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Lane Change

by

Paula Hari

 
     
   

 

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YOU’RE DRIVING IN YOUR CAR. The smell of diesel from the semi in front of you flows through the vents and makes your eyes water. You crack the window hoping to fill the car with a little fresh air. The cold smacks you right in the face and you decide the smell isn't unbearable. The semi is doing at least 80 but you keep the car close enough to read the "wash me" scrawled beneath the "How am I driving?" sign. You're as close as bumper skiing on the back of your neighbor's car when you were kid.  Probably just as reckless.
______You look into the rearview mirror and see your reason for leaving.  Not the purple and blue bruise around your right eye or the awkward slant of your once straight nose. 
______You see him.
______You see his too-big-for-his-body-head slumped in sleep.  His puffy lips leak shiny drool out the corner of his down-turned mouth.  His three chins are stacked up on the zipper of his dingy blue sleeper, the toe seams taut with his miraculously growing body. Your eyes rest on his pudgy hands curled into un-angry fists. Fists so unlike his father that you have to suck back your tears.
______In your side view mirror you see a car glide up next to you then pull away.  You recognize the red Grand Prix with the dented fender, the one who twenty miles back refused to move out of the right lane as you tried to merge from the rest area. The one you gave the finger to as you backed off the accelerator just enough to avoid a collision.
______The driver, maneuvering the fresh fallen darkness, doesn't recognize or chooses to take the high road and keeps his eyes forward as he passes.  You swallow the apology he wouldn't hear anyway and keep you eyes on the dashboard.
______Your speedometer says 80. The front end begins to shake like you're driving on a washboard. You worry it may wake him. Then you remember the nights you resorted to a makeshift crib in a laundry basket on top of the washing machine set to spin, quieting his colicky cries before there was something for you both to cry about. Your worry shifts to bigger things like the gas gauge that reads less than a quarter tank and your wallet, which is even emptier.
______He had apologized.  He didn't mean to do it.  He hadn't planned on slapping you that first time. It would never happen again.  But his slaps turned into shoves and the shoves into punches. No more apologies came.  It became a reaction just like your rude gesture on the highway. You wonder if he has regrets, if your son is one of them.
______The semi downshifts abruptly and you guess that he's privy to a nearby trooper. You lift the dead weight of your foot off the gas and back off the rear of his rig.  You coast behind him at a safe distance past the next three exits. You keep the needle just under 60. You wait. Your hands ache all the way to your shoulders from gripping the wheel.  The tension in your neck is like a noose. You feel the need to get where you are going.
______You hadn't planned it this way, leaving. You hadn't planned much of anything this past year.  You look in the rearview mirror again and realize not all unplanned things are regrets.
______Restless, you check your blind spot.  There is nothing but darkness, not a pinprick of light behind you.  You lurch into the left lane.  You accelerate. The car whines in protest.  As you pass you look up into the cab of the semi, the unshaven trucker nods and runs his hand through thinning hair. You punch the gas and the car speeds into submission.  The speedometer only goes to 90.  What happens then, you wonder? What happens next?  Behind you there is a flash, the "all clear" signal from the trucker's brights.   You flip your blinker up and glance over your shoulder. Back in the right lane you look into the mirror, the semi evaporates into the night.
______You ease off the gas, just a little, let the car relax.  You breathe in deeply. The smell of the past is behind you now. You look ahead to the ribbon of black highway before you. And you know, just like your son, leaving is one thing you will never regret.

     

Paula Hari

Paula Hari is a married mother of three.  Originally from Iowa, she now lives in the Minneapolis area. Most of her writing time is squeezed in between loads of laundry and being a taxi for her kids.  She attended the University of Iowa but has found her writing self through The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.  Her greatest treasure from The Loft has been her writer's group, to which she has been committed for over three years.  This is her first publication and she is waiting for Ashton Kutcher to pop out and say, "You've been Punk'd."

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