Driving

Out of all the feelings in the world her favorite was road rage. At fifteen and three-quarters – the old learner’s permit days – the thought of parallel parking alone had rendered her meek and faint of heart. But these days – these glorious, Chevrolet days – it was different; the pressure of the gas pedal on the ball of her foot and the force of the horn on the heel of her hand and the strained sound of her engine’s gyrating cylinders reminded her of her first slow dance in sixth grade – Robby Sigler held at breathless and trembling arms’ length in the darkened middle school gymnasium.

A fine evening it was for a drive: a Friday, brick buildings aglow from the setting sun, crafty coworkers sneaking out at 4:45 PM. Fifteen undetected free minutes were a small-scale victory for certain employees. She smiled at their quaint understanding of the passage of time and slid into her car.

She pulled onto the street that led to the freeway. Through the windshield of her Aveo she could already see traffic backed up, a string of vehicles motionless on the overpass near the on-ramp. She felt a surge of anticipation. Nothing riled her up more than 10 mph traffic juxtaposed with 65 mph speed limits. She veered onto the interstate and joined the other frustrated westbound drivers whose sun visors failed to protect their corneas from the brilliant sun. A few miles on the highway would do her good.

The congestion was fantastic and it did not take her long to find herself halted behind a station wagon with an entire car’s length of space open in front of it. Despite her staccato beeps, the driver would not go forward. At the same time, the lane to her left seemed to be moving faster. She had no problems managing the violent maneuver that allowed her to careen into the speedier path and flip off the slow-moving driver at the same time. Her gesture brought a stricken look to the face in the station wagon window. That wounded gaze never failed to tickle her. 

The evening had started off well and her heart was galloping. With so much feeling beginning to pool inside of her, she decided to take a risk. She swung off the interstate at the next exit and into the jumble of the city. Surface streets weren’t always exciting – but when they were, they were golden.

Sure enough, at a stoplight, a man in a Lincoln Mark-LT caught her attention by yelling across the lane. Some people might have said this guy needed a haircut but she’d always had a penchant for shaggy ‘dos.

“Hey, my name is Jared!” he called. “What’s your phone number?” He played debonair, and winked.

Still, his hip haircut could not assuage the anger she felt about all life’s missed opportunities. The light turned green and she took great pleasure in flooring her vehicle away. Jared strained to follow. In her rear view mirror she saw his truck, his silhouette hunched over his steering wheel, ready for pursuit.

She raced down the road but the next stoplight was already yellow, and then it was red. She continued accelerating until the intersection was only thirty feet ahead, then heaved her car to a stop. Her body bumped forward until her safety belt locked and threw her back.

She looked at the traffic signal as Jared pulled up next to her. “This could be true love!” he shouted with a grin, but she stared straight ahead. The traffic in the intersection was not as heavy as it could be.

“Come on now, I’m a nice – what the hell?” he yelled as she pounded down on the accelerator, turned left on red, tires spinning a bit, rocketed in front of the Mark-LT and then past it and into the perpendicular trickle of cars. A honk sounded behind her and she blasted her own horn back with a livid force before cutting off an SUV by swerving to the right into a placid suburban neighborhood. Now Jared would be gone for good.

The feeling of losing him was sublime. Dusk light gleamed through tiny spaces in between tree leaves. There was a moment, just a moment, when she breathed in an unsavory thought: what if it had been true love? Jared had been a cretin, but his eyes had shown a sparkle. She threw that thought aside and left it on the asphalt behind her. She drove fast away from it.

The thing that her tire sped over was pale brown and squeaked upon impact. For a second she pressed her foot down harder, going faster; but she was not eleven anymore and so could no longer forever run away. She understood this and stopped. There was no shoulder to the road so she turned on her emergency blinkers, got out of the car, and walked back to the place where she’d felt the bump.

The dog was not leaking very much blood. Only two parts of it moved: the ribcage in shallow shivers, and the eyelids in teary blinks. She knelt next to it on the pavement but she did not touch it. After a few moments the ribcage stopped moving, and then the eyelids. And then she heard a screen door closing on one of the roadside houses, and a young boy ran out into the street and stared into the dog’s stagnant eyes.

“Was this your dog?” she asked him, but he turned away from the dog and looked instead at her. In his face she saw something she’d seen before – a betrayal, flavored with youth and the certainty of no forgiveness.

The sadness, the great impaled potential, the faraway burn: oh, Robby.

The dance had ended. She had spotted her parents’ van in the school parking lot but Robby’s messy brown hair and tilted smile had made her brave. She had grabbed his hand and squeezed his fingers tight, pulling him behind an ornamental maple. With his back against the bark she had kissed him the way movie stars kissed. Neither of them wore braces so such things were possible. Then, with the rest of her life rising up like a majestic lion in front of her, she had run out fast to the waiting van in the parking lot, bursting quietly with the promise of romance. After that she did not talk to Robby ever again.

Tears were in her eyes and throat and the kid’s too as she grasped his hands. The bones of his fingers were tiny and snappable.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Tell me what I can do to fix this. I can fix it if you tell me what to do.”

The kid looked away. He would not say a word. The sun plummeted then, far below the horizon, and all was timeless and black.