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Vincent Eaton

Vincent Eaton

Vincent Eaton's novel, Self-Portrait of Someone Else, was published by Viking Penguin and reissued by the independent publisher, hidden people. "Shoulder" is part of his short story collection Intimate Dialogues to be published Christmas 2012. His plays Max Dix, Zero to Six, and Boom won awards in the United Kingdom and at theater festivals in Stockholm and in the Netherlands. Born in California, he resides in Europe.


The man stood over the boy sprawled in the road. Nearby lay a crumpled bicycle bent in on itself.

"Your fault," the man said.

The boy stared up, frightened at the big man's face; behind that face hung streetlights; the darkening sky beyond that, and in trying to sit up, the boy gave a muffled short yelp. The boy's left hand grabbed for his right shoulder.

"Do you understand what I am saying?" Waiting until the boy stopped grimacing and gave him his eyes. "You didn't watch where you were going."

The boy moved his head slowly toward his right shoulder. He closed his eyes.

Automobile horns honked. The man looked up.

"Shit." A line of cars was backing up behind his own car, which blocked the entrance to the highway. Evening rush hour had begun. The man studied the boy, eying his legs, angle of his back, checking whether there wasn't some sort of odd bend of the body, or blood seeping onto the road. Another horn. The man shifted his shoulders, working out some tension. "We're blocking traffic. I'll be back."

The man went to his car, got in, put it into gear, drove it slowly around the boy in the road, moving his vehicle to the shoulder of the motorway on-ramp. The impatient car just behind began accelerating immediately, then saw the boy in the road, and then slowed considerably. Cars behind honked at the new delay.

As the man got out of the car, leaving the motor running, he saw a woman parking her car across the way and getting out.

The boy had not moved. "This is not my—you should have looked where you were going." He bent down, slid his hands under the boy's armpits and raised him up.

"Don't move him!" The women shouted from the other side of the road. She then checked to see whether the oncoming cars were willing to halt so she could cross.

Ignoring the warning, he lifted the boy, who stifled a cry, and dragged him from the road, the heels of his shoes bumping over the blacktop. He placed him sitting on the curb. The woman was crossing.

"It was your fault," he said, and moved toward his car.

The woman reached the boy, whose head had drooped forward.

"How are—?"

She heard an engine rev and looked toward the on-ramp where the man's car taillights had bloomed red. "He's not going to—"

The red lights went off; the car moved forward, gathering speed.

"No. Stop!"


The woman looked back to the boy, whose fingers were spayed across his right shoulder.

"Just a min—" The car was rapidly disappearing, heading along the on-ramp to the motorway. Her eyes shifted to the license plate, to the numbers and letters. She mumbled them standing there, staring intently. "CAU 213." Then she went and sat down next to the hurt boy on the curb. "Before I see how I can help you, I need to ask you to remember something. CAU 213."

The boy stared at her. "What—?"

"Just repeat it. CAU 213."

"CAU 213."

"Again. CAU 213."

"CAU 213."

"It's his license plate number. Remember it. I left my bag and anything to write with in my car. I hurried to you...."

It was the graying end of the day and more car headlights were coming on, one after another as they drove past the two people close together on the curb.

"I saw what happened. Saw that man just...trying to get on the highway before you crossed. And then he drives off—unbelievable. CAU 213."

"CAU 213," the boy echoed quietly.

"Did he give you his name, contact details?"

The boy's head swung no once.

"I detest people like that. Just detest them. CAU 213. I—" She looked at the boy and placed her hand against his back. "Sorry. Tell me. Where are you hurt?"

The boy motioned toward his shoulder.

"That man should not have moved you like that..."

"My bicycle."


"CAU 213. My bicycle." He inclined his head toward the crumpled thing half laying in the road.

"Oh. Okay."

The woman got up and went to drag the bicycle completely off the on-ramp entry. Cars passed; one honked, passing close.

She returned, saying, "I'll call emergency services. Thank God..." the woman reached into her jeans pocket for her mobile phone. "...I never leave this in my bag." And she dialed. To the person who answered she explained what had happened, gave her own name, gave the location, a few details, and ended, "Hurry. Please."

