Ladette Randolph – Dollie, 1963

photo credit: Peter Reid


Ladette Randolph
Dollie, 1963

She was enormously fat. Each morning, she sat in a lounge chair in front of the TV watching Captain Kangaroo. On the tray in front of her, breakfast: two candy bars, a package of Twinkies, and a bottle of 7-Up.
Each morning she was late for school. Kit and I sat on the couch and waited for her, watching as she ate. She took her time. We sensed she dawdled more if she thought we were anxious, so we resisted the impulse to glance at the Pabst Blue Ribbon clock on the wall. Her father drove the PBR delivery truck. He was fat too.
Her mother was skinny and pale. She pushed her hair behind her ears in a swift nervous gesture. I wanted to pin her hair back for her. I wanted her to cut her hair short like our mother’s. She spoke softly, so softly we couldn’t always hear her. She apologized for Dollie sometimes, “I’m sorry we’ll be late for school again,” she said with a wince as Dollie cut her off with a snort. Almost bowing, she left the room to get something more for Dollie.
“We’ll leave soon,” she said. “As soon as Baby,” she always called Dollie Baby, “finishes her breakfast. I don’t want to hurry her.”
When she said this, we saw a little smile cross Dollie’s face. Later, we scrambled into the backseat of their Rambler while Dollie got into the passenger side in the front. The car visibly listed to the right. Each time this happened we glanced at one another. Alarmed. Not sure the car would tolerate this insult day after day.
Dollie’s mother drove the car slowly the five blocks toward school. We could have walked there and back three times while we had waited, but our mother wouldn’t let us cross the highway alone.
That morning, Dollie’s mother stopped at the stop sign on the highway and looked twice in both directions. We all looked with her, so we were all as surprised as she was when she pulled out and Dollie’s side of the car was hit by a motorcycle.
“Out of the blue,” I heard Dollie’s mother say later, and for the first time I understood what that meant. He wasn’t there and then he was. Almost as though he had come from out of the clouds. Now, though, the man was sliding one way down the highway and his motorcycle was sliding the other way. There was the sound of clattering and scraping metal, and even worse than that, the sound of the man’s screams before he came to a stop.
Then we realized Dollie was screaming too. Her door had buckled from the impact. Her arm was bleeding. When her mother saw the blood, she flew into a tizzy. She threw up her hands and started moaning, “Baby, Baby.”
I could see from the backseat Dollie’s arm was cut, but I didn’t think it was serious. The motocycle rider, though, was lying motionless in the middle of the highway.
“Mrs. Slocum,” I said. “Shouldn’t we go look at the man?”
She looked at me, her face red. “Shut up,” she said. “Stay right where you are. Let me think.”
I settled back against the seat, still watching out the window, hoping the man would stand up. When he didn’t, I was worried about another car hitting him. I was very worried. We were trained to obey adults. When I opened the back door of the car, my brother looked at me quickly. His eyes asked what I was doing. I nodded toward the man and he nodded back to me.
Dollie’s mother was still fussing but she wasn’t accomplishing anything, and Dollie was still screaming. Her mother had gotten out of the car and was tugging on the crushed car door trying to get to Dollie.
I looked back once and ran down the highway toward the motorcycle, pretending as I ran not to hear Mrs. Slocum calling, “Didn’t I tell you . . .?”
The man was wearing a black leather suit. He was wearing black boots. One of the boots had come off. I looked around for it, but I didn’t see it anywhere. He was lying face down and he didn’t make a sound as I knelt beside him. I didn’t know what to do. I saw I was kneeling in blood. I touched my knee where the blood had soaked through my dress. It was sticky and warm on my fingers. It smelled strong like hot metal and meat. I thought I might throw up.
If we hadn’t been late for school, there would have other people driving by. The man who owned the gas station on the highway, Mr. Henks, closed the gas station twice each day to drive the school bus. I hoped he would come soon from dropping off the other kids. I looked both directions down the highway. There were still no cars coming. The wind blew. It was warm. I stood up. The wind blew my dress, and I felt cold.
From the car, I could still hear Dollie screaming. Her mother had finally opened the car door. She didn’t care any more that I’d run off. She was only worried about getting Dollie out of the car. She was trying to make her to walk. “I need to make certain . . .,” I heard her say. “Are you all right?” Dollie didn’t answer. She kept screaming.
Finally, my brother came to stand beside me. He looked at the motorcycle where it was crumpled in the ditch, and we glanced at one another. “You think he’s dead?” he said.
I nodded my head.
He nodded back. We stood and watched over the body, waiting for someone to come.
When Mr. Henks drove by in the schoolbus, we heard the squeak of the brakes, and the sigh of the bus doors opening. He was already on the radio calling for help from the volunteer fireman as he opened the doors. He ran down the steps of the bus. He pushed us out of the way and knelt down on the highway. He squeezed the man’s legs and arms. He didn’t say anything to us as he ran back to the bus and back again to the man. He was carrying an inflatable brace that he put around the back of the man’s neck.
When he turned the man over, we stepped back, my brother and me. The man’s face was gone. He had the face of a monster.
Mr. Henks felt the man’s chest. He picked up his wrist and held it while he looked at his watch. In the distance we heard sirens. The volunteer firemen converged all at once. They were serious as they jumped from their cars and trucks. We watched them shake their heads and mutter together. We weren’t sure what it meant.
