Roy Dennison sat hunched over at his kitchen table, in one of two wooden chairs. The only light in the small kitchen came through a window—from a bare forty-watt bulb that swayed from the back porch in the cold November breeze. On the robin’s-egg-blue table his wife had killed herself at, sat a coffee mug filled with Ol’ Yeller whiskey. He picked it up and took a swig, then wiped a dribble from his unshaven face. An ashtray also sat on the table, it was piled high with butts, and topped with a smouldering cigarette that was all but forgotten. The harrowed man was lost in his thoughts. He wasn’t really there—in the kitchen of his Indiana farmhouse—he was back, back at the beginning.
The Dennisons were returning home from an extended Florida trip where the family had visited Victoria Dennison’s parents. Roy and his in-laws never had seen eye-to-eye, and spending two weeks with the Fosseys that hot summer had been like walking barefoot on broken glass. Victoria’s father continually jabbed at Roy during the visit to come work at the family meat-packing plant. Roy continued politely that he would consider the offer, but knew the last thing he wanted was a mindless job that would suck the life out of him. His plans for his career did not include working under his domineering father-in-law’s wing for the next twenty years. On the trip, Roy and Victoria had also taken their eight-year-old son, Bobby, to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom that had opened the year before, in 1971. Bobby had been a Boy Wonder that day, riding all of the big rides that even Victoria had been too afraid to go on. Then to top it off, Bobby threw a little plastic ring and landed it around the neck of a soda bottle at one of those midway games. The three of them jumped around for a full minute until the unhappy barker shoved a giant stuffed Donald Duck at them.
The drive back home, Galveston back then, was a day and a half trip. The young family were making their way through Louisiana on an isolated stretch of old highway 90 with only five or six more hours to go before home. The couple had chosen this back route so they could squeeze in a quick visit to New Orleans on the way home. Roy and Victoria sat in the front seats, the three-foot duck sat in Victoria’s lap. Bobby was crammed in the middle of the back seat making quiet little engine noises, driving his little yellow Tonka truck up and down his leg, luggage was stacked up all around him. They left Orlando fourteen hours ago, and had been on the go ever since.
“Maybe you should drive in a bit, honey,” Roy said as he looked over at his wife. She was wearing the summer dress he had liked so much.
“Yeah, just let me know. I’m pretty beat too though, you’ll have to keep an eye on—Roy Look out!” Victoria said, pointing ahead, panic in her voice.
He turned back to see a deer run out in front of them. Roy slammed on the brakes, but the animal was too close. The front end of their car seemed to explode in bits of broken glass and blood. The buck flew over their car—Roy’s chest impacted the steering wheel, Victoria crushed Donald against the front dash as she impacted against it—and their son, Bobby, flew through the front windshield.
They were stopped, slightly askew on the highway—their one remaining headlight shone on their little boy’s broken body.
Roy couldn’t breathe. He felt like he had just been shot; his whole chest was on fire. He looked over at his wife. She was bleeding from her forehead and looked dazed. Roy looked into the back seat—he knew what had happened—but desperately hoped his mind had played some kind of trick on him.
There was no Bobby.
Air flooded back into Roy’s lungs and he gasped as he took it in. He turned around and looked out at his son’s torn form, then back at his wife. Victoria held both her hands to her mouth, unable to scream, or if she did, Roy didn’t hear her. He looked to the road ahead and then slowly opened his door.