“Jim, pay attention, it might save your life one day,” he said with a sigh. There were Jims in every audience, no matter what the age. This time it was a high school student, next time it would be a businessman. Always idiots in every group.

“I’m not stupid. I would never get into a crash like that.”

There was a nervous titter of laughter from the group of teens. Ah, the boy was one of those guys, Eric Makerson thought. A popular guy, probably the local heart throb or the footy star or both. Eric glanced down at the floor for a moment. 

“James, I think you need to leave the hall,” the teacher supervising said. Jim shrugged, and got to his feet.

“Jim, before you go, I’d like to say something,” Eric said. “And everyone can hear it.”

“Sure, why not?” The boy said with a smirk. He didn’t sit back down.

“You might see me as the town drunk these days,” Eric said softly. “Hell, I was a few years ago, only no one saw me as a drunk.”

A shocked silence fell over the group.

“I’m stone cold sober these days. I lost everything in one night, Jim. One night that I thought I was never going to be stupid enough to experience.”

Jim sat down.

“I lost my daughter, she was your age. I think you’ve all heard my story in some way or other. I lost my wife, I lost my job, my position in society, my worth as a human being.”

“Mr Makerson, if you want we can…”

“No Mr Graham, I think I need to say my piece before we break off, if you don’t mind.”

“All because I chose to drink too much that night. Because I was too arrogant to listen to my wife. Because I wouldn’t listen to my daughter.”

He paused and glanced over his audience, as if looking for a face. There, he thought, with a flinch of awareness. There she was, as usual, in the crowd of teenagers, his daughter. Dark holes where her pretty blue eyes used to be, she wore the blood soaked uniform and an attentive posture as if mocking him and the other students. Her skin was the colour of ash, and her hair was stringy and lank, and grey.

“My daughter was beautiful, full of potential, full of life. Blonde, blue eyed - you should have seen her,” he added, staring at the mockery of his daughter, trying to remember what she had really looked like. Not the ghost who mocked him every day. 

“It wasn’t her fault that the accident happened. What I’m trying to say is that no one who drinks and drives is clever, or clever enough to avoid an accident if the circumstances change. I thought I was, I thought all my experience meant something...but it didn’t. And you guys...none of you have near enough experience to deal with avoiding an accident.”

Tears came to his eyes, as they always did. Tears came but he forced them back. His own fault, no use feeling sorry for himself. 

“If you have to drink and drive, don’t do it with passengers. Don’t kill your friends with your stupidity. Kill yourselves if you must, but not others.”

“Alright, students. I believe that is the end of the talk, please leave in an orderly manner and return to your classroom teachers,” Mr Graham said, standing up to interrupt the talk. 

The students filed out surprisingly quickly, chattering wildly. Soon the hall was empty, with just the teacher and the speaker left.

“Do you need to speak to someone Mr Makerson?”

“Who would I speak to? And it's Eric, Mike, if you don’t mind.”

“You can’t keep telling kids to kill themselves.”

“Did I? Oh yes, I suppose I did. I didn’t mean it that way, but I suppose I did. Mike, I can’t keep doing this.”

“Maybe your audience is the wrong age,” Michael Graham suggested. “Maybe you need to talk to your own age group.”

“I do, Mike. When this is finished, I’m going to talk in the community hall, but not many come. I talk to mother’s groups, father’s groups, community groups, hell, I even talk in aged care homes. No one listens, no one wants to know.”

“Maybe you just need a break? A holiday? Time to get away from it all?”

“I can’t do that. I can’t.” Eric stared into space, but saw his ghostly daughter again. She stared through him like he wasn’t there. “I can’t Michael, I can’t. You don’t understand.”

“Should I call someone?”

“Who is there to call?”

“Are you thinking of hurting yourself, Eric?” The awkward concern in the other man’s voice was irritating. Like he was saying something he had to say, something he had been taught to say in this situation. To prevent a suicide connected with the school. Eric was saddened - they had been friends once.

“Don’t be stupid, Mike. I can’t do that either.”

“It was an accident. You were over the limit, but you didn’t murder them.”

“You know it wasn’t an accident, Michael. I was drunk. I should never have driven that night. I could have gotten a taxi. I should have. I can never make this better. Never.”

“I don’t know what to say, Eric. I have to go back to class, Sue can only manage two classrooms for so long. Call me, we’ll have coffee or something soon.”

“Sure.” Eric gave him a faltering smile for a moment, and watched him walk away, before packing up the slides and other equipment. He had to be ready for the next talk, and the next. He sighed, and sipped his water bottle. 

He tried to smile at his daughter’s ghost, and failed. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he bit his bottom lip.

“I’m trying to make it better, Amy. I am. Please forgive me. I’m trying.”

The ghost kept staring at him as if he wasn’t there. No love, no hate, no emotion, not even recognition. There was no forgiveness that day.

December 03, 2020 23:25

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