Bennett is due at our house at 6 o’clock. I leave work early. It’s almost dark as I pull out of the large but rural parking lot and drive down the road through the woods that leads out to the main artery that will lead me to the next main road and the next all the way home.
I am watching the temperature gauge, that white needle that this morning was starting to swing way up to the mid-point and even a little past it. I had turned tense this morning, watching that needle, visions of the car exploding in my mind, willing the car to keep going, get me to work.
It did, but now it’s time to make the return trip. Within a few minutes, the needle is climbing and I feel my face tense into a mask. I turn off the radio – my source of distraction and pleasure – so that if the car starts making an unfamiliar sound I’ll hear it right away.
Cars don’t explode, do they? I’ve never heard of one exploding. People haven’t been warning me about that since I was a child. And they would have if it were a real possibility, right? Cars just die if they get too hot, right? But all that gasoline…
This is one of those times I wish I had a cell phone. When I turn left at the Exxon station I crane my neck in the opposite direction of where I am turning, trying to see if they have a mechanics area. No, just the convenience store.
I start across the bridge, a mile and a half (I know because I measured it once) spanning the Hudson River. There are several phones along the bridge. If I break down here and make a call, people passing will think I’m on the verge of suicide. That’s what the phones are for. People do jump off this bridge. A friend of mine saw someone hanging from the George Washington Bridge a couple months ago.
I cross this bridge twice a day and often think – not of actually wanting to stop and jump myself – but I think of it. I think of how I read once in an article about Golden Gate jumpers that hitting the water is like hitting cement –a survivor said so. Another survivor spoke about the flash of regret they felt once they were airborne. I feel death close by on the bridge, there if I want it – even as I look at the beautiful wide river or the sunset colored sky on the way home.
Come to think of it, I don’t usually have jumping thoughts on the way home when the sky on the other side of the bridge, spread out over where home is, is orange and lilac. Usually it’s when I’m going in the other direction.
But I make it across the bridge. The needle hasn’t climbed any higher. I am halfway there. I notice I am relaxing just a little. Not because I feel any safer, I note, but because I’m used to the level of fear. I think of people in a war, how they must just get used to the level of terror and live in it. I think of people still in Baghdad. They must be poor not to have been able to leave. I imagine myself one of them, saying, “Go? Where can I go?” and really not knowing where I could go and how I could get there.
Another ten minutes and I’ll be pulling into Woodstock. The Mobil station will still be open. I could go right there and ask them to take a look. Mike and Anthony are my friends. I brought them chocolate croissants last week when they had my car fixed on time. That’s the thing. The car was just fixed.
But I also have to get salad things for the Thanksgiving Pot Luck at work tomorrow. I can’t show up empty-handed, and salad isn’t something I can pick up on the way to work or something. I have to make it and I have to make it tonight. Plus, I have to get a couple of things for dinner. Bennett is coming and he’s a vegetarian. I was going to pick up some burritos, but that would be a good $20, and we are trying not to spend if we don’t have to. There’s the new car (well, not new-new) to think of, not to mention the mortgage payment, months overdue. I got an idea for something I could make tonight – it needs protein so I guess I’ll pick up some flavored tofu, but no – how about walnuts? That would be more interesting.
I am torn as I twist and wind down Sawkill Road, one of the most dangerous roads in our county, people are always getting into accidents on the Sawkill. What’s more important – making sure about the car or getting the Pot Luck? If the car’s no good, how’ll I make it to work tomorrow?
I pull into the health food store parking lot and leap out. Bennett will be at the house in half an hour. I move fast through the store, picking up a Romaine lettuce, broccoli – there’s Debbie. I haven’t seen her for about a year. I don’t tell her I’m rushing my pants off as we talk for a few minutes.
Out the door, back in the car and up the hill to Mike and Anthony. Great, they’re still open. The light is on in the office and I see Mike through the window, behind the counter. I pull up right outside the door and go in.
“Yeeees?” Mike drawls without looking away from his computer screen.
“Mike, the needle started to climb like crazy this morning.”
He looks up. He’s got glasses and a moustache. He’s wearing his mechanic’s navy blue coveralls. He comes out from behind the counter – this is JUST what I wanted – opens the door and steps out to the car, me close behind. He gets in the driver’s seat and turns on the car.
He looks at the white needle. “Is that as far as it’s going?” he asks, pointing.
“Yeah,” I say. “It just started this morning. It used to be way over on the left.”
Mike asks a few more questions. “It’s fine,” he says. “You’ve got nothing to worry about unless it goes way over to the right.”
I speed home. Steam the veggies. Saute the onions and walnuts. Make white rice instead of brown. Heat up that exotic-looking sauce I picked up on the weekend that will save the day I hope. Bennett arrives right on time. And dinner tastes great. Something I’ve never made before – a risk, a chance, done on the run.