The rain cascaded down faster than the windshield wipers could push them out of the way. Martha squinted through the streaks of water that hid the highway from view. Not that there was much to see anyway — it was so dark that only the little pools of light on the pavement from her headlights were visible. She pressed her foot hard on the gas and sped on through the darkness.
Martha didn’t have a destination in mind. She was just driving around, clearing her head. She needed it. It seemed like every day was another fight. Who knew raising a teenager would be so hard? Her daughter could just be so... so contrary. Martha had already forgotten what today’s fight was even about — probably that boy she was dating now. Katy wasn’t supposed to be dating until she turned seventeen, but apparently that hadn’t stopped her.
The drive was helping though. It always did. The anger washed away like the smudge on the windshield in the rain. It left Martha with only the blank slate of the facts — the emotions that had been lurking underneath her anger. And the words she had said; the words they both had said. It was the worst part of the post-fight thought process. She’d be at the store soon to pick up the traditional pints of ice cream. One for Katy in lieu of an apology, one for herself to quiet the voice inside that kept chanting “world’s worst mom” over and over again.
She was so lost in thought at this point that she almost missed her exit. She slammed her foot down on the brake as she started to turn off towards the curvy ramp. On a normal day, this would merely have been uncomfortable. But it wasn’t a normal day. There was a small, invisible layer of oil on the road from a leaky old jalopy that had driven in the lane earlier. It had been raining, bringing the oil up to the surface where it floated menacingly, waiting for an unsuspecting motorist. Martha was certainly unsuspecting.
The tires locked up and slid sideways across the slick road, causing Martha’s car to fishtail. She panicked, and cut her steering wheel again, but it didn’t help. If anything, it contributed to what happened next: the front of her car made the hairpin turn onto the off-ramp but the back of the car did not. The rear end of her car slammed sideways into the guardrail. The whole car began to spin. There was no way for Martha to recover. She took a deep breath. She closed her eyes.
Cut to black.
“Hurry up, Dad!” shouted Kimberly from the living room, “Mom and Katy are going to be on TV soon!” She sat enraptured by the large screen in front of her as the theme song started to play. She could hear the studio audience applauding.
Bob shuffled in, carrying a bowl of popcorn and two sodas. “I hope they win,” he said as he shuffled down onto the couch. “I just want your mother to come home, you know? How great would that be?”
“Shh! It’s starting!”
The screen filled with the sparkling, toothy grin of suave host, Gabriel Domino. “Welcome, welcome!” he exclaimed into his silly little stick of a microphone. “Who’s ready for Second Chances!?”
The crowd cheered. At home Bob and Kimberly shook with excitement.
“Tonight we have the regrets of one Martha Bowman, a suburban mother who never made it home with the ice cream! She is survived by her husband Bob and her daughters Katy and Kimberly.” Images of the family and of Martha flashed on the screen. An old photo of them all together the year of the crash lingered. Martha was smiling, holding baby Kimberly in her arms. Katy was looking at her mother and grinning. A rare day in the then-fifteen year old’s life when she and her mom hadn’t been arguing about something.
Gabriel Domino strode confidently over to the prop couch where Katy, now a thirty year old woman, sat in waiting. “Now Katy,” he said, “tell us a little bit about your mom and why you think she deserves a second chance.” He dropped his voice an octave into the timbre of a sports caster as he said the name of the show.
Katy nervously speaks into the microphone. “My mother was such a wonderful person when she was alive. She always put her family and her community above everything else. She was the kind of person who cared about everyone,” Katy stifled a sniffle as a tear started to roll out of her eye. “She deserved to grow old with my dad,” she continued, “they were always so cute together. And my baby sister was so young, they never got to get to know each other. Kimberly, mom would’ve loved you.”
Gabriel laughed his well-rehearsed laugh, “Well, we’re about to find out, aren’t we folks?” He paused for the cheers from the audience. Turning back to Katy, he asked her more, “But Katy, why is it that you’re here today? Would you like to tell the fine folks at home?”
