What Else Could Go Wrong?

“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.

“Lost?”

“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.”

“Jack–”

“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.

 

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
Please share this post!

29 thoughts on “What Else Could Go Wrong?”

    1. Oh, dear.

      “Cute”? Damning with faint praise… LOL

      Did you ever read the book “Fortunately”? It goes something like, “Unfortunately, the plane fell apart mid-air. Fortunately, Pete was wearing a parachute. Unfortunately, the parachute didn’t open. Fortunately, there was a haystack right below him to break his fall. Unfortunately, there was a pitchfork in the haystack…” and so on. I couldn’t help but think of that as I wrote this, as well.

  1. Wow Holly, its incredible that you were able to come up with such a detailed situation off such a simple prompt. Glad youre someone I can learn from.

    Zhen

  2. Most of this seems familiar, a past conversation, a crazy blonde, an annoying man, and Texas trouble, tonight on the Twilight Zone.

    And I STILL feel guilty each time I click the “I am not a spammer” box.
    Even if the website automatically types in my name, email, and etc for me…. Strange….

    1. Pete? That’s NOT the website typing in your name and email, etc. – that’s your browser. My site has a very short memory, and my bouncers are temperamental after the incident with the malicious spambot from China. (Wish that was fiction, but unfortunately it was not.) Trust me, we’re all happier when the bouncers card people and only let in the REAL ones to comment.

      Now, about your feeling guilty…see Lucy over there. It’ll cost ya five cents.

      1. Ah, so the mighty Chrome, does all the work! Good for them!

        A Chinese spambot, that sucks. Well, may the spam bots all eat a very ripe banana and get….

        Heh heh heh…. My brother was a bouncer a long time ago…

        Lucy was out. The dog was in. His theory was I need to feed him more. (All dogs have that theory.) The short weird haired kid had the dammed ball taken from him again. But he and Lucy are still friends. The dog is weird. But, hey, them’s the licks!

      2. My theory is that you and the dog need to get out more, and stop Lucy from taking the kid’s ball. Or organize a game in the field where you can all get some oxygen and exercise. 🙂 Then, you’ll have all worked up a good appetite and can eat with the dog. WITH the dog. That’s an important distinction, Pete.

  3. Hiya Holly,

    To borrow your colorful not-quite-a-cuss: That was Effingbloodygingersnaps amazing!

    I’ve never been followed by or caught in the midst of a tornado but my sister (who I’m presently visiting) has been picked up by one and tossed across the railroad tracks into a light pole, which broke, and wrapped the wires around the car … (maybe that was a hurricane). Still, scary stuff (no injuries though).

    Gosh, you wrote that rollicking ride from a couple of prompts? You, my friend, are just too good! 😉

    Laura could ditch the psychologist (if she had one). She got the best therapy for her anxiety without the fee!
    Vernessa Taylor recently posted…Redux > No Hardhats Allowed – Online Project Management For The Rest of UsMy Profile

    1. You just made my day, Vernessa! 🙂 Wow, who would ever have guessed this would be read by someone who knows someone who’s been tossed around by a tornado and lived (unscathed!?) to tell the tale!? Give my regards to your sis!

      I never know what’s going to pique the interest of the little characters who live in my head, or which one’s going to come out to play with it. I just take dictation. I do, personally, know that feeling at the end – that “eff it, if all this crap hasn’t broken me yet, Universe, do your worst – I’m just unbreakable.” (It’s not true, but sometimes, temporarily, you do get to that point. Laura clearly did, and it seems to be working – mostly – to her benefit.)
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Show, Don’t TellMy Profile

      1. “I hear voices!”

        “I see dead people!”

        “Holly! Are you playing with your imaginary friends again?”

        “Yes, mama! But I’m waiting for her to come back … She just got carried away by a tornado!”

        LOL.

        If everyone was like you, who would be on the couch (or in the straightjackets)?

        Personally, I love it when you let your “little friends” come out to play! 🙂
        Vernessa Taylor recently posted…Redux > No Hardhats Allowed – Online Project Management For The Rest of UsMy Profile

      2. Hah! Made you do it, too! Did you know that kids who had imaginary friends were mentally healthier than those who didn’t?

        Some of us are so mentally healthy we never felt the need to ditch them and pretend they weren’t real or didn’t matter to us. We’re called “writers.”

        If everyone were like me, the couches would be empty. There might be a lot of people climbing trees with invisible people, but it’s only a problem if it interferes with your day to day functioning, right? 😀
        HollyJahangiri recently posted…The Placebo EffectMy Profile

  4. I LOVE this story. It kept me really engaged. I love how it ended, too:-) I look forward to reading more of your work.

    1. The buzzards (vultures, really – I think) are very real. 😉 Seriously, somewhere I have a photo of a whole flock of them eating what I think is either an armadillo or a possum on the road, on my way to work.

      You’ll often see pairs of them sitting over the entrances and exits where I work. Seems there’s usually an uptick in their numbers whenever we have a “reduction in force.” Maybe it’s just my imagination. Who knows? But I have pictures of that, too. It’s both hilarious and creepy.

  5. Effingbloodygingersnaps!!!

    I like every kind of cookie, but ginger snaps have a special place in my hypothalamus! Many thanks for this story! 😀

    (I have a gravatar… I have to figure out which e-mail address it’s associated with. I use it for my blogs, but don’t maintain it… I just let the blogs pick it up. Hmm.)

    1. Thank YOU!! 🙂 I see your gravatar – at least in the WordPress comment notifications. 🙂

      It’s funny – I’ve added “effingbloodygingersnaps” to my own lexicon since inventing it for this story. It makes me laugh, and apparently has that effect on others, too!

  6. I was going to say that I can empathize with Laura completely – with the almost pathological anxiety thing – but I think she’s got me beat on the worst commute to work. That weekend came just in time for her! <3

    1. Hah! I’m sure she’d be thrilled to let you win that one. While writing this, I was thinking of my husband’s and my commutes. He has to fight some of Houston’s ugliest traffic both ways; I have an easy, four mile drive. I’m the one with the vultures, though. And school zones. Children and pets darting into streets. We both occasionally deal with street flooding, but I cross TWO creeks and they’ve been known to overrun their banks and cross the bridges between my home and work. They’ve also filled the lower levels of the parking garage (though this latest round of storms spared our side of town and flooded the lower levels of the garage where my husband works. You just never know. It’s always a new adventure. And then, sometimes, there are hurricanes (or at least tropical storms). Those bring large snapping turtles and citrus fruit bombs… it’s a little surreal around here, sometimes without my even having to work at it.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…New Guidelines for ReviewersMy Profile

Leave a Reply to Vernessa Taylor Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge