Tina walked up the driveway, as she did every evening at half past six, and glanced at the Toyota Corolla that sat under the carport. She should start it up, maybe this weekend. It would only take a few minutes, rev the engine, maybe drive around the block. It might not start at all. That would be the preferable outcome. The battery could be dead and she would have another excuse to add to her list of reasons for not driving. The list had grown over the last two years. Tina had memorized it for those occasions when someone, well intending, would ask why she didn’t drive:
- Taking the bus was environmentally correct
- She saved money by not driving
- She got more exercise walking to and from the bus stops
- She got even more exercise walking to the grocery store
- She was putting off buying a new car
- She hated downtown traffic
- The freeway depressed her
- The smell of gasoline gave her a headache
Nowhere on the list, however, did Tina mention her abject terror of veering, willfully, across the median and into an oncoming truck.
The phone rang promptly at 7:00, as it did every weeknight. Rodney was considerate about giving Tina time to pour herself a glass of wine, kick off her flats, and flop on the couch. They talked about their day, how Rodney had back-to-back meetings and Tina finished the Crozell project, a landscaping job on the west side that required tricky tiers of stone and signage for a real estate firm. In her head, Tina was thinking, “Yada, yada, yada.”
She was on the downhill side of lust. It was familiar territory. She wasn’t proud of it, would have preferred to be in love. Yet, each time she saw Rodney, especially over the last month, she noticed annoying behavioral tics that made her cringe. It was like being in an empty room with someone chewing and snapping gum. Pretty soon, all you hear is that snapping and chewing, snapping and chewing, until you just want to punch something.
Things Rodney did that bothered her: He talked with his mouth filled with food, and every word revealed a gob of scrambled eggs or pie poking out of his mouth. If he ate garlicky food, all of his pores reeked the next morning. His apartment was filthy. Tina felt claustrophobic, surrounded by magazines about sport fishing and investments, bags of fast food wrappers and French fry containers, stacks of CDs and DVDs, all dusty, big clunky furniture that swallowed Tina, at 5’2”, whole. He watched bowling on TV. Bowling.
The conversation was just days away. She could feel it coming on, like knowing you need to fire an employee who is playing solitaire online instead of typing up that report. She dreaded it but knew if she didn’t end it, she would instead begin listing, out loud, all the things that annoyed her. She would become, in short, a bitch.
She had reasons, she would explain to Rodney. She had a kinder, gentler list: I’m not ready to settle down. Our pets don’t get along. I need to focus on my job. You deserve better. That was her favorite: you deserve better.
Tina respected lists. They demonstrated organized thinking. In the movie High Fidelity, John Cusack’s character made Top Ten lists for everything. She loved John Cusack.
She poured herself another glass of wine. If she could drive, she could just leave. If she could drive, she could go toward something – an interstate, a country road, the parking lot at Saks that took two transfers and an hour to reach by bus. The wine loosened her up, made her a little cocky. She fantasized about instantly transporting herself, not by car, bus, or her own legs, but through a space-age device.
She drank another glass, grabbed her keys, made her way to the Corolla. Opening the door, she sneezed, the musty air rising out of the interior. She started it up and let it run for a few minutes. She opened the windows, took a deep breath, put the car in reverse, backed out the driveway, and headed down Ash Street. Just as she turned onto California Ave., she veered to avoid a truck that was driving left of center–she drove over the low suburban curb and hit a mailbox. Tina got out of the car. She never looked back, she just kept walking.