Hit and Run

by Douglas Light

Rory strikes the concrete hard, rolls twice, onto the sidewalk, and ends up on his side, his raincoat twisted about him. The cab doesn't slow, tears off down the street, a hit-and-run.

Maya, his wife, witnesses the whole thing.

It's nine P.M. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It's sheeting rain, the first solid rain in two months, and the ground, hardened by the summer heat, refuses to absorb it. The run off floods the street, the sidewalk, traveling in wide, swift streams.

Rory's umbrella lies broken in the street, its metal ribs torn from the fabric.

They came from the city, took the L train over to attend an opening for an artist who uses breast milk in her watercolors, paints with brushes made from her own pubic hair.

The gallery was crowded, the paintings poor.

Maya wanted to leave the moment they arrived, but Rory said no. "We're here," he said, looking around at the paintings, the people. The event was catered, food and alcohol. "A drink," he added. People milled tightly about the gallery, their backs to the works on the walls. "Ten minutes, then we'll leave."

They stayed until it closed, Rory chatting with nearly everyone.

"My God," Maya says, kneeling next to him. She is terrified. The cab's gone, already a block, two blocks away. His breath is harsh, with a sour scent of gin and Brie. He labors to breathe, taking shallow, rapid gasps, like his lungs are unable to hold air. "Oh God, baby," she says. She searches for her cell phone, can't find it. "Get up, please get up." People race past, heading from one place to another, trying to stay dry in the midst of the downpour. She yells at them to stop, for someone to call an ambulance. No one does.

Her skirt is soaked and her knees scraped up from the rough concrete. She touches his face, touches the large pinkish scar that runs down his cheek, then presses her lips to his, saying his name over and over again. "Don't," she says, and struggles to help him up. "Don't do this." She tugs at him, his clothing, but can't gain a firm hold on his coat, can't lift him. A desperation, a helplessness pours through her.

The rain continues. Headlights reflect sharply in store windows and off the slick pavement.

Maya and Rory first met six years ago at a loft party for a mutual friend of a friend about to join AA. "My second-to-last drink forever," the friend of a friend said with each new drink, barely able to stand.

Rory's scar was the first thing Maya noticed about him. It was the first thing most people noticed. Seeing him, seeing it, she envisioned him doing something dangerous or heroic, surviving a knife fight, escaping the explosion of a car bomb in some African country, or pushing a toddler clear of a runaway bus, taking the hit himself. The scar frightened and excited her. Initially, that was what he was, a scar. A scar held in place by a man. Nothing more.

"The truth?" he asked when Maya, her courage bolstered by hard cider, approached him about it.

"Yes," she answered.

He'd been water-skiing on Lake Wawasee in Indiana, he told her, gotten mowed down by another boat. "They were kidnappers," he said, looking her in the eyes. "Had the nine-year-old daughter of some guy who owned seven car dealerships and a house on the lake, a real rich guy. Were going to ransom the girl. But when they hit me, I got tangled up in the motor's blades. The boat stalled. It took them five minutes to get it restarted. The police later told me they'd have gotten clean away if it weren't for me. The little girl probably would have been killed." He touched his scar, his fingers lingering. A hot, prickling sensation ran over Maya's skin as she watched. "I've got others," he said. "On my back, other places. Got chopped up pretty bad. In the hospital for nearly three months."

"Christ, how terrible," she said, unable to take her eyes off him, off his scar. She thought about him floating in the water, cut and bleeding, the lake blossoming red as the kidnappers' boat bobbed listlessly some yards away. The little girl gagged and bound. "I can't believe it," she said, wondering if the girl grew up to have emotional problems. "That really happened?"

He rattled the ice in his empty glass. He asked her her name. He smiled, his scar stretching and rising on his face. "Actually," he told her, "no."

Later that night, Maya took his kiss, then took another. They went back to his place, where she repeatedly took his kiss.

A shoe was kicked off, a shirt unbuttoned. Rory offered to make her a drink, though they'd both drunk too much. Maya pinned him to the kitchen counter, her breath hard on his face. They fumbled about the small apartment, awkwardly wrestling their way toward the bedroom. A coffee table was overturned, a potted plant spilled. The CD skipped.

"This isn't what it seems," Maya told him that first night, finally naked. She stood in his bedroom door, her arms raised. The room was dim. Light from the street seeped in.

Rory was standing before his bed. "It never is," he said. He still had his socks on.

"You're taking those off, right?" Maya asked, nodding at his feet.

He took them off.

Maya tackled him, sent him sprawling onto the mattress. Her head caught his mouth, broke his lower lip.

"OK," he said, spitting blood onto the floor. "I got you."

"You all right?" she asked, laughing. She kissed him, then kissed him again, still laughing. A taste of blood filled her mouth, a taste like chewing a nickel.

She pushed him down, then straddled him, her thighs on his chest. Though he had told her a tale about his scar, Maya still liked him. Touching the mark on his face, she said, "Tell me the truth. How'd you get this?"

"Hold up," he said, wiggling out from under her. He went to his closet, searched around on the shelf.

"We're not doing anything weird," she clarified. "What are you looking for?" She remained on her knees, waiting.

