Hallowe’en Serial: 3rd Night

Continued from #2.

Carol noticed nothing, the image of a few bent window blinds storing itself cozily into her subconscious as she listened to her new favorite radio station.

♫ “You hate your boss at your job…” 

She sang along, though she didn’t hate her boss. Her boss was her husband. They were happily married, and had been for twenty-two years this November. No kids, of course. Carl hadn’t -well, maybe it really was Carol’s fault as he had suggested.

Miss Tight Skirts was expecting, probably from some discount store clerk. That’s where she got the ugly decorations from. Ugly decorations that could move…

No. Carol pushed the thought from her mind. Ceramics didn’t move, desks didn’t move, blinds didn’t -a black sedan pulled out into her lane and she had to jerk the steering wheel sharply to avoid impact. They honked at her and sped away into the night.

Her breathing almost matched her rapid heartbeat. This was the second time in one day she’d been scared enough to worry for her health. She tried to drive straight as she slowed her panicked breaths. Now, what had she been thinking about? Things looking at her?

♪ “Well, if you hear somebody knocking on your door / If you see something crawling across the floor / Baby, it’ll be me and I’ll be looking for you” ♪

Carol hadn’t heard the song; it sounded old, but still good. Catchy. Jerry Lee Lewis, perhaps… Her mother had kept a record.

Just then, a bright pair of headlights entered the road at her left side and she swerved to avoid yet another collision. “What is with the maniacs tonight?” she wondered aloud. She glanced over to at least glare at the driver. She couldn’t see anyone, so faced forward instead. Her mind did a double-take and she looked back.

No one.

It’s probably just a really short man or his seat’s set back really far, she told herself. The night was cloudy, too. The road was dark. She was tired. The driverless car drove off.

Carol slowed and turned onto her own suburban street, noting the tacky inflatable jack o’lanterns and grim reapers and Charlie Browns on her neighbors’ lawns. She’d forgotten Halloween was coming -in just one night, she realized. She’d have to pick up some candy and watch all the children. All the sweet children she’d never had to dress for Halloween nor take trick-or-treating.

Sighing, she drove up to their house. It was dark. Carl often forgot to leave the lights on for her, but he was never to bed this early. She opened the garage door and stopped in the driveway, engine idling.

Carl’s car was not there. The garage was as empty as a tomb.

Continued at #4.

Who’s Driving?

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I was supremely confident as a child that I could drive a car. All I needed, I’d say, was the green flag from the government for seven-year-olds to operate a vehicle and I’d be off!

Oh, I had experience: My parents occasionally allowed me sit-on-their-lap steering privileges home from church on Sundays. And at fifteenish, I pulled a few turns unassisted in that same church parking lot.

Man, I was set!

By the age of nearly-sixteen, however, shift got real. My mother may have realized this, as I was enrolled in Driver’s Education at school and had grown tall enough to look her in the eye. One day she took me to a quiet neighborhood side street, steered herself for the worst, and told me we could switch places.

Even on the best of days (as in, post-op heavily-medicated) my mother does not handle other people driving. When my annoyingly patient and meticulous father is navigating the roads at a rate that would put a sloth to sleep, she’s frantically kicking the floor of the passenger side in phantom braking actions.

Turning the wheel fully over to me is on my mother’s list of Bravest Things She’s Ever Done.

For my part, I was counting on my first time driving as heading the list of Epic Life Adventures or Most Awesome Experiences Ever. Right? Instead, as I sat in front of the wheel completely on my own, I was gripped with terror. The awesome power of everything I was now in charge of washed over me and my mind blanked. My foot convulsed at the pedals the same way it did when I tried to navigate a sewing machine. The wheel was strangely hyper-sensitive. All of the cars parked calmly at the sides of the street were trying to leap out in front of me.

“I thought you knew how to drive!” My mother screamed as we jerked along and sashayed from right to left.

I thought I did, too, I told myself. I felt sad, confused, surprised, and hopeless. We pulled over and returned to our former roles. My confident plans of self-dependency and road freedomness dissolved forever. Maybe we should’ve used an automatic.

Luckily, my driving actually improved from there. I throw that out, in case anyone has determined to never set wheels on pavement when I’m out and about.

This morning, however, I was thinking about life. Specifically, if at all, I was pondering on my decades-long feeling of directionless discontent.

I kept thinking, Who’s driving, anyway?

I have been a stay-at-home mother for thirteen years, ever since being fired in the first trimester of my first pregnancy. I have felt motivated some days more than others. Lately, however, my life has felt completely out of my hands. My children cannot legally drive (yet), but I’ve put them and my husband in the front seat, crawled back over Cheerio crumbs and Hot Wheels cars to the dirty back of the car, and wondered why I keep getting car sick.

And yet, I don’t move.

What do I do?

Well… I pretend to be useful. I hand around a few snacks, break up fights, give the pretense of modeling good behavior, and pick up loose wrappers now and then. Oh, and sometimes I tell the person steering exactly what’s wrong with his driving.

As the tension in the car rises, I withdraw to less activity. I tell myself I am not sleepy when the suns sets over our dented hood, intentionally tiring myself to a state of drunken drowsiness when that same sun rises over that same hood. I eat the bad car snacks. I forget to shower at camp sites. I wonder why the floor cannot stay clean even though I’m snapping at everyone to please pick up your garbage!

Who’s driving, anyway?