Katy dabbed her eyes with the Second Chances branded tissues that the studio provided. “I was a teenager when Mom died. I wasn’t a very good daughter. The day of the accident we had a big fight.”
“And that’s why she went for that late night drive in the rain, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Gabriel, it is.”
“So if the judges pick poor Martha tonight, it’s not just a second chance for her, is it?”
“No, it would be a second chance for me as well.” Katy hid her face in the tissue as she wept. She had thought she would be prepared for this show, but the pain was just as strong as it had been that night fifteen years ago to the day.
Gabriel put a hand on her shoulder, very lightly so as it show comfort but not put the producers at any liability risk. “There, there. It’ll be OK. Why, if I had my way your mother would win over the judges tonight in a heartbeat.” The audience laughed at his morbid turn of phrase. He turned to face directly into the camera. “Alright folks, let’s get this show started. Bring out Martha Bowman!”
Six large men dressed in jet black suits walked onto stage, bearing a coffin. As the crowd cheered, they placed the coffin down on the stand in the center of the spotlight beam.
“Thanks to our generous sponsors, the inventors of this fantastic technology — AppleMonsanto Corp, we can now bring our dearly departed back... to... life!”
Somewhere in the control booth, the lighting technician hit the next cue. The hazers kicked on, causing smog to billow out from around the coffin. The lights went wild, strobing and ballyhooing around the stage. It was a spectacle that the audience of Second Chances loved, and it hid from view the nurse who slid onto stage and brusquely jammed a needle into Martha’s dead throat, and then zapped her with what looked suspiciously like an off-the-shelf cattle prod.
The haze dissipated as the lights returned to normal. Martha gasped and sat bolt upright in her coffin. She looked around herself frantically, trying and failing to make any sense of what was going on.
Gabriel exclaimed, as he always did, “It. Is. ALIIIIVE!!!” The crowd always liked that. “Martha, how are you feeling?”
“Who are you? Is this Hell?” she asked, her voice hoarse from being dead for more than a decade.
“Ha! No, this isn’t Hell — this is Second Chances! The show where we bring the dead to life to see if they deserve a new lease on life!”
“Oh God,” she said. “Is Katy here? I’m so sorry, Katy!”
The camera whipped over to the prop couch where Katy was weeping and rubbing her eyes at the sight of her mother alive again.
“So Martha,” Gabriel began, “what would you like to say to your daughter Katy? I hear you did not part on the best of terms.”
Martha stumbled over to the side of the stage slowly, trying to get to her daughter. It was hard to walk after so long being dead. “Katy, baby, I’m sorry. I treated you terribly. I thought I knew what was best for you, but of course I didn’t. Only you know what’s best for you. Having you was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Oh, mom!” Katy exclaimed over her tears. “I never meant to hurt you. I could never hate you. I’m sorry, mom.”
Katy held her recently un-dead mother tightly in her arms as they both sobbed uncontrollably. The audience let out an ear-splitting, almost comical, “aaawwww!”
“I’ll never behave that way again, Katy, I promise. I’m so sorry and I’ll do anything to make it up to you.”
“You don’t have to do anything to make it up to me. Just having you back is all I’ve ever wanted.”
Gabriel interjected, prying the embracing family apart, “Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here,” he said. “Remember, it’s up to the judges to determine whether you get a second chance or if we send you right back to the grave!”
The audience cheered as the camera panned to reveal the panel of judges seated front and center before the stage. The lights shined on them, revealing the celebrities who would be tasked to determine whether Martha would live again or return to her eternal slumber.
“The judges are tallying up their notes now. Weighing Martha’s good deeds in life with the regrets she so desperately wants to make right. Martha — will you be getting the chance to make it up to your family? Or will you die again?”
A hush fell over the audience. The lead judge, a famous singer in a pink, spiky wig cleared her throat as though she was ready with their verdict.
The camera cut back to the smiling face of Gabriel Domino. “We’ll find out after these messages!”
Fade to black.