OTTO E MEZZO —Daphne Bellflower


She sat in her 10-year-old Honda CRV, tapping her foot impatiently. She missed her Volvo, missed her BMW, but didn’t miss the repair and upkeep costs. Still, the Honda sucked. She stared out the chipped windshield into the pouring rain. A long line of cars sat motionless as far as she could see down Fourth Avenue.

She turned to her husband, who was driving. “Have you seen 8-1/2?” Federico Fellini? Marcello Mastroianni?”

She stared at him expectantly, waiting for his reply. She was sure he hadn’t seen 8-1/2. His extensive knowledge of football and soccer precluded watching Criterion collection movies. After living with him for 20 years, she realized a person had to log a lot of time in front of the TV several nights a week to collect such a treasure trove of non-essential information.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye as the light turned red. She had angry outbursts every time they were in the car, but this angle was new. Typically it annoyed him, but tonight he decided to play along.

“Why?” he asked, his eyes on the traffic. “Why 8-1/2?

She looked at him to determine if he was mocking her or humoring her. She decided on the latter.

“OK, it’s 8-1/2, it’s the opening scene, it’s a classic of modern cinema. Marcello is stuck in traffic, bored and frustrated. Sitting in the traffic jam begins to drive Marcello insane; cars and buses aren’t moving, and everyone is sitting motionless, dead-eyed in their cars. Marcello gets claustrophobic, and his car starts to fill with smoke. He rolls down his window and floats out, high above the traffic, flying over it until he gets away from all those cars.”

She paused, and thought a minute, “I know how Marcello felt; all those awful drivers, just sitting there like a bunch of idiots. It’s no wonder he gets pissed off and floats out of his car.” She giggled and shook her head. “Lucky he wasn’t in Seattle traffic, he probably would have shot someone instead.”

He glanced at her, amused. “Are you sure you have that right? Doesn’t that scene foreshadow Marcello’s nervous breakdown? I think it’s a dream. Doesn’t he wake up in mental hospital?”

She frowned. She forgot he didn’t just like sports; apparently he was also a fan of Italian cinema. In fact he was right. How could she forget the meaning of that scene. It infuriated her; apparently the winner of the Honda CRV’s most intellectual passenger award would not be going to her this evening. She decided it must be the gas fumes.

The driver of the minivan in front of the CRV slammed on the brakes at a yellow light. “Damn it,” she yelled, “this is the second freaking time this jackass missed the light. This is downtown Seattle for Christ’s sake, not Enumclaw on a Sunday morning. Ugh.” She shot him an angry look. “So why the hell haven’t you changed lanes and gotten around this idiot? Do we have to stare at that Enumclaw PTA bumper sticker for the next hour?”

“We had this conversation last week,” he said. “I told you I would not drive anywhere with you unless you stopped this insane behavior every time we get in the car” He looked up and saw the light was still red. He supposed she was right about the minivan.

“If you want to drive, drive” he said. “Keep your driving critiques to yourself.” He was now also pissed off at the minivan driver, and mad at her for pointing it out.

But she was just starting, waving her hands in the air. “Seriously, can ANYONE in the northwest drive? Short answer: no. No, no, and no. They can’t merge on the freeway, they can’t figure out a four-way stop, they drive 55 in the left lane, they pass to the right, and for some insane reason they can’t drive in the rain. And it’s always raining here.”

An Impala abruptly darted in front of the CRV from the right lane, forcing him to slam on the brakes. The car skidded on the wet road. “Oh, and that idiot reminds of my very favorite northwest driving habit,” she continued, “the one where turn signal use is optional, like air-conditioning or seat warmers.”

The traffic, the rain, and her yelling were getting to him, again. “Look, this is the last time we are having this discussion. Do you remember the fight we got in last week during the car ride? It ruined our night. The next time we go somewhere, you’re driving. Period. I’ve had it with this bullshit.”

She was only half-listening to him. She saw a BMW stop abruptly in the left lane next to the Hotel Monaco, hazard lights blinking. The BMW’s trunk popped open. She leaned over him and alternated between honking the horn, pounding on his window, and flipping off the elderly couple unloading their luggage. “What the HELL, who the hell just stops in the middle of the road?!” she yelled through the window. The valet attendant stared.

He managed to get her to stop honking the horn and pounding his window. She could be a handful, one he didn’t feel like dealing with tonight.

