“Why can’t you be more spontaneous? Live for the moment? It’s just a weekend cruise!” Frustrated with Laura’s constant worry and obsessive planning, Jack ran his hands through his hair and stalked off in search of coffee. He flipped off the TV, cutting the meteorologist off mid-dire-prediction. It had been raining, non-stop, for a week. The dreary gray drizzle occasionally picked up speed, punctuated by faint flashes of lightning and the bass vibrato of distant thunder. Jack filled his travel mug with coffee, kissed his anxious wife, and gave her a reassuring bear hug. They could both use a sunny weekend on the beach at Nassau.
The thing that had driven Laura over the edge, this morning, was whether to pack the light blue one piece or the green tankini. Jack had said, “What the hell, take both!” and that set off a round of “What will I have to not pack in order to make room for both?” which led to the inevitable, “We’re going to the beach, why would I need six pairs of high-heeled shoes?” Or, “Will we go out in the evenings? How dressy will it be? Do I need an evening bag?” Laura tried on each outfit and finally decided on just the green tankini. She glanced at her watch and remembered the meeting – the one she couldn’t beg off of, because she’d called it and would be presenting next year’s budget. Fine.
Laura fretted over her clothes and makeup one last time – they would never be perfect, but she imagined they could look better on a gurney beside the six car pile-up she imagined being somehow involved in, and was glad she’d ditched all the shabby cotton briefs last weekend and replenished the white silks. It bothered her that they didn’t match her beige bra, but there was no time to change clothes again. Laura reminded herself for the seventy-second time that Jack was right, and no one was ever going to see her clean undies in an accident. She took that to mean he had confidence in her driving skills; Jack really meant he was 99% sure his wife would wet her pants if ever she were in an accident bad enough anyone would see her undies.
Laura took one last big swallow of coffee. She envied Jack his certainty that he would not be forced to slam on the brakes just as he tipped his travel mug to his lips, necessitating a change of shirts he didn’t have for a big meeting he would be called into on a moment’s notice. It could happen. No matter how prepared Laura felt, walking out the door to the garage, odds were good that something would go awry. She wondered why she wasn’t able to let go, go with the flow, roll with the punches–Laura knew her anxiety bordered on pathological. She wouldn’t admit it aloud if her life depended on it, but it was no secret to Jack.
Jack knew she had her reasons, and he tried to be gentle. There was that one time – back when they were young and Laura was carefree and ready to embrace whatever life had to throw her way – she’d been driving to work with the sunroof open, all four windows cracked, and the wind whipping through her long hair while she sang along to a Beach Boys tune she’d mysteriously forgotten the lyrics to. The car in front of her had swerved to avoid the carcass in the road – and while an armadillo or a possum might have been laughable, it was a mangy-looking chupacabra, about the size of a scrawny Irish Setter, and Laura had slammed on the brakes, startling a flock of black-headed Mexican vultures in the middle of their feast. Two had landed on the warm hood of her car, and a third – apparently even more taken aback than Laura – had tried to stop its skid across the top of her car and landed on the center console next to her. The louder Laura screamed, the more panicked the huge bird became, and Laura was lucky to escape the car with her nose and vision intact. She required seventeen stitches to her forearm, to repair what the doctor described as “defensive wounds.” The hapless carrion beast lost a leg as Laura scrambled out of the car and slammed the door on it. Now and then, she would see it dining at the side of the road, and was sure it remembered her. It creeped her out, but she was glad the wildlife rehabber had argued against putting the bird down. Laura didn’t need the creature’s death on her conscience. Any time someone tried to allay her fears by saying something silly, like, “That’s about as likely as a bald eagle flying into your car window,” Laura’s eyes narrowed in hysterical hostility, and Jack would have to step in to explain to people that creative similes, meant to be soothing, were probably best avoided.
There was that other time – Laura had been driving along her usual route when a chihuahua darted into the road. The tiny dog dashed left and right, dodging and weaving and narrowly avoiding the other cars. Just as its six-year-old, tow-headed, devil-may-care owner ran headlong into the street after the pup – before Laura could even think to stand on the brakes and throw herself through the windshield – her bright orange sedan stopped, its pistons frozen. Repairs – to the car – were expensive, but Laura felt only relief as she wrote out a check for a new engine to go with the new timing belt. No other car part’s death could have been more timely than that timing belt’s.
The clouds looked particularly ominous as Laura pulled out of the driveway. She rolled up the windows and tuned the radio to the university’s classical station. As she drove out of her neighborhood, the wind began to pick up in earnest, and Laura heard a clattering and rumbling like an old freight train. Glancing in the rearview mirror, Laura yelped and shouted, “Effingbloodygingersnaps!” which was about the worst thing she could think to say without simultaneously biting her own tongue off in a fit of kneejerk guilt. She was being chased down the idyllic, two-lane street by a small but determined tornado. It zigged as she zagged, zagged as she zigged, and finally she just threw up her hands and screamed, “There’s no place like home and I should’ve stayed there!” while the whirlwind shoved the rear of her car to the left and began to lift her high into the sky.