The boy, though grimacing, was not crying, his left hand always lying gently on his upper right arm. She reached to take that hand.

"Ow!" He pulled his hand from hers. "Hurts there." She withdrew her hand, but he said, "You could come on the other side."

She got up and sat on his other side and he took his hand away from his shoulder and placed it near the curb and her.

"Okay." He offered his hand. "Here."

She took it in hers. "This is terrible, awful." She searched for other words.

"Don't let go," the boy said.


"Of my hand. Don't let go. Okay?"

"Of course."

"Until you have to."

"I won't."

"Don't leave."

"I'm not going anywhere."

She felt his grip tighten around her hand.

"CUA 213," she said.

"CAU 213," the boy corrected.

"CAU 213. Yes. Right."

"I think my shoulder's all wrong," he said.

"Yes," she said. She looked it over, behind the ripped shirt, as though by just staring at the area with intense concern could help do some good. "But if you don't feel anything else, I mean pain, maybe it's not as bad as it could be."

"It hurts, though."

"Yes. Of course. It must. I'm going to call the police."

She called the police but they told her they already had her information forwarded from the emergency services and not to move and they would be there quickly. She hung up.

"I forgot to tell them the license plate."

"CAU 213."

She mumbled it back. "My mind. I just came from my mother in the hospital. My mind, I...I was right over there in my car waiting for the traffic light to change. Then...I was just looking around and I saw you start riding your bike over, and then this maniac trying to beat you to the crossing, flooring it. Then you just disappeared. As though some invisible hand pushed you over and out of sight on the other side of the car. My heart stopped. I—."

The boy was mumbling, and she stopped speaking.

Dusk was turning to dark as the endless number of automobiles, headlights switched on, headed to where they were headed, some whizzing by, others slowing to have a curious look at the two sitting on the shoulder of the on-ramp, always passing them by.

"I feel dizzy," the boy said, his eyes closed against the swinging sight of the oncoming car lights.

"Yes. Of course. What's your name? God, that man...."


"That— Frank, I'm Jane. You're a very strong boy."

"It hurts so much." He turned his head slightly toward his bicycle. It looked like a thin mangled animal, some metal road kill.

She felt his hand change positions, exploring her fingers, her palm, then finding a different hold, and clamping on. They repeated the license plate number and letters together twice.

"Shall I call your parents?"

"Just my dad."

"Not your mother?"

"Don't have a mom."

She took this in. "Okay."

He recited a telephone number while she fingered it onto the keyboard, and then she placed the phone against her ear. After three rings, a male voice answered.

"Is that Frank's father?"

"What? Yes. Who are you? What is this?"

She could not hear clearly with the steady stream of cars passing by. But she did not want to take her hand from the boy's to cup her other ear to shut the noise out.

"My name is Jane. I am here with your son. He has had an accident—"


"His shoulder was hurt. He was on his bike and is a victim of a hit and run. The police have been called, and an ambulance is on its way..."

"On his bicycle? How many times have I said—? I've told him— many times. That damn bike. Is he there? Can he talk? I want to speak to my son."

She put the phone to the boy's head. The boy listened then apologized to whatever his father was saying and momentarily appeared near tears. Frank told him where they were, and then said to Jane, "He hung up. He's on his way."

Both were silent for a while, watching the cars endlessly swing by.

Jane said, "I was coming from a hospital nearby. Visiting my mother. That's why I was driving by. CAU 213."

"CAU 213. Your mother's in the hospital?"

"She's not doing too well."

"What's she got?"

"No, let's not worry about—"

"No," the boy answered, "tell me, please. The pain in my shoulder.... So...what? What's wrong with her?"

She looked into the boy's face, the eyes squeezing shut momentarily, and then opening, both shoulders hunched against pain.

