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“Crosswalk” by Randall Yamanaka


Arvin Douglas wasn’t much of a man. He’d never stood up to a bully in school. He never scored the winning touchdown for Yale (in fact, he never even went to Yale). He’d worked at the store for 33 years. He’d had one promotion in all that time, to assistant sales manager. And despite his dreams, he never came close to being on the store’s “Executive Leadership Team.” But he never walked in late and he never left work early. He’d been married to Joanne for almost 30 years, but he wasn’t always faithful. When he was younger, he had had flings with a few of the cashiers. But nothing in the last twenty years or so. As he got older and fatter and balder, he found the girls harder to impress, so he stopped trying.

Everyone liked Joanne Douglas. She worked part time at the YWCA. Her coworkers felt sorry for her, being married to Arv. Arv had a tendency to spend the weekends watching football and drinking beer. Typical guy stuff. He didn’t go out for walks with her anymore. He blamed his arthritic knees. They lived in a house willed to them by Joanne’s mother. Together, they made just enough to pay the bills. Her friends thought Arv was stupid. Arv wasn’t stupid. He was smart enough to know his wife probably deserved better. He was smart enough to look in the mirror and dislike what he saw. So he just stopped looking.

On one rainy Tuesday morning, the general manager told Arv to report to Human Resources. Dutifully, he did so. He never expected to be laid off. Not after 33 years of service. But there it was. Business was falling off, they said. Cutbacks all over the store, they said. “Thank you for your service,” they said. Then they handed him a packet with information on how to apply for unemployment. They smiled when they told him he would be paid for the remainder of the pay period, as if this was a legacy from God Himself. And they also told him he was expected to clean out his desk by the Close of Business today.

There was nothing to clean out. Some old paperbacks he read on his lunch breaks. Paperclips hiding in the drawer, mixed in with old fingernail clippings. Sales vouchers in his in-basket. This was what was left of a faithful employee after a lifetime of work: Dust. He was too ashamed to say goodbye to his colleagues. He grabbed his coat off the coatrack and walked out the back door. What would become of him? Nobody would hire him at his age and he was still a decade away from Social Security. He could file for unemployment, but how long would that last? They’d have to sell the house and find a cheap apartment by the freeway.

He was in a stupor as he walked to the bus stop. This just couldn’t be happening, he thought. How was he going to tell his wife? The sound of the engine snapped him out of it. He looked up to see the big truck coming at him. He could see the young driver wasn’t even looking his way. He looked down and saw the thick white lines. He had the crosswalk! How could he get hit in a crosswalk? He thought he just had time to jump out of the way, but then he saw the city emblem on the truck.

There were two independent witnesses to the accident. No doubt about it; the city was liable for the death of one Arvin Douglas, assistant sales manager at a local department store. The coroner told Mrs. Douglas that death had been instantaneous and painless. But that’s just something coroners and doctors tell families to make them feel better. They don’t really know. And certainly in the case of one Arvin Douglas, the coroner was just talking out her ass. Because Arv did feel the big tires crushing his legs, his ribs, his organs. It really happened in slow motion for him. Joanne had given him 30 years of devotion. He gave her these final seconds.

Joanne never knew Arv had been laid off. In fact, the company president called him the finest employee the store ever had at his memorial service. And because his layoff wasn’t effective until COB that day, Arv had still been a company employee in good standing when the accident occurred. Joanne received the company life insurance sum and social security benefits. And the city negotiated a handsome settlement. It didn’t matter that it was raining or that the driver had a perfect driving record.  The fact is, the victim in this case was in a marked crosswalk when he was hit. And there was no defense for that.

As the final benefit, Joanne got an honorary 40% discount card to the store. Good for Life.


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