He returned, leather gloves on his hands. Winter gloves. He crawled through her legs like he was entering a snow fort. "All right," he said, then put his mouth to her. He began, and as he began, his hands ran up and down her thighs, the gloves' leather smooth and soft.

"What's with the gloves?" she asked him, a warmth building deep within her. "Why the gloves?"

He paused a moment, looked up at her. His scar seemed to glow in the dimness of the room. "My hands are cold."

Now, kneeling over him on the wet pavement, the rain pelting them both, Maya no longer sees him as a scar. She sees only him, as a whole, complete, as her husband.

His lips move like he's tasting the rain, the air. "All right," he says, his voice strange, hollow. After a moment, he stands without help, shakes his coat straight, then hobbles to a nearby bench. Gingerly, he sits down. His hair is dripping wet and he has the look of someone who's walked in on a robbery, shocked and bewildered. "I think you tore my coat," he says absently, then moves his hands over himself, feels his chest, his ribs, his head and face.

Then he starts laughing.

"This is funny?" Maya asks, her concern turning to anger. "You're hurt. We need to go to the hospital."

"I'm all right," he says, smiling strangely. His head hangs oddly, like the vertebrae of his neck are crumbling. "Will be all right. Just need a drink."

"A drink?" she asks, livid. At the opening, his glass never emptied, and every time she looked, it was poised at his lips. "You're fucking kidding me. How many have you had already, four? Tell me it was four and not seven."

"OK." He laughs more. His hand touches hers, the wet fabric of their coats clinging. "All right," he says, leaning in to kiss her, "you win."

She pulls back, not wanting his kiss, not wanting anything to do with him.

He looks at her, wounded. "Come on, it's not like--" He stops. His face twists into a mask of pain and fright.

Maya sees this, the change.

His eyelids sink.

"No," she says, grasping his hand. "No you don't. You're fine, you said you're fine."

He tries to stand, but can't, collapses back onto the bench.

An old woman pauses. Maya yells at her to call 911, to get some help.

"I'm hurt," Rory admits.

Maya holds him, cradling his weight in her long arms. His head rests heavily on her shoulder. It is Thursday night, late July. Both Maya and Rory are thirty-three years old. "Come on, get up," she tells him, her voice breaking. They've been married nearly five years and often eat out. Rory's birthday is in December. "Stand up," she commands him tearfully, unable to lift him, unable to make him stand. "Stand up right now."

On their wedding day, the photographer arrived late and hung over with a coffee stain the size of a cat's head on his shirt. Maya's sister, the maid of honor, had cramps and diarrhea and kept shifting about during the ceremony. A mile from the reception hall, the limo driver stopped and demanded an extra fifty dollars in cash before he would drive on.

Still, the day turned out well. The food was plentiful if forgettable: roast beef, overcooked salmon, chicken, and sides of potatoes and other things. The band played late into the night, the gift table was full, and people seemed pleased.

The next day, married and dazed, they flew to Greece, a nine-hour flight, then took a hydrofoil to the island of Mykonos.

It was mid-October, the end of the season, few tourists around. Most clubs were closed. The island was theirs.

Their hotel, Ziorzi's, was hidden deep in the heart of the town of Mykonos, cradled in the narrow labyrinth of stone-paved alleys. They had reservations, had planned everything well in advance. Ziorzi, the hotel owner, met them at the door. He was dressed in painter's scrubs and a powder-blue ascot, smoking a Virginia Slims cigarette. His eyebrows were tweezed into perfect arches. "What?" he asked, by way of welcome.

Maya and Rory were exhausted from travel, wanted to take a shower then a nap. Maya told him their name, that they had booked a room, placed a deposit.

Ziorzi waved at them like he was dispersing fumes and said blusterously, "You've missed the dick and pussy crowd. Season's over. I'm all closed up for renovations."

Rory started to protest, then Maya stepped in. "Closed?" she asked, incensed. She'd confirmed their reservation less than two weeks earlier with Ziorzi directly. "You're not serious." Rage took over. She moved toward him, forced her body against his. Rory watched in disbelief, never having seen her so angry. "Tell me you're serious," she told Ziorzi. His face paled and the cigarette fell from his hand. He took half a step back, but then held his ground. She pushed forward, pressing hard against his stomach and stepping on his toes. "I mean," she whispered, "if you're telling us to go." Her voice projected menace, possible violence. Close enough to kiss him, her eyes held his, challenging him. "Tell me to go."

Ziorzi shuffled back, lowered his head, and coughed violently into his fist. He glanced at Rory, who'd turned his scarred cheek toward Ziorzi and struck an intimidating pose, then back at Maya. "No," he answered cautiously. "The season might not be over."

He gave them the best room, with a balcony and a view of the bay.

The next day, they rented a car, covered the entire island in less than two hours. Paradise Beach. Super Paradise Beach. All the beaches were empty, save two or five people, the sand coarse, nearly pebbles. The autumn sun was warm, inviting.

"Now what?" Rory asked, pulling to a stop at the end of a rocky road. The glinting sea spread out before them.

They had sex on a warm stone outcrop, the waters lapping below. Seagulls circled, crying to each other. Rory left his s