The next thing Laura knew, she was parallel parked in a parallel universe. It looked just like the street in front of her office building, but the trees had been cast about like pick-up sticks, and she didn’t remember how she got here. She started the car, drove about half a block to the entrance of the parking garage, and rolled down her window. Laura’s key card didn’t work on the security gate, so she had the guard buzz her into the parking garage remotely. Dazed, she parked near the elevators and walked up two flights of stairs, then made her down the hall to her cubicle. It was odd, but she couldn’t remember the password to her workstation. She’d typed that so many times, and now, it just kept saying “Wrong password. Try again. Be sure your caps lock key is turned off.” It was turned off. She locked herself out three times before burying her face in her hands and crying.
“Are you okay, ma’am? Can I help you?”
“I’m fine. I’m just a little stressed,” said Laura, cringing with embarrassment at how that must sound.
“Are you lost?” asked the man, a look of genuine concern on his face.
“You’re not Anna May. This is Anna May’s cubicle. I don’t know who you are, but you look a little lost.”
Laura looked up sharply and sniffled. “What?” She blinked. This was not her cube. This was not her office. “I’m–where am I? I’m supposed to be giving a presentation–” Laura glanced again at her watch and slammed her hand down on the desk. “No!” She had missed the meeting entirely. An hour ago. What the hell was going on? “Where…am I?” she asked.
“Amarillo. Viper Vanographs, Incorporated. Anna May’s cubicle.”
“And I am most assuredly not Anna May–wait, WHAT?” Laura worked for Squirrel Solipsigraphs, one of Viper’s biggest competitors. She couldn’t be caught dead or alive here, yet here she was. “I’m sorry. I must have taken a wrong turn.” Oh, this didn’t look good… but how the hell did she get 600 miles in just over an hour, anyway? No one would believe this…
“I’m so sorry. When did you say Anna May would be back?” Laura smiled. Sometimes, the truth just sounded more incredible than the lie. That’s when you went with the lie, just to save face.
“I didn’t,” said the man. He said his name was Gordon.
“All right. Let me just leave her a note – let her know I dropped by, will you?”
“Yes,” said Gordon, looking perplexed.
“Just tell her Pete sent me,” said Laura, grinning as she slipped into character and entered a world where truth was as flexible as Silly Putty.
Laura found her way back to the car which, naturally, wouldn’t start. There were branches – tree branches – peeking out from under the hood. One was stuck in the wheel well, just above her left front tire. Just then, her cell phone rang. It was Jack. “Yes?” she asked.
“Hi, Honey. I just wanted to say how sorry I was for being testy this morning. It’s been a rotten day – you wouldn’t believe how bad the traffic was, this morning! Flooding was so bad, it even covered three lanes of the freeway.”
“I’m just now getting to work! Can you believe it? I’m really looking forward to our weekend getaway, and I just wanted to tell you how much I love you.”
Miraculously, Laura’s car’s engine finally turned over and began to growl. It didn’t purr, but the car seemed almost as eager to get home as she felt. “I love you, too, Jack.” You think you’re having a bad day, Honey? You have no idea… There was a long pause as Laura input her home address into the car’s navigation system. She let out a low whistle and hoped she’d be home by the next morning. “I’ll see you soon,” she said.
Days later, Jack was still wondering where his wife had been during those long, anxious hours he’d spent pacing the floor, waiting up for her. She didn’t bother telling him about her very bad day, or the drive back from Amarillo. It would only raise questions she had no good answers for. He knew she’d been under a lot of stress, so he didn’t press her for explanations. Jack trusted Laura. But he couldn’t help wondering. At the same time, he marveled at the change in her. She threw a few things into her weekend carry-on and said, “Let’s go.” She smiled. She didn’t fret over the vague certainty of having forgotten something.
Lounging on the beach at Nassau, Laura frowned and waved to the waiter to freshen her drink – something fruity with a splash of Blue Curacao and far too little ice – when suddenly she, and the drink, were pelted with hailstones. Blue hailstones. Laura wrinkled her nose and squinted up into the azure sky in time to see the 747 drifting off into the clouds. “Effingbloodygingersnaps,” she muttered at the stale scent of blue ice. “I’m going for a swim,” she announced.
“What about the sharks?” asked Jack. Laura had always been worried about sharks. She’d never ventured out into the open sea, refusing even to wade in ankle-deep water.
“Sharks? They can just bite me,” she said, tossing her cover-up on the sand and running headlong into the surf.
This is #6 for StoryADay May. Today’s story was inspired by ZLite of chttrz.com with “10 Worst Things That Can Happen On The Way To Work,” Patricia Stoltey (for mentioning something about being a worrier), and all who voted on ways to make my character have a very bad morning commute.