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"Will you be coming over to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us tomorrow?" his mother asked for what seemed like the twentieth time in the last two weeks.

Kyle Nabors sighed loudly into the phone, the echoing sound of his breath drowning out the equally plaintive and demanding voice of his aging mother.

"Not this year Mom. I told you the last time you called, and the time before that." he replied wearily. "I would rather just spend the day relaxing, it's
the only day I have off for the next two weeks."

It was an excuse and Kyle was quite certain his mother knew it whether or not she chose to call him on it. While it was true that his job as a salesman kept him more than a little busy during the weeks immediately following Thanksgiving, that wasn't the reason he was begging off on attending the usually boisterous gathering of relatives the following Thursday.

The truth was he would rather be alone. After all the day before Thanksgiving had been the day his life had changed forever. The day she died.

Five years, he thought to himself. He hadn't realised it had been so long. It certainly didn't seem like five years.

"Oh for goodness sake!" came his mother's voice again, "It's been five years. You've got to stop torturing yourself of it. It wasn't your fault."

It hadn't been his fault - no one had even tried to blame him, but he winced as she spoke, as painful memories leapt to the top of his mind. Even this long afterward, it wasn't easy to think back to that evening without doubts nagging at him: if he had only done this or that differently.

Alice had been driving. Now he was living close to his mother - it was only a twenty minute drive - but in those days, when they had lived a long way from his parents, they took the driving in shifts when they travelled down to visit: a few hours each at a time. She had been behind the wheel for some time. If only he had taken his turn when she had asked, but instead he had told her to wait till the next service station…

His thoughts tailed off as his mother spoke down the phone again: "Kyle? Can you still hear me?"

"I'm sorry, Mom," he mumbled, "Okay, I'll come."

He ended the conversation, put down the phone with a sigh, and returned to his introspective mood.

It hadn't actually been a particularly serious-looking accident. True, the two cars were both written off, but the crumple zones had done their jobs, and no one in either car should have been hurt, let alone killed. The cause of the crash was of little consequence either: it had been dark, poor visibility, drivers may have been tired… these points had come up, but they had not been examined in the usual depth by the police. No, the reason it had become headline news was because of the way in which Alice had died.

The driver's side airbag was faulty. Something had gone wrong in the manufacture, and it had exploded in her face. It broke her neck, and she died before the ambulance had had time to arrive.

The case had generated massive publicity. Both Kyle and Mr Watson, the other driver, had been forced to go through months of pressure. The manufacturer had offered a settlement, but was not keen to take the blame.

In the end, another accident had settled the issue. He had been paid one point four million dollars in damages, and they had been forced to recall thousands of cars. Kyle hoped his perseverance had saved lives. But it could not, of course, bring back Alice. No amount of money could ever do that.

What made it more difficult was that by all rights, it should have been him. He had driven that same car large distances almost every day as part of his job, and there had been a couple of near misses in that time. Any one of those could have done exactly the same to him. But at least then Alice would still be alive.

The whole saga, starting with the accident, but more particularly through to trying to deal with the vehicle manufacturer's corporate lawyers had left him with a jaded outlook on life, and a mistrust of the various safety features. If an airbag could explode and kill someone when it's only purpose was to protect lives, what was the point?

* * *

Jennifer Hodge was also driving home for Thanksgiving that morning. It was a bright morning, crisp and cool, so that although the roads were relatively busy due to the holiday season, the going was easy, and she found herself making surprisingly good time.

Only another half hour on the freeway, she thought to herself, and then I'm just about there.

Kyle's car was travelling in the same direction towards the city. His was only a relatively short journey, but he still needed to hit the freeway for a few miles. He came on at the Radcliffe Road junction, and set the cruise control. Being a salesman did have the one advantage that his car had all the extras. He had the latest satellite navigation system too, though for a trip to his mother's, he wouldn't be needing that.

He was taking it easy. He wasn't in a rush to get there, so he stuck to the slow lane, and let most of the traffic pass him.

Jennifer had been on the road for four hours, and she was looking forward to getting home. There was more traffic now but she was still making good progress.

She had just passed the first signpost for her turn-off when there was an enormous bang. The car swerved violently to the right, wobbled, crossed the hard shoulder, and ploughed into the barrier.

Kyle was just a few car-lengths behind when it happened. Jennifer's old green Toyota had only just passed her, when her front right tyre exploded. He had to brake hard to avoid a collision as she swerved viciously directly into his path.

He pulled over, and jumped out of his car, already dialling for the emergency services on his phone.