"A disease. I don't want to name it. Give it more power. The doctors are trying, I guess. All the latest treatments. Every time I go back, there seems to be less of her." She looked at the boy's sad face, eying the texture of the road just before him. "Now they say they're on the last treatments they're going to try. They told me that if she doesn't respond to this—"

They watched a station wagon slow down and three faces staring at them.



Jane looked at the boy.

"Lot of pain?"

"Yeah. But I'm going to live. Your mom—" His voice caught, and again he squeezed his eyes shut, dropping his head to his chest. Somewhere in there a moan shuddered.

She suddenly wanted to take him into her arms. Hug him hard. "How horrible can people be? How could that man drive away like that...." A nervous sob escaped her and she fought the tears, and the boy leaned toward her and she leaned against his good shoulder, "It's not fair," she said, leaning into the boy.

"You never know," he said. "Maybe your mom will get better."

Lights flashed as a police car and ambulance drove up; doors opened and closed and two police officers came to stand above them, observing, looking down, and one said, "Who's hurt here?"

The boy said, "Help...." He looked at Jane.

Jane drew away, wiping away tears. "No, no. He was hit, a car hit him while he was crossing, then the man drove away. Help him, but watch out for his shoulder. We have the license plate number. CAU."

"213," the boy finished.

"Okay...." The police officer looked back and forth between them. "CAU 213, you said?" Then asked, "Are you his mother?"

Someone came out of the dark said, "I'm the father."

A short burly man with a protruding belly came up and stood beside the police officers. He stared at his son sitting on the curb. "How many times have I told you? Wear the yellow jacket, Frank, and the helmet." The father's tone was rough, as his head swung back and forth, eying the police officers, measuring their judgment. "How many—?" The fear that crept into his voice caused him to sit heavily and take the boy's head in his hand.



"My shoulder...."

"Can we deal with the injured party?" Two paramedics had joined the circle and squatted in front of Frank, Jane and the father.

"It's the boy," she informed them. "Frank. He was hit. Hit and run. His shoulder is injured. Maybe broken. Or his collarbone. Maybe—"

"Could you stand away so we can get to him? How are you...Frank? Your name is Frank? Where exactly does it hurt...?"

She opened her hand, and Frank slowly let go, unwillingly, his eyes, imploring and grateful, locked on hers as she stood, releasing his hand and the father stayed and then the group closed around the boy, and another policeman asked her, "Tell me, what you know about this? Please step over here. How did you come to be here? You say you know the license number?"

She turned to the police officer, repeated the license plate number and told him about being at the stop light over the way, witnessing the accident, the man who hit the boy stopping, getting out, moving the boy, then getting back in his car, driving away, again the license plate number she might never forget, the color of the car, the make was not something she would know about....

The police officer said, "And you are no relative to the boy?"

"No. I was just driving by, and I saw.... It was...awful. That's not the word. What happened was.... I had to do something."

"Not a lot of people would have done what you did," the policeman said. "Most people wouldn't do anything. Just keep on going."

"But that's not possible."

"I'm afraid yes. Most people don't care. You'd be surprised."

She heard a door slam shut behind her, and turned. The boy was gone. The paramedics had placed him in the ambulance, shut the rear door and the father was getting in his car on the other side of the road to follow them.

"I didn't get to say goodbye."

The ambulance drove away, the light on top twirling, going up the on-ramp, gathering speed. She watched until it disappeared in the heavy traffic, the siren beginning only then.

She waited to cross back to her car. She looked back and forth carefully watching until there were absolutely no vehicles in any direction before putting her foot onto the road and then crossing in a rush.

Later that evening she called using the number she had dialed earlier, to see how Frank was getting on.

The father answered, saying, "He's fine, he's going to be okay, they said. Thanks for all your help, lady. Really. But I need to go. My son needs me. They're about to operate."

He hung up and that was it. She listened to the sudden nothing. She wanted to know what hospital he was at. Maybe he had been taken to the one where her mother was, and she could visit him after she visited her mother. Tomorrow, even. Maybe she could help Frank get better. Maybe she could help somehow. It took her a long while to stop looking at the number on the screen of her mobile phone, and turn it off, and put it away.


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