Broke Down by Martha Maggio
I hate this car.
I was driving home from the dinky, little office job I had snatched up and latched onto a few weeks ago. It was in the next town over and totally mindless. I knew if I stayed home any longer, I would shave my head again and break the promise I made to Syl. So, I was making money and not driving anyone crazy, but I had to drive myself crazy (and to work) in this strange, ridiculous, impractical vehicle every day. I asked him not to buy it, but he made it clear that it was important to him. How could I argue with a dying person?
But now I’m stuck with it. I was just another SUV in the drop-off line. Another SUV in the fast lane. Another gas-guzzling, soul-sucking status symbol.
I’ve got to trade this in.
But then I knew what that would mean. Dealing with a car salesman.
You can wait.
All I seemed to do these days was wait. Wait for the pain to go away, wait for his benefits to come in the mail, wait for my child to talk to me, wait in this endless line of traffic to get on the highway. I couldn’t see much past wipers, rain and blurry red taillights.
I turned on the radio while I waited. Probably a wreck. I hadn’t even really looked at all the features on the dash. I started pushing buttons. I opened the console. The sunglass nook. And then the glove box.
Did anyone keep gloves in there anymore? Do they still call it a glove box?
And on top of the owner’s manual was an envelope. My name was printed on the front.
I could hear him say my name. His voice, not mine. My face liquified at the sound.
Why do I look at myself in the mirror when I cry?
The rearview mirror was right there and too tempting to avoid.
Feel this. Look at this.
The tears reminded me of streaked ammonia over a well-paced linoleum floor. I mopped them up with some napkins from the glove box. I pulled over to the side of the road and pushed my hazards on. The light wouldn’t come on.
Dammit. I hate this car.
Finally, the button depressed. Some slow, left-over drops fell from my chin and onto the paper as I tore the envelope open. My phone dinged. It was a text from my mom. But I had to read this first.
I know you didn’t want this beast of a car. But I wanted it for you and Syl. It’s the safest car on the road. I wanted my girls to be safe. It’s the last thing I could do for you. I love you. You’re the last woman I’ll ever love and I’m so thankful for that. Don’t sell it. Keep it.
I love this car.
I just sat in the car. By the curb. In the rain. I read the letter over and over again. I wasn’t aware of the time until my phone chimed again. This time, a text from Syl.
Soon Enough by Lillian Maggio
I’m quitting school. I’m running away. And I’m taking Max with me.
I sat in the back of the bus. Max had gone home early with a bloody nose and I was riding home alone. It was Garrett’s stupid fault.
I’m okay, I’m okay. It was my fault. I should have controlled myself. I’m okay. Don’t worry.
That’s what he would have said. He would have tried to make everything better. And it would have worked. We would have forgotten all about it and laughed and talked and shared secrets. Just like always. But he wasn’t there.
Garrett had been at it again, taking people’s seats and annoying everyone. This time he took my seat, even though no one else but Max even sat at our table. I sat across from Garret, so I was still next to Max, and the two of us would have ignored Garrett.
He isn’t even there.
But Max had other thoughts.
“Excuse me,” he said, not looking up from his tray, “but that’s where my friend usually sits.”
Garrett looked at him with a smirk. “So?” he almost-snarled. “You gonna do somethin’ about it?”
Max took a deep breath. “I was going to ask you to move.” He cleared his throat. “Now.”
Garrett decided that he didn’t really want to move anywhere for anyone.
I replayed the scene in my head as I got off the bus, walking towards my house. People had been jerks before, but this was the first time I had seen a real fight break out. Well, more of a one-sided fight. Max didn’t really have much time to damage Garrett’s face before a teacher stepped in.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. But sweet.
I tried to open the door, but of course, it was locked. I rang the doorbell and waited for a long time, but nobody came. I looked behind me. No cars in the driveway. There was nobody else home.
I was all alone.
I pulled out my student ID card and tried to jimmy the door open like I had seen a girl do on the Internet. Unfortunately, no luck. And now my ID was all chewed up.
I walked over to the window and looked through. There wasn’t much to see. Harold barked at me, and I got a ridiculous idea that Max would have appreciated.
“Harold!” I shouted. “Open the window!” I banged on the glass, but he just scampered off into the kitchen. So much for man’s best friend.
If I really have to get in, I can always break the window. But that’s just a last resort.
I gulped, hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
I walked around the back of the house. More windows, none of which could be opened from the outside. I did a full circle around the house—two full circles. But nothing came to me. By then it was nearly four o’clock. My legs were tired, my feet hurt, and I was soaking wet from the rain. I was angry. Exhausted. Frustrated.
Oh, Mom, I guess I’m gonna get kidnapped and raped now! It’s always “Go straight to the front door when you get off the bus so nobody grabs you!” Well, if you’re so worried about me, where are you now, huh? Where the hell are you now!?
I need to text mom.
I sent a message to my mom and no reply. After a few minutes, I called my grandmother and asked if she knew where mom was. She hadn’t heard anything and I set off Grandma’s crazy button. “Oh my god, she’s dead.” She said she would try to call or text Mom and see if she could reach her. “Don’t move,” she said.
Where would I go??
I stomped my feet, I kicked the dirt, I cursed loud enough for the whole world to hear me. And then I lay down in the grass, defeated. I looked longingly through the window into my room. Harold looked back at me, head cocked to the side, as if to ask, “Hey, why aren’t you in here giving me food?”
And I burst into insane laughter. I was sitting outside, covered in mud, while a dog sat in my bed and stared at me. And then I thought: dogs are outside all the time, and they never had any trouble getting back in. They go through the dog door!
The freaking dog door.
I jumped over the railing of the porch steps leading up to the back patio, almost gleeful at my realization.
I am a toothpick! Like all the kids said for years. Of course I will fit through the dog door!
I lifted the flap and stuck my arms in, then pulled the rest of my body through.
I am a genius.
After my little happy dance, I breathed the warm inside air. My smile began to fade, and I was pulled back into reality.
I’m all alone.
I flopped onto the couch, barely holding back tears. Harold was licking them off as they fell.
I wish my dad was here. I wish I could sit and cry on his shoulder and talk to him and he would make everything better. Just like before. Before. Our heartbeats. Together.
My phone chimed inside my pocket.
A happy-sounding anime pet told me I had a new text from Mom. I checked my messages, hoping for comfort.
SO SORRY! ON MY WAY! Wreck on highway. Just got Gma’s txt after I read urs. Be there soon! XOXO
I texted her back.
Grandma’s not here. I’m all alone. Rough day. Will you be here soon?
A few seconds later, there was another chime.
I will. Soon. Real soon. 10 mins?
Not soon enough.