Crash by Neva Bryan

My sister has made us sunshine tacos for breakfast. That’s what Angel calls scrambled eggs on white bread. I stumble half-asleep into the small kitchen of our trailer and she's in full force at the counter. 

“It’s a gorgeous summer morning," she says without even glancing at me. She's cutting up a tomato. "Let’s eat something, then go lay out in the yard.” 

She spreads mayonnaise on a piece of bread and hands it to me. “Here.” I take it from her and scoop some scrambled eggs onto it. The mayo helps the eggs stick to the bread. I lay it on a plate, then take another mayonnaise-soaked slice from my sister and load it with eggs. 

We sit across from each other in silence. I’m not an early-morning person, so Angel knows better than to try to hold a conversation with me. We fold our slices of bread in half and eat our lousy sunshine tacos. 

“Bacon and pancakes would have been nice.”

“This’ll have to do,” Angel says.

I pick up the tomato slices with my fingers and eat them with a loud slurping sound. I ignore Angel when she frowns at me. They’re tasty, the first gathering from Granny’s garden this year. 

We pile our plates in the sink and get ready to lay out in the sun. We change clothes in our bedrooms. Angel walks into the living room wearing a solid white bikini. I’m wearing a bikini top, but I’ve pulled on denim shorts cut from last year’s blue jeans. 

I’m self-conscious about the huge brown birthmark that’s visible at my panty line. It’s sorta shaped like Louisiana. I know this because we studied the Louisiana Purchase last year. Miss Giles, my history teacher, made us compare maps from the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s.

I hate school.

I hand our little radio through the window to Angel and she sets it on the steps. I hook it up to an extension cord that runs from an outlet in the living room. By the time I get outside, Angel has the antenna pulled up and is fiddling with the big black knob that tunes it. Finally she hears a song she likes—“I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick—and she leaves it on that station.

We stretch two ragged quilts on the grass. It’s still damp with dew, but the sun’s bright. The grass will dry quick. We both plop down on our quilts.

A coal truck roars down the road, its Jake brakes stuttering as it rounds the curve in front of our house. The driver honks the horn. We wave at him.

Angel drizzles baby oil on her arms and legs, then rubs it in hard, like she’s waxing a car. It smells good, but I don’t like the way it feels on my skin, so I use tanning lotion. It smells even better than the baby oil. We’ll both be chicken-fried by three o’clock. We’ve done this almost every day since school let out and we’re already brown as pecans. 

The first few weeks I put lemon juice in my hair to highlight it, but all it did was fry it. I’m afraid I’ll have to have it cut short to get rid of all the frizz. I hope not. 

Angel’s on her back. She can’t lay on her stomach because her titties are so big. I’m on my belly. It’s easy for me…my titties are no bigger than the horn buds on a calf. 

I’m self-conscious about that, too. Last year someone taped a sign on my school locker that said “President of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee.” I really hate school.

My right cheek is smashed against the quilt. I close one eye and stare at the yard. The grass looks yellow-green. I open that eye and close the other one. Now the grass looks dark green. I alternate eyes again. Yellow-green. Dark green. Yellow-green. Dark green. I start to feel sick so I close both eyes.

The sun warms my skin and makes me drowsy. I love that in-between feeling…not awake, not asleep. I think this must be how babies feel before they’re born. 

That makes me think of Mom. 


“Hmm?” She sounds sleepy.

“I miss Mom.”

“Me too.”

“When’s Dad coming home?”

Angel doesn’t say anything. 

Dad took off after Mom died. Last we heard, he was living in West Virginia with his brother. Drunk all the time.

After Dad left, Angel dropped out of school. She pays our bills and buys our groceries with what she makes as a waitress. She works at night. Sometimes she cleans houses during the day. 

Granny gives us a little each month, too, even though she really can’t spare it herself. We get by.


The DJ on the radio talks loud. He sounds way too happy. “That was ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack! It’s eleven o’clock on this sunny Tuesday morning, the twenty-third of July. Up next we’ve got two of the hottest songs of nineteen seventy-nine. It’s a two-fer-Tuesday with Miss Donna Summer!”

“Come on!” Angel pulls me to my feet.

We dance to “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff.” 

We are neither.

Another coal hauler flies by. I see the driver reach for the horn, but the truck goes into a skid. The man wrenches the steering wheel and the vehicle goes up on two wheels. 

Now it feels like slow motion. The coal truck remains up on two wheels for what seems like hours, then it completes the fall, crashing on its side. The noise is so loud that I clap my hands over my ears. Coal tumbles from the truck bed, across the road, and into our neighbor’s yard. Black dust hangs in the air, darkening the day. It smells bitter.

Suddenly it’s quiet. I turn to Angel and see her standing frozen on her blanket, her eyes wide. She has both hands over her mouth. I still have my hands over my ears. We look like two of the three knick-knack monkeys Granny has on a shelf. Speak no evil and hear no evil.

            The man is pale as clabbered milk. There’s a gash on his forehead and blood streams down his face. It’s bright red. The sight of it makes my stomach feel funny, so I look away for a long time.