* * *

The hospital waiting room was not empty; the staff of Accident and Emergency do not get time off for the holidays.

Kyle had accompanied the injured woman to the hospital in the ambulance, and now here he was, in the waiting room, feeling anxious about someone he had never met before this morning.

She had been unconscious, and in a bad state when he had got to her car. It was an older car, and although the impact had been mostly on the passenger side, these older models were not designed to absorb the shock like the new ones. He did not have any expertise to help her, so he had restricted his assistance to making the emergency call, and explaining the situation.

When the ambulance had arrived, it had become clear that she had sustained some serious injuries, but when they had discovered that he was not a relative, the paramedics refused to tell him any more, though they had allowed him to follow them to the hospital.

"Um, hello?" The voice came from the main entrance. He swung round, and saw a woman walking towards him. She had been crying, and her voice was still shaking a little. "I'm Jennifer's mother," she said, "I understand you were the one who found her?"

He nodded. 'Found' wasn't really the right word, but he let it pass. "Is she alright?" he asked, but he knew before he finished the question that the answer as not good.

* * *

It was a year since the accident, and Jennifer was still struggling to get used to her condition. It had been such an innocuous accident; not particularly high speed, no fire or trapped limbs; and yet she had come out of it paralysed from the waist down.

An airbag, they told her, would have prevented any injury at all, but her car had been old, and had not been fitted with one, and the result had been a broken neck and six months in hospital.

It had been an expensive six months, and the costs just continued to mount. But at this time of Thanksgiving she was thankful for the small mercies; for the kindness of strangers. And for that anonymous donation of one point four million dollars that had helped so much with the costs.

Spudley Strikes Again

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The following comments are for "Thanksgiving"
by Spudley

Great Stuff!
I'm with Penelope Spud, except for that "typo" there wasn't a thing I could find fault with. (Except maybe his "aging mother's plaintive and demanding voice". Too close for comfort!)

It's a nine in my book!

( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: August 19, 2003 )

The Spud-Myster
Great story spud. Very down to earth and intresting. Would love to see it continued.

( Posted by: lovesessence [Member] On: August 20, 2003 )

nice story, spud, but this time (and only this time so far) it didn't grab me as your stuff usually does. Washer gets the edge this time by the simple expedient of being a little more colourful and less "nice". Well done though and keep up the good work. 7/10

( Posted by: Delgesu [Member] On: August 20, 2003 )

thank you all.
Thank you to everyone who voted and commented on this Write Off. It's been most enjoyable to take part again, especially with such nail-bitingly close scores.

Just to pick up on the typo that Pen and Bea spotted: Yep... big oops! :) I played around with that accident scene a bit as I was writing it, and it looks like that one word escaped from the first version (in which it was his tyre that blew, causing a crash). Well spotted, you two. :)

( Posted by: Spudley [Member] On: August 23, 2003 )

*Pat pat*
Well done, Spud.
This was good story, could hardly fault the language ((*was also confused in the accident scene*)), but I feel that content-wise Washer's story sparkled that little bit more.

I do agree with Jessica also, about the time scale. Because you were covering such alot of ground, it made parts feel 'skipped' over, d'you know what I mean?
I think that the typo at the critical point, forces one to reread and retrace the scene, taking away the tension.

A galliant effort, Spud, and I'm giving a 7/10...*Feels mean*

( Posted by: Jasmine [Member] On: August 24, 2003 )

Hey Spud,
An excellent story here. It was ironic, and cool, and it depicted the inner workings of the protagonist very well.

I didn't vote, because I'm very arrogant at times, but I think it would've pulled an 8.

Lastly, congrats. It was an uphill battle, and I was checking comments at least twice a day. This was a Clash of the Titans (I can call us Titans, right? Sure . . .), a confrontation for the ages.

( Posted by: Washer [Member] On: August 24, 2003 )

Execellent work
Well, You have done an excellent job. I am late to read as well to pass on my comments to you. But, surely this is one of the best stories i have read todate. There is no doubt about that. I haven't read much of your works. But, after reading this one. I would like to go back. My rating 10/10. I wish i could give more but, unfortunately 10 is the maximum.

I wish to read more of your works and keep up the good work.

( Posted by: g.s.vasukumar [Member] On: August 28, 2003 )

Nice job
Late, too, but I only started commenting a few days ago, so... Good story, Spudley. Although I liked Washer's more because of the originality, you're a talented writer who really knows how to work the words (and I figured the "only just passed her" was a typo ;)).

I grinned at the ending, too.

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: August 28, 2003 )

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