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Practice Makes Perfect

By , Bluffton, SC

       Officer Rodriguez raises a piping hot cup of coffee up to his lips. The paper cup brushes against the coarse hairs of his mustache. The scalding liquid stings as it slithers down his throat. His eyes follow the tiny snowflakes as they gracefully land, one by one, onto the hood of the car. The fragments of ice and water, hypnotize him with their elegant dance. The police radio remains quiet, all that can be heard is the sound of the car’s heater. Rodriguez’s face is smooth, untouched by the hands of time. A callus hand knocks on the on the passenger side window. It is Officer Stewart Russell, a veteran to the force. Rodriguez unlocks the door to allow entry for his superior. Russell opens the door with one hand, while the other supports a hefty box of pastries. He dusts the snow off of his silver hair and slides into the passenger seat. Rodriguez takes another sip of his coffee as he watches his superior struggle to buckle his seatbelt. The seatbelt clicks into place, wrapped tightly around Officer Russell’s bulging pot belly. Rodriguez stays quiet, while Russell gorges himself in on the sweet pastries he purchased. He giggles in sweet sugary delight as he shoves a chocolate glazed doughnut into his mouth.


       “So, how was your first week on the job?” prodded Russell, with a mouthful of glazed doughnut.
        Officer Rodriguez stays silent, tracing the rim of his, now tepid coffee with his index finger. Russell glances down at Rodriguez’s bandaged left foot. It’s tightly wrapped up with a roll of gauze. The dressing is a stained beige color, accented by dirt and sweat.
        “What happened to your foot?”
        “You don’t want to know,” replies Rodriguez with a scowl.
        Officer Russell is growing impatient. “Is that any way to talk to your superior?”
        Rodriguez takes a long pause, staring at his right index finger still circling the cup. He sighs and finally giving in to Russell’s game. “I uh, pulled over a high school student yesterday.”
                                        *****
        Now, little did Officer Steven Rodriguez know that the high school student he pulled over was 16 year old Sarah Katz. It’s a small town after all. She is better known as a Jewish-American Princess with an “overreacting gene.” Spoiled as she already is, her parents gifted her a used 2012 black Acura RDX for her birthday. She’s only had her license for less than a year, but her parents put all of their trust in her. Her father, George Katz was so proud if his parenting “skills”, he bought himself a brand new 2017 Toyota 4Runner. George keeps the shiny vehicle parked in the driveway for all of the neighbors to see- a suburban dad’s dream.
       On this fateful morning, Sarah rushes to get to school. She jumps into her car and backs  it out of the garage without checking her rearview mirror. Ironically, during this very moment, her parents were bragging about how responsible their daughter is.
       “Our daughter is such a safe and responsible driver,” George muses.
       “She never speeds and always makes sure to check her mir-”
       The sound of the impact is earth shattering. The noise is loud enough to be heard all throughout the neighborhood. Fragments of glass are scattered all across the driveway. A metal part from George’s new car has found its way onto the cul-de-sac. A massive dent accompanies the back of Sarah’s car. Her right tail light is smashed to pieces. In response, Sarah begins to hyperventilate. Her parents run outside to the “crime scene.” Through a sea of snotty tears, Sarah manages muster up an apology.
       “ I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to- Please don’t be mad! I’m sorry!”
       Her father takes a long and hard look at the damage. He seems to be unfazed by the incident. George chuckles to himself and gives Sarah a bit of reassurance. “Well at least you backed into my car, and not someone else’s.” He hugs his daughter and sends her off to school with a broken tail light.
Sarah sobs over the steering wheel her whole route to school. She parks her dented car crooked into the spot. Sarah carefully tucks her dark curls behind her ears. Her bedazzled iPhone 7 vibrates, signalling a phone call. Sarah sniffles and swipes the touchscreen with a greasy finger. She answers the phone weakly.
       “Hi, Daddy.”
       “Shalom, Princess.”
       “I’m sorry!” Sarah cries out. Her eye makeup has traveled down to her chin.
       “Listen to me, we will take your car to get fixed after school. Okay?”
       Sarah lets out a quiet, “Okay.” She wipes away her wet tears with the back of her hand.
                                        *****
      “Rodriguez!” calls out Officer Stewart Russell.
      “Yes, sir.”
      “Congratulations on joining the force! You’re on ticket duty; don’t mess this up.” Officer Russell throws each word at       Rodriguez as if it were a dagger.
Rodriguez swallows hard. Beads of sweat begin to form on his unwrinkled forehead.
       “Of course, sir!”
       “Now, that’s what I like to hear,” muses Russell.
