I took it for granted, my lucky life, right up
to the point my husband Steve pulled up to this
red traffic light on the new Interstate. One left
turn and a few blocks into a new neighborhood
and we would be home at our small-scale, but
adequate, three-bedroom brick colonial.

Steve was twenty-one when we started dating.
My girlfriends all went on about how he looks like
James Dean, but I think he’s more handsome,
taller, with finer even features, and a slender
nose. We were married when I turned seventeen
and Boom! Boom! Boom!—three babies standing
up in the back seat of our ‘64 Pontiac coupe we
bought brand new two years ago. The hood
sparkles in the summer sun in front of me like
real gold.

Our son Stevie is six, and being the eldest he
stands with authority, his arms spread out across
the back of the seat. Jake, on the other side
behind me, is four. He imitates his big brother,
though he’s careful not to encroach on Stevie’s
arm space. Priscilla stands in the middle. She’s
almost three and precocious—talks and acts like a
four-year-old. Jake is a towhead, and Stevie’s
hair is like pale champagne. The sun has turned
Priscilla’s dark hair auburn. Their blue eyes shine
like jewels next to skin tanned from playing in
our backyard and wading in their plastic frog pool
all summer while I sat on the patio sipping ice
tea. They are strong, healthy children.

Like I said: I’ve taken it all for granted, my lucky
life.

I turn to check on my babies again, and a red hot
wire of alarm shoots from the base of my spine to
my neck like lightning. I see a car speeding
straight for them with nowhere else to go.

I can see the young muscular driver gripping the
steering wheel with manic focus, and I know he is
running for his life. He is coming so fast it will all
be over in two seconds. There are cars on the
outside lane next to me. A deep grassy drainage
ditch separates the south and northbound lanes
of this four-lane freeway and runs under the
intersection. These facts race through my brain as
fast as the car rushes toward us.

With the deepest deathlike calm, I do the only
thing I can do. I surrender.

Then I witness an act of astounding skill as the
oncoming car gets within two yards of us. It
swoops down into the drainage ditch to the left of
our car, up the other side, crosses through the
intersection in the wrong way lane, passes the car
stopped at the red light there, whips down into
the ditch behind that car and up onto the
southbound lane across the intersection from us,
and is gone. I don’t see anyone react as if they
noticed.

Steve has missed the whole thing. The light turns
green, and he turns left. I never tell him. I never
tell anyone.

I never take anything for granted again.  


Barbara Ritchie received Honorable Mention for her story,
“Birthright,” in the Writer's Digest 2017 Annual Writing Competition
(Literary/Mainstream Short Story Category). Her novel-in progress,
After Losing Jewel, was a finalist in the 2019 William Faulkner—
William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, sponsored by the
Faulkner Society in New Orleans. “Driver” is her first published
story. Barbara worked as an adolescent mental health therapist
before retiring to pursue her lifelong goal of writing fiction. She
lives in Vancouver, Washington.

Photo: Barbara Ritchie with her son Tom.
DRIVER
by Barbara Ritchie
DECEMBER 2020
FLASH FICTION
CONTEST 2020
Second Prize
$1,000 Award
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