Friday, April 01, 2005

Here's an old story (circa 1987) - "The Last Ride"

Maxine crushes cookies into crumbs for pie crust, stares at the green station wagon through her kitchen window; cries. The car -- with cracked windows, busted headlights, flat tires and faded green paint -- groans in the coldness outside.

During daylight one of Maxine's neighbors, living in the same tenement row as she, offered to buy it.

"Two bills," he said. "Two bills!"

She rejected his offer, explained that the car might still be useful for emergencies.

"But it don't run," he said. "That car won't do shit in a 'mergency. It's junk!"

Maxine sighs.

Not only is the car's body wrecked, so is its engine. It cannot and will not move.

The car had permanently stalled a few days after Maxine moved into her tenement four years ago. She had returned from a 7-11, parked in her numbered space and went inside. An hour later, she had to drive to Holiday Inn where she worked as a maid. She tried to start the rusting machine. It whirred. Whined. Became silent.

Since then, she's never had anyone repair it.

She bought the car 16 years ago when married to Steve, her ex-husband. She used it to drive her three children to elementary school. Through rain, snow, hail or fog she would get them there. This gave her a feeling of strength, power.

A smile brightens her tear-streaked face. She laughs. Softly.

After she and Steve had bought the car, she discovered she was too short to see over the dashboard. To remedy this, she bought a pillow to sit on when driving. The pillow did what she wanted it to do. It also emphasized her elfish stature.

Her children had laughed about it.

Called her a shorty.

Maxine laughed too.

Always they laughed.

Now her children are grown.

Gone.

No longer at the window, she stands in the doorway of her cockroach-infested kitchen. She stares at the man lying on her living room couch.

He's on his back, his mouth hangs open; slobber glistens on his chin.

A whiskey bottle sits upright between his legs.

He snores.

The rhythmic sound causes Maxine's eyes to unfocus.

Her mind wanders.

When she was 39 she became pregnant with the snoring man's child.

Miscarried.

He beat her for it.

Decorated her with hard purple bruises.

On her stomach, ribs, chest, back.

Said she deserved it.

She agreed.

Agrees.

Thinks life is sacred.

But once she had killed.

On their youngest child's 11th birthday, Steve walked into the house red-eyed and intoxicated and, with slurrred speech, introduced his lover.

Dazed, Maxine watched her children hurry to their bedrooms. Watched her children's friends find their coats and file out the door. Watched Steve slip behind his lover and wrap his arms around her. Heard him say he wanted a divorce.

Her mouth fell open; eyes died.

During their marriage she knew she wasn't the only woman he slept with, but he had never said he wanted a divorce.

She pleaded with him to stay.

He snorted.

His lover looked away.

"Okay," Maxine said weakly. "Okay."

Then Steve left.

A month later, Maxine learned she was pregnant. She telephoned Steve and told him of their coming child.

"You stupid bitch!" he said. "You stupid fucking bitch. Get rid of it."

"What do you mean?" she said. "I -- what do you mean?"

"You stupid bitch. Get an abortion."

"Abortion? Kill it? Steve pleas --"

"Godammit! Get an abortion. We don't need another kid. It's over Godammit! It's been over. Can't you see?"

Her eyes closed, shoulders sagged; neck bent.

"Okay," she whispered. "Okay."

A week later she had the operation.

"Put your legs in here," the doctor said.

She obeyed.

"This will hurt a little . . . just a little."

Then it was over.

The sacrifice.

But Steve never returned.

Hasn't returned.

So when the man on her couch beat her, said she deserved it, she agreed.

She wipes her wet eyes with small calloused fingers.

The man lying on her couch comes into focus.

She leaves the doorway, returns to the kitchen; again stares through the window at the station wagon.

Snow falls outside; soft flakes melt against the wagon's window.

Maxine's eyes come to life.

She begins humming, softly.

A standard from the 1950's.

A tune she had sung with Steve and her children while on their way back from a rented mountain cabin.

It was the last ride they took as a family.

A few miles from home, one of the tires exploded.

"Wait in the car," Steve said.

Wind blew; swayed the car.

While they waited, Maxine and her children resumed singing.

Standards from the 1950's.

"Sincerely."

"Goodnight Sweetheart."

"My Blue Heaven."

Large flakes fell; melted on the windshield.

"See how they melt?" she said to her children. "They do that because our bodies keep the car warm."

A snowflake lands on the window. Maxine smiles.

The man on the couch wakes up, enters the kitchen cursing; demands food.

She obeys; fries him potatoes while he stares at her through red swollen eyes.

He eats like a chomping horse.

Smells like rotten apples.

Whiskey.

He begins complaining about his life.

Calls her a useless bitch.

Laughs.

A chunk of food leaps from his esophagus; lands in her hair.

He laughs louder.

Says he can get more money for the piece-of-shit car than for her.

"Useless bitch." he says again, shaking his head in disapproval.

She stares at her feet.

He grabs a pie pan; slams it to the ground.

Cookie crumbs fly.

He shouts.

She shakes.

Cries.

He screams.

"Bitch!"

Throws a bowl of pie filling at her.

Leaves the room.

She groans.

Clumps of apple filling slide from her hair.

She stares out the window.

Snow covers most of the car.

She steps lightly to a kitchen-cabinet drawer.

Opens it.

Takes a knife.

Walks to the kitchen door that leads outside.

Opens it.

Walks barefoot to the car.

Slips inside.

Reclines on the front passenger seat.

Sings standards from the 1950's.

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