Esther could hardly have missed the orange Public Works dump truck coming down the hill; although she denied this to the police, to the newspaper, and to me when I talked to her some two months later, I think it likely that she just forgot to look. As my own mother (another cigarette widow) used to say, ‘The two most common ailments of the elderly are arthritis and forgetfulness. They can’t be held responsible for neither.’
Driving the Public Works truck was William Fraker, of Old Cape. Mr. Fraker was thirty-eight years old on the day of my wife’s death, driving with his shirt off and thinking how badly he wanted a cool shower and a cold beer, not necessarily in that order. He and three other men had spent eight hours putting down asphalt patch out on the Harris Avenue Extension near the airport, a hot job on a hot day, and Bill Fraker said yeah, he might have been going a little too fast – maybe forty in a thirty-mile-an-hour zone.
He was eager
to get back to the garage, sign off on the truck, and get behind the wheel of his own F-150, which had air conditioning. Also, the dump truck’s brakes, while good enough to pass inspection, were a long way from tip-top condition. Fraker hit them as soon as he saw the Toyota pull out in front of him (he hit his horn, as well), but it was too late. He heard screaming tires – his own, and Esther’s as she belatedly realized her danger – and saw her face for just a moment.
‘That was the worst part, somehow,’ he told me as we sat on his porch, drinking beers – it was October by then, and although the sun was warm on our faces, we were both wearing sweaters. ‘You know how high up you sit in one of those dump trucks? ‘ I nodded. ‘Well, she was looking up to see me – craning up, you’d say – and the sun was full in her face. I could see how old she was. I remember thinking, ‘Holy shit, she’s gonna break like glass if I can’t stop.’ But old people are tough, more often than not. They can surprise you. I mean, look at how it turned out, both those old biddies still alive, and your wife. . . ‘