Dollie’s mother had come running toward them. “Dollie needs help. She’s been hurt.”
Someone went with her to help Dollie.
“You kids see what happened?” one of the men asked us.
We nodded. I said, “He hit us. We didn’t see him.
“He must have been driving awfully fast,” Mr. Henks said.
Two of the men walked a line from impact to landing. They looked for skid marks. We listened to them talk about how there were no skid marks.
“Poor sonuvabitch. Never knew what hit him.”
“Didn’t even brake.”
They shook their heads again and again.
Dollie was yelling. She was slapping the man who was trying to bandage her arm.
“Dollie. Settle down now,” he said. “Mrs. Slocum, couldn’t you . . .?”
“Baby, it’ll be okay. It’ll stop hurting soon. Just relax.”
“You relax yourself,” Dollie said and slapped at her mother.
Her mother didn’t look surprised. She looked like she deserved to be hit.
The volunteer firemen had covered the man from the motorcycle with blankets. They’d put a needle in his arm with a tube attached. They were holding up the end of it.
“Nothing to do but wait,” one of them said.
“That’s the worst of it.”
They perked up when they heard the sirens. We heard the ambulance before we saw it.
The men had set up flares to warn traffic. In both directions now cars were waiting. Men had gotten out of the cars and had come to talk to the volunteers.
The volunteer firemen said to them, “Everything’s under control. Just get back in your car, please.”
No one had noticed us. We’d gone to sit in the ditch.
Mrs. Slocum was arguing. “I need to get Dollie home.”
“You can’t move your car.”
“But you don’t understand . . .”
Mrs. Slocum argued and Dollie cried. Finally, one of the men loaded them into his car and drove them home. Neither Mrs. Slocum nor Dollie looked for us. They’d forgotten we existed.
Before the ambulance left, a state patrol car pulled up, its lights still going even after the patrolman got out. He walked around with one of the volunteers. He nodded as the volunteer told him everything they knew. We heard the patrolman say, “Where’s the driver of the car?”
“She’s gone home. Her daughter was injured.”
“No. A superficial cut on the upper arm.”
“You shouldn’t have let them leave the scene.”
“We know, but she insisted. They live just down the way.”
The patrolman noticed us then. “Who are these children?”
The volunteer fireman noticed us then, too. “Those are the Snow kids.”
“They in the car?”
“Must have been.”
“Why . . .?” The patrol man looked toward the Slocum house before he walked toward us. We stood up. He was loaded down with belts and buckles, badges, radios and other gizmos. We saw his gun in his holster. We’d never seen a patrolman this close before. He walked with his feet splayed out. He held his arms curved out at the elbows. He said something into a radio we couldn’t understand. A burping voice from the radio answered back. He looked at us while he talked, but he didn’t say anything to us.
My brother quietly took my hand. I think we were afraid of the same thing, that the patrolman will take us away and we wouldn’t see our family again.
“Why don’t you go wait in my car?” he said, and we looked quickly at one another. When he wasn’t looking, we ran. We ran as fast as rabbits. We ran behind houses, down alleys, down the gravel streets of our town, and away from the highway. We ran all the way to the diner where our mother was working.
“Why aren’t you . . .?” she said when she saw us come in the door.
We were panting so hard from our run we couldn’t answer. She looked behind us to see if someone was coming after us. “What’s going on?”
We didn’t know where to start the story. We stared at her. She was busy serving breakfast. “Where’s Mrs. Slocum?”
One of the customers at the counter perked up when she said that. “She was in an accident this morning. On the highway. . .”
“An accident?” Mom said. She set down the plates she was holding. “Were you hurt?”
We shook our heads.
“That man she hit won’t live to see morning,” the man at the counter said. “She hit him good.”
I shook my head. “She didn’t hit him. He hit her.”
“That ain’t how I heard it,” the man said.
“Were you in the car?” Mom asked. We nodded. “Well then,” she said. “I better call the school.”
Later, she would make arrangements for Mr. Henks to start driving us to school on the bus each morning even though the bus didn’t usually stop for kids in town. We didn’t have to wait for Dollie anymore. Before that, though, we’d had to tell people how the accident wasn’t Mrs. Slocum’s fault. “He came out of the blue,” she told them, and we said, “yes, he did.”
The man died that night of the accident. His crushed motorcycle was carried away on the back of a truck. Dollie wore a bandage to school for a long time. She complained about how she was hurt in the accident. She told everyone she was hurt bad. She complained that kids kept bumping her arm on purpose on the playground.
People asked Mrs. Slocum why she had left without us. “I forgot all about them,” she said. “I plumb forgot. They aren’t my kids. I was worried about Dollie.”
My mother shook her head every time she repeated that story. “Can you imagine?” she said, like she was talking about a rare thing. “Would I do that? Go off and leave children I was watching?”
Mrs. Slocum tried to tell us she was sorry, but our mother rushed us away. We didn’t blame Mrs. Slocum. We knew the man had come out of the blue. We knew it had been a shock.
We couldn’t forget that man’s face, though. We never talked about it, but I knew my brother couldn’t forget it either. After that, every morning when we went by the Slocum’s house, we both looked at it for a long time from the windows of the school bus. Inside, we knew Dollie would be watching television and slowly eating her strange breakfast. She’d be late for school, we knew. We were glad to be on time.