        Officer Rodriguez reluctantly gets into the cop car. He is shaking worse than a dog at the vet’s office. He takes one last look at Officer Russell and speeds away. Rodriguez parks the car off the side of the road near a local grocery store. He takes a deep breath and gives himself a pep talk.
        “You can do this. You can do this.”
        A pea-soup green minivan straight out of the 1970’s rockets by the cop car. Rodriguez’s grip tightens on the steering wheel.
       “You can do this.”
        He puts his lights on and chases after the car. The red and blue lights flash wildly as Rodriguez races down the highway in pursuit of the minivan. He manages to pull the car over into a patch of dead grass. Rodriguez hops out of the police car and knocks on the minivan's driver side window. Inside the car is an old woman roughly 70 years of age. She cranks down the window with a Marlboro cigarette wedged between her teeth. The old woman blows a cloud of smoke into Rodriguez’s face.
       “Ma’am, I need to see your license and registration.”
       “WHAT?!” the old woman yells in a raspy bravado.
       “License and registration,” Rodriguez repeats.
       The old woman snaps back, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
Rodriguez shivers as he stands knee deep in a fresh pile of snow. He repeats himself once more, “I need to see your license and registration.”
      “HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO ME LIKE THAT!” The old woman grows increasingly angry.
      “Ma’am, I just want to see your license and registration,” Rodriguez explains.
      The old woman thrusts her minivan into drive and speeds off, running over Officer Rodriguez’s left foot in the process. Rodriguez screams in pain, hot tears running down his frozen cheeks.
                                        *****
      Sarah and her father George head to a nearby auto repair shop in her car. They are greeted by a blonde curly haired woman in her early 40’s, carrying a clipboard. She flashes them her pearly white teeth.
      “Good afternoon! How can I help you?”
       Sarah explains her situation to the woman in detail.
The woman looks over her clipboard, flipping through pages and pages of names. Sarah glances over at her father, worried that they’ve made a mistake.
        “We can fix your tail light for you,” the woman chirps.
        “Great! When can I drop it off?” Sarah asks.
        “The next spot we have open is on December 21, 2020,” the woman replies.
         Sarah and George exchange looks of disapproval.
         “You don’t have any sooner dates available?”, George questions.
         “Nope!”   
         “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Sarah whines into the sleeve of her father’s shirt..
                                            *****
          Cars flock to work, advancing only an inch at a time in the morning rush hour. Officer Rodriguez hangs on the edge of his seat, bundled up in the embrace of wooly fabric. He munches on a cream cheese bagel as he waits for his cue. After a couple hours, the traffic begins to die down.  Officer Rodriguez’s eyes become heavy, he starts to drift off into dreamland. His mid slumber is interrupted by the screech of a swerving tan SUV.  Rodriguez jumps up, hits his head on the roof and turns the lights on. He speeds after the SUV, with adrenaline pumping through his veins. After pulling over the tan SUV, Officer Rodriguez slams the police car door behind him. He hobbles over to the car’s window, one leg at time, his heart racing and palms sweating. A woman no older than 30, rolls down the window. She scratches at the nest of scraggly brown hairs on top of her head. Her sunburnt skin is accented by a pair of heavy bags resting under eyes. An infant lays sprawled out on the car’s dash board with a diaper half-strapped on. The cries of noisy children can be heard in the backseat.
        “License and registration,” Rodriguez thunders.
        “SHUT UP!” the woman yells to the backseat.
        “Ma’am, I need to see your license and registration,” Rodriguez stands his ground.
         The woman rolls her eyes at Rodriguez and reaches for her glove box. She opens the glove box to see a pile of rotten, half eaten food. The woman digs through the glove box, squishing around the decaying compost. Officer Rodriguez cringes at the sight of it.
         “Can we reschedule this for later? I have to take my kids to a hockey game.”
          Rodriguez gives the woman a puzzled look, furrowing his brow.
          “Ma’am, I don’t think you understand how this works.”
           “Oh, I do. I’m just kind of busy right now. How about this, I’ll give you my phone number and we can reschedule for another time,” the woman proposes.
            Rodriguez tries to stand his ground, “I don’t- I can’t-”
            “I have to go now, so you call me and we’ll reschedule. Okay?”
             The woman speeds off, leaving Rodriguez speechless and confused.
                                           *****
            George and Sarah drive to another Auto Repair shop, hoping for better results. The icy wind stings the surface of their cheeks, as they arrive at the large building covered in glass panels. The floor inside the shop is so clean you could eat off of it. They are greeted by a slender young man wearing a gray suit.