“That’s it, I’m getting out,” he said, “I’ll take a cab and meet you there. You aren’t ruining another Friday night.” He grabbed his coat out of the back seat, and fumbled with the door. “Get your California small-town ass into the driver’s seat. I’ll see you later. That’s your final traffic tantrum.”

She grabbed at him as he was trying to exit the CRV. The Hotel Monaco valet had dropped all pretense of assisting the elderly couple with their luggage; the entertainment value of watching them fight was well worth a reduced tip.

“WAIT,” she yelled, “just wait, just wait a minute. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Nope,” he said, “you’ve been sorry about your freak-outs for years. But nothing changes. Like I said, you’re going to drive yourself from now on.” He pulled on his coat and got out of the car.

She scrambled over the cup holder and into the driver’s seat. “Get in. Quit being a jerk. I’ll drive.” He looked at her and grimly crossed in front of their car toward the passenger door. He glared at the Monaco valet. “Shouldn’t you move that car? It’s blocking traffic.”

She drove around the blinking BMW, passed the minivan, and sped through a yellow light. “I’ll stop twice at the next one. My dad used to say that.” She glanced over at him. No smile. He just sat there with his arms crossed.

“Hey, did you know Enumclaw has a thriving bestiality community? There’s a movie about it.” She glanced at him to gauge his reaction to this bit of information. She sensed a mild interest, but he was still too angry at her to take the bait.

Traffic was at a complete standstill again, this time due to a group of tourists drifting across Fourth against the light. No car could move until until the last tourist straggled into P.F. Changs. She didn’t honk the horn or even comment. She snuck another quick look at him.

“So,” she said, “let’s say you’re on vacation, you’re in the great foodie city of Seattle, and you can’t resist the lure of P.F. Changs. Tomorrow night, I bet it’s the Cheesecake Factory. What do you think?” He shook his head and laughed. “What do you have against the Cheesecake Factory?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a black town car zoom across three lanes of traffic, dart in front of her, and come to a screeching halt about six inches away from their passenger side bumper. She slammed on her brakes and slapped the wheel in frustration.

“Jesus, what the hell are you doing! You ASSHOLE.” She starting laying on the horn. “What the hell is wrong with you? How did you get a driver’s license?” Sensing his anger, she turned to look at him, furious too. “It’s not me, it’s not my fault. It’s these complete idiots driving like maniacs. Right? You have to admit I’m right.”

“Yes,” he said, “there are a lot of bad, really awful drivers on the road. You know this. I know this. So what’s your problem? You’re going to wake up in an institution like Marcello if you can’t drop this.”

She pulled over to the Westin’s load zone, and took a deep breath. “So here’s the thing,” she said. “Here’s my problem.”

“Let me guess,” he interrupted, “your sisters used to tease you when you were all in the car together. It’s your sisters right? In addition to everything else, they’ve ruined driving for you.”

She glared at him. “I wish. I killed someone in a car accident the first year I lived in Seattle.”

He sat up, startled. “What?”

“You heard me. I killed a girl 20 years ago. The police said that it wasn’t my fault, that the girl was driving too fast. I guess she didn’t see the stop sign, so she smashed into my new Volvo. The one Grandpa bought me. She didn’t stop at the stop sign, and the roads were wet because it was raining. Of course.”

He stared at her, his face expressionless. “I was so pissed off when she hit me that I unbuckled my seatbelt and ran to over to her car. I wasn’t hurt, and I think I planned to pull her out of her car and punch her for driving like an idiot and smashing my new car.”

She took a deep breath. “When I looked in her window, she was covered in blood. Her face was all cut up, I guess by the broken windshield. She wasn’t moving. When the cops arrived, some people waiting at the bus stop told them that she ran the stop sign. I didn’t even get a ticket.”

She looked down at the wheel. “My Volvo needed a lot of body work, so her parents dealt with my insurance claim. I guess she broke her neck and died in her car.” She paused. “Her parents told me she was 19. We’d better get going. We’re going to be late.”

She pulled the CRV back onto Fourth. The accident happened so long ago that now it just seemed like a bad dream. A motorcycle swerved between the lanes and shot out in front of the Acura beside her. The Acura lurched into her lane.

“Asshole,” she whispered.


About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on October 16, 2013, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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