Shortly after that first, fateful day at fifteen when my mother gave me full control, I attended the driving portion of Driver’s Ed at school. Perhaps because I was the tallest female, our instructor picked me for the first turn. I don’t learn well by going first; I’m an observer.

The rest of our small group piled into the small sedan, buckled for safety, and waited for me to start the engine. I gulped. I adjusted everything I could think to adjust: seatbelt, steering, seat, side mirrors, rearview mirror, headrest. We’d been walked through this in instructional videos during class, and I was determined to get all the steps right. Then, ignition -with foot on brake pedal, of course. My hands flew to 10 and 2 like boot camp soldiers. I looked forward through the windshield, and waited for whatever hell the instructor at my elbow would direct me through.

My turn didn’t last long then, either. Another boy in the class took over after a few blocks and did marvelously. He drove better than the instructor! It turned out that he’d been allowed to man tractors on his grandfather’s farm since thirteen years old. Cheater.

Who’s driving? Floats through my mind when I wake up and get ready for the children’s day. They need to dress for school, eat breakfast, sit up at the table, not punch their brothers, pick up their shoes, do their homework, eat right, not talk back, feel loved, and then understand that I am a person and I love their father and our relationship is the most important of all.

Yeah, we’ve been seeing a marriage counselor. She’s a good driver.

Who’s driving? My mind recalls the sappy Country Song “Jesus Take the Wheel.” That’s a subject for a few pages all its own, so I’ll summarize with: I may not be in a great place discontentedly backseat driving, but I trust that spot a lot more than the places He might take me.

I know others in a similar state. Their reactions have varied from meekly asking for a turn at steering, to pushing the special Eject button James Bond-style and parachuting irresponsibly to a new adventure.

I’d love to end this personal reflection with a determined statement; a wonderful aphorism on life to pass on. Unfortunately, all I’ve got are chocolate almonds, yesterday’s clothing, and criticisms.

Perhaps you know a good solution? Anything’s better than here.

Maybe.

Wilhelmina Winters: Seventeen

“Mina! Thank heavens!” Mrs. Crandall exclaimed when Wil approached and opened the sliding door. “Your mom’s at the hospital. Lynette took her this morning and I only just got the text.”

Wil was too worried by this sudden announcement to think of tactlessly correcting her neighbor. She knew that her mother would have texted Mrs. Crandall immediately, so she suspected that her lazy neighbor had been lost, as usual, in the wastes of sleeping in and perusing social media.

“Are you taking me to the hospital?” Wil asked, instead. She ignored the sullen disapproval of the car’s other occupants -at least, the ones paying attention to something non-electronic.

In this case, that was Mrs. Crandall’s son, Eric, and their mutual neighbor, Vic. Reagan and Jorge, who lived near their apartment complex, continued finger-swiping their phones as their eyes and ear buds attended the screens.

“I’m afraid I can’t, Mina,” Mrs. Crandall said, making an effort to sound apologetic. She spoke as she eased the old minivan away from the curb, glancing at Wil as she didn’t actually check her blind spot.

Another driver honked, but the effort was wasted on one so immune to courteous driving practices like turn signals or proper traffic queuing.

“I’ve got to get back home,” Mrs. Crandall continued. “I mean, I’ve got to get you all home. I think Jakob’s planning on taking you.”

Wil bit her tongue as she buckled up in the moving vehicle. If she could have gotten home faster without this self-centered neighbor, she would have spoken her mind and walked. Retorts like, “lazy,” “selfish,” and “you know that we don’t have a car…” swirled in her thoughts and quite near to her voice box.

Even if they had an extra car, Jakob wouldn’t be home yet. Plus, he didn’t have driving capabilities. He’d passed the test, of course, but they had all decided that he and Wil couldn’t be added to the insurance yet. So, Jakob had nobly avoided all extra costs and not gotten his license.

Wil gripped at her knees. She hated forced inactivity. She needed to get to her mother as soon as possible, but faced too many barriers. She closed her eyes and tried the deep breathing exercises Cynthia had learned when her troubles starting becoming unbearable again.

Wil’s heart rate and anxiety only increased. She realized the exercises reminded her of the whole problem, and certainly did not calm her or take her mind off her mom.

Luckily, Mrs. Crandall was also a fast driver. They were home in minutes, though seconds felt forever for Wil.

Wil, Reagan, Vic, and Jorge clambered out the sliding door once they pulled into an empty stall. They all headed to their living spaces, Wil in a definite lead. She headed around a building, past a naked tree stuck in the dead, empty soil, then pulled out her key at door 2 of Building 4.

As she scratched a bit at the lock to insert her key, the door was pulled open to reveal Jakob. His harried look was replaced by one of relief, even though Wil’s short scream of surprise also surprised him.

“Let’s go, Wil!” He said earnestly. He grabbed her arm and turned her back toward the way she’d just come. Her backpack swung an erratic arc as she spun, nearly costing Wil her balance. She was so surprised at his intent manner and use of her preferred name, that she stumbled outside again before her mind caught up.

Jakob pulled the door closed and checked the lock. Then, he said, “Hurry!” He ran, hastily following his own advice.

Jakob was heading to the bus stop. She realized this finally, just as she recognized the sound of the bus approaching. This would be a close race!

Galvanized to action, Wil sprang after her step-brother.

 

Continued from Sixteen.
Keep reading to Eighteen.