintillate and he saw his daughter fly above the passenger street, her hair fanning out like a cruel mimicry of wings, before crashing through the windshield and out into the night. The other vehicle braked, but his car was pushed off the road and slammed into a tree, and he and his daughter became a statistic. They became a part of the 5,000 people who die yearly from drowsiness on the road.