The Car Hurdles

March 8, 2008
By Mary Margaret Fessler, Canton, MI

The car hurdles into the 24-hour metro-mart, skidding on patches of ice. She parks the car horizontally across three parking spaces, the engine shuddering. Watches the windshield wipers pull flecks of snow off the scratched glass.
It was slippery. It was dark. It wasn’t her fault.
She exhales. Draws a deep breath, hands clenched so tight that even in the deep night she can see the veins etched on the back of her hand. A long low curse whistles out her parted mouth. She licks her lips. Grasps onto the wheel a little tighter.
She can see the store’s glowing sign pulsing through the snow flakes and is surprised when a single thought pushes its way through the clouded mist of her brain.
She’d really, really like some gum. Or a coke. Or anything. Heck, a cigarette sounds great and she doesn’t even smoke.
It takes several decades to unclench her fist from the leather of the wheel. Another four to open the car door and step into the snow.
The market doors open without her, parting magically, which makes her grateful. The floresant lights bring tears to her eyes. She’d like to curl up and sleep suddenly. Make a bed for herself under the mango display and dream about papayas.
She walks down the freezer isle, picks up a savings flyer left on the display of vanilla wafers. Eyes bouncing off the promises of two for one boxes of frosted flakes and baby carrots.
She looks down into the freezer case and catches her reflection. She sees the scared, pale face of a seventeen year old. She remembers that face. God, it was so alive just a few hours ago. She saw that face, in the amber glass of the beer bottle, cheeks rosy, dark grey eyes crinkled at the edges in laughter. It’s gone. It’s dying now. Lots of things are dying tonight.
She passes frozen foods. Tiptoes through cereals, on edge. She makes her way up to the front of the store slowly. She does look at the cigarettes; all cased in behind the plexiglass and considers asking for a pack and a lighter. She doubts severely that she would even be asked for id. Decides against it. By the time the police arrive, she doesn’t want any more trouble than she has already. It’s a dull, almost painful thought; in the way that she doesn’t even find it strange that she has to contemplate her own demise. Even expects it. It is so totally regular that her life has changed in half an hour.
The first pack of gum she sees, she grabs. She’s not really sure what flavor or brand, she just takes it, passing it to the heavyset woman behind the register. Even with the bad eighties hair and the industrial smock, she wishes she were that cashier. She wishes she was anyone but herself.
As the doors slide open once again, she looks up at the moon. Snow flakes have stopped falling but hang suspended, like wishes in the air.
“I’m sorry.”
But no one is there to catch the sound.

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