The older girls snuggled down in the back of the buggy. Marion sat between Irene and me, with little Eli Ray on Irene's lap. I finished hitching up the horse and climbed in. The silence from the back told me the girls would be sleeping soon. We never intended to fall asleep, but it overtook us at times. Thankfully, the horse knew the way.
For only one part of the ride home was it of utmost importance that I stay awake. It was a stretch of highway that split our country road in two. Sometimes, especially during the day, I had to wait minutes and minutes to cross because the traffic flowed so fast and heavy.
I don't remember falling asleep to the clomp of the horse's hooves, but I remember waking up briefly. We'd gone a ways down the road from my cousin's place. My heavy eyelids lifted, and I peered through the dark night. In the distance, I noticed the stop sign ahead. I told myself I needed to stay awake for the crossing. But the night was quiet. Too quiet.
My stomach felt full of too much ice cream, and the buggy's gentle sway lulled me once more. The snores of the girls in the back brought a smile. I leaned back to rest my head lightly on the back of the seat.
My eyes fluttered shut again . . .
It was the blare of the horn that startled me first. The horn of a big truck. Loud, close. Then bright, white light. The jolting of the horse. The overwhelming screech of the semi-truck's brakes.
Headlights bore down. My heart leaped to my throat, and I knew it was going to be close. With a shout and a flip of the reins, I urged the horse forward. Not fast enough.
A crash of splintering wood cut into the night. My body hurled forward. My wife cried out. I don't remember hitting the ground or standing to my feet. But there I was, peering through the inky darkness at Irene and our sons. She seemed fine. The boys were okay too. Shaken but fine.
The horse darted down the road, dragging the wheels and the shaft. More pieces of the buggy lay splintered at my feet. I turned around to look for the girls.
The moonlight wasn't enough to penetrate the night.
My knees trembled as I darted up and down the road, and my voice called their names over and over. "Suetta! Sarah Mae! Suetta! Sarah Mae!"