Fiction · 04/26/2017

Reckless

And you decide to leave the brewery and go to dinner in separate cars, because even though it is your fifth date, he has still not made room for you in the cab of his truck, still has not moved the cherry-red, sixty-pound toolbox that squats in the passenger seat. And even though your car is parked several blocks away from his, in an unlit section of shuttered houses, chain link fences and rundown auto shops, he does not offer to walk you. Instead, he keeps his high beams trained on your back as you pick your way towards your car in flimsy sandals, stumbling over broken concrete, torn asphalt and glittering shards of glass, his headlights splaying your shadow across the battered road. You wonder if his blazing vigilance should reassure you that he cares, even if it’s not the way you are expecting, but this seems like something that should be felt, not thought. By the time you turn your car around, he is already gone.

And because you are preoccupied with these thoughts, on the short drive to meet him at the restaurant, you miss the cop car lying in wait to your right. You utter a hushed expletive, as if the officer might hear you, and quickly check your speedometer, the electric orange needle hovering around fifty-four, close enough to ten over that you feel no sense of relief. You have given him reason enough to stop you.

And sure enough, the cop car pulls silently into the road behind you. Suddenly you are thinking about the beer flights you had earlier, trying to add up how many small “tastings” in espresso glasses equal one drink. Four? Six? He ordered sixteen to share, which seemed excessive yet generous in a way that you hadn’t seen from him before. So you said nothing, choosing to be agreeable over responsible, because it was easier and what he would likely find more attractive. So divide by two, maybe three. You don’t remember how evenly distributed the drinking was, just that he always seemed to take more. You check the clock on the dashboard to see how much time has elapsed since you first arrived at the brewery, an hour and a half ago, or was it less? You can’t remember. The place had been so packed, maybe it’s only been an hour since your first sip and just a few minutes since your last.

And because you are doing math under duress, which you haven’t done since your junior year of high school, and because you are overeager to escape the cop as soon as you can, you pull into the left turn lane at the next intersection too early. He immediately follows you there, and you imagine what you must look like to him, your silhouette backlit by the cars in front of you. You feel as naked and exposed as you did seven years ago, when you went to jail for this very thing, drinking and driving. The first in your group of scared, twenty-something girls to go behind the wall, remove your clothes, bend over and cough. Are you wearing a tampon, the guard had asked, already knowing the answer. Take it out, she said.

But the jail time had been the least of it because it lasted only twenty-four hours, though for several weeks thereafter the top Google search result for your name was your inmate listing. The other ramifications dragged out for months. Thousands of dollars paid to your lawyer, who ultimately lost your case after fifteen months, despite the traffic expert he convinced you to fly in and offer testimony for $250/hour. More than a year of lying to your boss about phantom doctor’s appointments in order to make your court dates. Three months of waking up at 4:00 a.m. to take the city bus to and from work while your license was revoked. The ignition interlock device that shrieked at you each time you started your car and at random times thereafter, that you had to swaddle like a baby in an old towel when you exited your vehicle to keep it from overheating in the sun and refusing to start when you needed it to. But probably worst of all was the realization that who you thought you were was a lie.

And you spot a break in the onslaught of headlights and pray the gap is small enough for only you to turn, that the cop will get held up waiting for more cars to pass. But it isn’t and he follows. You’re almost at the point you want him to stop toying with you already and just flip the damn lights, but so far, for whatever reason, he hasn’t. If you can only make it to the next residential right, the street that runs behind the restaurant, you could be scot-free.

And as you steel yourself for this final maneuver, you glance in the rearview mirror one last time, only to find the road behind you empty and dark, the cop having pulled into the parking lot of the towering Presbyterian church to your right. You would pull in there yourself if he hadn’t done so already, and drop to your knees in gratitude, swear to God Buddha Allah the universe the stars Mother Earth that this will never, ever happen again. But in reality, you’re not so sure it won’t. Instead, you imagine your date sitting in a red vinyl booth, skimming fantasy football scores on his phone, ready to order without you, perhaps wondering what’s taking you so long, but not if you’re OK. Meanwhile, in the parking lot, his prized toolbox sits safe and snug — perhaps even belted in — in the passenger seat of his truck. You don’t think you’ve felt that valued or secure once in your whole life. But because it is the easy thing, you decide to see the evening through, though you vow it will be your last with him.

+++

Janelle Drumwright is the assistant director and a teacher at The Writers Studio Tucson in Arizona. Her work has appeared in the Mulberry Fork Review and the Naugatuck River Review. A winner of Carve Magazine’s First Annual Blog Contest, she continues to blog for Carve with a focus on tips for writers. You can find her at janellewrites.com.