In the rearview he watches the couple arguing. He adjusts the mirror and leans back, a wide-screen performance just for him. The woman is throwing her arms around, gesticulating madly and flailing about inside the tiny car behind him. Her dude smokes an e-cig, blowing fumes out the window, oblivious to how stupid he looks sucking on the silver dildo. It’s too fascinating and difficult to turn away from: the woman is all emotion, flickering between intimate sadness and sheer outrage, while the dude displays complete indifference to it all. The couple behind him are in the midst of something final. He’s always felt a certain satisfaction in witnessing the endings of things, as long as they’re not his own endings, maybe. There’s an impossible itch on his finger, just beneath his wedding band.
The highway is a clogged artery. Everyone else is angry, too. It’s hot—an overcast but still-sizzling sort of September afternoon—and vehicles are barely more than stranded monoliths on the blacktop, some of them idling in defiance, horns blaring for no real reason. The radio says a logging truck tipped over five miles up the highway. Logs all over the road. At first he laughed to himself, remembering some old joke about two logging trucks passing one another on the road; one going one way, the other coming from there. The punchline was something along the lines of, Why deliver logs if you already have logs?
It’s not funny anymore though, not after sitting here for an hour. Now it’s personal. He hopes that someone died up ahead to make this backup worth it. It’s only a passing idea floating through him, but still, he questions his sanity a little for having had such a dark, unfair thought in the first place.
He switches from the news back to satellite radio, catching the tail end of Gavin Rossdale growling on about Zen, or a lack thereof. Car horns continue to honk all around him.
Looking back to the mirror, the couple behind him is still fighting. She clearly mouths an exasperated Fuck! and her face falls into her own waiting hands. He wishes he knew the details of what else was being discussed. If only he could read lips. The woman, she certainly has a lot to say, though he wonders how much of it is simply repeating the same points? Around and around. Arguments tend to work that way, he’s noticed. Especially as they get closer to the end. She’s trying to remain in control, but is visibly shaking, weeping. A breeze whistles by, blowing the grass on the side of the highway. How does the green grass continue to live and grow out here in this hopeless stretch of land? It seems impossible to him. Something furry darts through the grass, wild, and not affected at all by traffic jams.
The entire song ends before anyone on the road has made another inch of progress. He hits the Previous Track button to listen to it again. When he looks back up into the mirror, the car behind him is making a reckless U-turn through some rocks and grass, and crosses over into the northbound lane. Some of the flying rocks ricochet off the side of his car.
The dude’s car is already a mile away when he spots the woman standing alone on the
highway. She holds herself, the hot day’s dust sticking to her wet cheeks. He’s opening the passenger door and waving her over before he even realizes he’s waving her over.
She climbs in. There’s a moment—if bottled, it would surely be a moment worth examining for generations—where her stop-motion tears say nearly everything that needs to be said. No further evidence is necessary. She wears linen pants and a jean jacket, frayed all over. He almost asks if she was in a fight, if that’s why the jacket is all torn up, but then realizes that of course his jokey comment would only be misinterpreted, and she’d be getting out of her second car in as many minutes. Instead, he asks her if she’s all right.
She says, I had a dream about this accident, you know? Like a precognitive vision. I knew this was going to happen but got into his fucking car anyway. I guess instead of finding opportunities to avoid the tough conversations and inevitable conclusions, I found a way for us to have no alternative.
He doesn’t know a thing about precognizance, but she has lovely hands he notices, as she holds them tightly, restraining herself from flailing them around like she’d done while arguing with her boyfriend. Husband. Or whatever he was to her. He asks again, But you’re all right? There are crystalline cracks breaking through the stratocumulus clouds above. Thin, silver grins of unknown intent.
She says, Something’s not right. My doctor hasn’t gotten back to me yet with the test results. They all think it’s brain cancer, I know they do. I know it isn’t. Who do you think would know better, really? I do have a mole on my leg that I’m worried about. I didn’t mention the mole to my doctor. It didn’t even occur to me to ask him about it, but that’s going to happen when someone says the words ‘brain cancer’ to your face a few times. You’re going to forget things. The mole is on my inner thigh. I’d show you but I don’t think that’s appropriate. It’s pretty high up. I can feel it right now. See? Right here, right under my pants. Something is going to kill me—kill us all—in the end though. It honestly doesn’t matter if we lose all the antidepressants and calcium and vitamin D supplements and antibiotics and L-thyroxine; we’re still going to get sick, aren’t we? None of that shit matters. Finally, she wipes her eyes, looks in the rearview herself, maybe checking to see if the dude is coming back. He’s an asshole. He told me it must be brain cancer, too. And what am I supposed to do with that? She turns to him now, maybe for the first time. He thinks her forehead is really pretty. What do I do with that?
His hands still grip the wheel, at the 11:55 and the 12:05 positions. He covers up the ring on his finger with his other hand, and suggests some things were maybe not ever meant.
Meant to BE, I should have said.
She says, We all started off happy, each and every one of us. Otherwise, why would we have gotten involved in these things in the first place? What would the point have been?
He flicks the same song back to the start for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time now. He’s lost count. He confesses he was on his way to sign the divorce papers, though he’s never going to make it now because of the logs all over the highway somewhere up ahead there.
She suggests, Maybe you had a vision of the accident, too? And here you are now, right in the middle of this mess, enabling your other mess to continue on. At some point, you need to step out of that car in the middle of the highway. Metaphorically. Horns continue to blare as she processes her own conclusions to her own observations. Shit. I forgot my bag in his car.
Things never seem to end so easily, he says. There’s always a bit of a mess left behind.
Thanks for listening, she says. Hey, do you think anyone died up there?
He looks at her and they both laugh just a little.
I sure hope so.