People run out of our neighbor’s house. I recognize one of them as our neighbor’s son, Bruce. He’s a senior at my school. I don’t know the other boy. He looks about my age, maybe fourteen or fifteen. They scramble over the pile of coal to get to the truck, then climb onto the hood.

Bruce peers into the truck cab. “You okay down there?”

I can’t hear a response. Angel steps forward and I grab her hand. We walk to the truck. As we get close, Bruce leans into the cab. I see the tendons in his arms as he hauls up the driver, a skinny man with long hair pulled back into a ponytail. The other boy helps Bruce lower the driver to the ground.

The man is pale as clabbered milk. There’s a gash on his forehead and blood streams down his face. It’s bright red. The sight of it makes my stomach feel funny, so I look away for a long time.

I feel Angel let go of my hand. When I look back at the driver, she has laid her quilt on the ground next to him. Bruce and the boy move him onto it.

“I’ll call the rescue squad,” Angel tells them. She turns and runs to our trailer.

I kneel next to the driver. He is shirtless. A lot of coal haulers don’t wear shirts in the summer because their trucks don’t have air conditioning. 

Coal dust has settled on the man’s skin, clumping where he’s sweated. His chest and shoulders are covered in black streaks. I pat him and he opens his eyes. I don’t think he sees me. 

I look up at Bruce, who is examining the driver’s arms. “Is he going to die?”

Bruce frowns at me. “Of course not!”

“Probably just a concession,” the other boy says. He’s standing near me with his hands on his hips. 

I ask, “You mean a concussion?”

He blushes. It’s kinda cute. “Yeah. A concussion.” 

His eyes are dark brown. His hair is brownish red. For some reason I think of barbecue sauce. 

He’s a fox. I try not to stare at him.

“They’re on their way,” Angel yells from our porch.

“You hear that?” I touch the driver’s shoulder. This time he seems to see me. He nods.

“I’m Randall,” says Bruce’s friend. He offers me his hand. 

I stand up and wipe coal dust from my palm before shaking Randall’s hand.

“I’m Lurlene.”

“Did you see what happened?”

Before I can answer, Angel comes up next to me and says, “Yeah. I think he was trying to honk his horn and lost control of the truck.”

“I can see why,” Bruce says as he ogles Angel’s titties.

I roll my eyes, then catch Randall looking at me. When he grins, it’s my turn to blush. I feel heat run up my neck to my cheeks. 

To cover my embarrassment, I say, “I’ve never seen you before.” 

“I just moved here. Bruce is my cousin. I’m living at his house for a while.”

“How come?”

He looks down at his arm, which is covered with freckles the color of apple butter. He scratches the top of his hand, then says, “My parents are thinking about getting a divorce. Home is not a great place to be right now.”

 nod, not sure what to say.

Randall picks at the center of his t-shirt, pulling it away from his stomach. Sweat is rolling down his forehead. “What grade will you be in?”


“Me too! I guess we’ll be in the same class. Maybe you can show me around school? Introduce me to your friends?”

I shrug as if I don’t care, but a little shiver runs up and down my spine. I imagine walking into the building on the first day of school with Randall at my side. The other girls will be so jealous.

A siren wails in the distance, interrupting my daydream.

The rescue squad shows up, followed by several police cars and a fire engine. After Angel and Bruce talk to the cops, the four of us retreat to our porch and watch the activity. The last time we had this much excitement, Granny’s hogs got loose and run through an open door into Mrs. Kiser’s living room.

The rescue squad takes the driver to the hospital. They don’t think he’s hurt too bad. The coal truck is another story. It takes six hours and three tow trucks to get it upright and hauled away. Traffic gets backed up for miles up and down the mountain. Angry drivers turn their cars in people’s yards, mashing the dry grass as they try to find alternate routes to wherever they’re headed.

The sun hangs low in the sky by the time it’s all done. The road’s asphalt is scarred and lumps of coal are scattered all over the place. There’s still a huge pile of it in Bruce’s yard.

“I guess we could make a killin’ selling coal this fall and winter,” Bruce says. 

Angel laughs, then says, “I’ve got to get ready for work. See y’all later.” She goes into the trailer. 

“Yep.” Bruce leaves, ambling across the yard toward his house. 

Randall and I sit on the top step of our tiny porch. We’ve talked a lot the past few hours, without really saying anything. Now he turns to me and smiles. 

“I better go, too.” He stands, then says, “Can I come over tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Hey, come for breakfast. We’ll have sunshine tacos.”

“What’s that?”

“Gourmet food.” I laugh. “You’ll see.”

We say goodbye and I watch him walk across the road. He pauses to look at the coal pile, then shakes his head and goes into the house.

I lean forward and rest my elbows on my knees. I close my eyes and listen to the little radio. It’s been playing the entire day. Now it’s just me and Van Halen, and I feel happy. I want to dance again. 

Dance the night away.

Neva Bryan's poems and short stories have appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Appalachian Journal, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Floyd County Moonshine. She is a contributor to the anthology We All Live Downstream: Writings about mountaintop removal (Motes Books, 2009) and author of three novels and a collection of short stories and poems. Sugar Hill Brewing Company named her its writer in residence in 2017. 

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