           “Good morning. How can I be of service?” The man’s voice echos through the spacious floor room.
            Sarah tells the man about her broken tail light, making the situation seem as dire as possible. The man accepts her story and asks to take a look a the car. He diligently takes notes in a sleek black notebook, while examining the damaged vehicle.
            “I will be back with an estimate for the repairs,” the man notes.
            Sarah and George wait for the man in the lobby. Sarah uses her smartphone to catch up on the latest pop culture news, while George responds to emails. The man keeps them waiting for what seems like an eternity. Finally, the well dressed man returns carrying a stack of papers. He gently hands the papers over to George.
            “It will cost roughly $2296.00 to repair your car.”
            “Two thousand dollars for a broken tail light?!” George exclaims.
            The man breaks out into a childish laughter. “Oh heavens no! We have to fix much more than the tail light. The roof needs redone, entire car repainted, windows replaced and of course new leather interior!”
            “Who said anything about the interior?” questions Sarah.
             The man crouches down to Sarah’s level. He’s close enough to her face that she can smell his spearmint breath. “Oh honey, that car’s interior is trash.”
             George and Sarah exit the Auto Repair shop with their heads down, feeling defeat.
             “Are we ever going to get my car fixed?” Sarah whines.
             “I don’t know.”
                                            *****
             Officer Rodriguez mopes in his police car. He looks down at his newly bandaged left foot and groans. Rodriguez has reached the point of utter defeat. He is parked outside of the suburban town’s local high school, in hopes of finding a speeding teenager.
             “You can do this. You can- forget it! I’m spineless. How am I supposed to be a cop when I can’t even write out a measly citation!” Rodriguez smacks his head on the steering wheel, the car’s horn sounds off. The noise spooks a nearby gathering of turkey vultures. The turkey vultures scatter, leaving behind the remains of a decaying deer. When all hope seems to be lost, a black Acura RDX with a broken tail light drives by. Rodriguez lifts his head off of the wheel, rejuvenated by a chance to prove himself. He zooms after the Acura, quickly pulling it over onto the side of the frosted road. Officer Rodriguez emerges from the police car, putting all of his weight on his right foot. He storms over the Acura full of confidence. The car’s window rolls down to reveal a fearful Sarah Katz.
          “License and registration,” booms Rodriguez.
           Sarah nervously searches the car. Her face becomes drenched in sweat. She swallows hard to hold back the tears.
           “I don’t have all day,” Rodriguez prods.
            Sarah hands over her license and registration papers. “Officer, you have to understand that I’ve been trying to get my tail light fixed all week!”
             Rodriguez studies the documents in his hands and looks back at Sarah. “I have to give you a ticket.”
             "Officer, please! My parents will kill me,” Sarah begs.
              “I have to give you a ticket.”
              “Don’t give me a ticket.”
              “I’m giving you a ticket.”
              “No.”
              “ENOUGH!” Shouts Rodriguez.
               Officer Rodriguez writes a traffic citation for a broken tail light. He rips it off the notepad and hands it over to Sarah. Sarah looks down at the ticket and her face turns a sickly shade of green. Her lips pucker as tries to swallow back the bile forming at the back of her throat. In one foul motion, Sarah projectile vomits everywhere. The stench of her stomach contents fills the air. Rodriguez takes a wobbly step back, repulsed. Sarah’s salty tears trickle down her face mixing with the chunky vomit. Officer Rodriguez ignores her cries of pity and hobbles back to the police car.

                             

                                         *****                                                    

      "You gave that poor girl a ticket for a broken tail light?" 

        "Yes, yes I did sir," answers Rodriguez proudly.                          

       "You're not supposed to write out a citation for a broken tail light; that's a warning," scolds his superior.

         Rodriguez turns bright red. He sinks back into his seat, wanting to disappear. Officer Russell digs through the box of pastries. His hands search the box for a single surviving doughnut to satisfy his yearning sweet tooth. He pulls out a plain glazed doughnut and breaks it in half. Officer Russell turns to Rodriguez and offers him half of the sticky treat. Rodriguez shakes his head and slides further down his seat, nearly reaching the pedals.
          “C’mon Rodriguez, indulge a little. Consider it to be the perfect end to this trainwreck of a week.”
            A clammy hand extends over the median. It reaches out and accepts the doughnut. The hand then weakly retreats back into the abyss of fabric and leather.  




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