Alan stumbled in the front door, mouth gaping, sweat pooling, crotch damp. He dropped the car keys to the floor and muttered something incoherent.
We’ve been here before.
I prodded him to the bedroom before heading to the driveway to assess the damage. A headlight smashed. The driver’s door slightly ajar. Climbing into the front seat I tried to close the door, but the metal was bent and wouldn’t latch. I put the key in the ignition. Several warning lights glowed on the dashboard. Something leaking? I closed my eyes and dropped my head to the steering wheel.
A knock on the window interrupted my stupor. A police officer, bald, a clicking pen.
“A witness called in that you hit a car about thirty minutes ago over by Frontier Grocery and then left the scene,” the officer stated.
“What? No, no, that wasn’t me! It’s not my car. I was home. My boyfriend just got back. He’s drunk and I put him to bed and it wasn’t me I swear. I don’t even have a driver’s license–”
“Well then it’s a good thing it wasn’t you, huh? You’d be in real trouble then!” the officer chuckled. “Hey now! No need to cry. The family is willing to drop the charges so your boyfriend will be fine. We just need him to come on out and tell us that it was him driving the car. We can’t prove he was drinking and driving – for all we know he just got drunk once he got home! So just have him come out, tell us he was driving the car and he’ll get a little ticket for leaving the scene. You’ll be off the hook.” He winked.
I walked to the bedroom and shook Alan. “Come on, the police are waiting. Let’s go. You need to tell them you were driving the car. Say it. I was… driving… the car.”
He repeated slowly after me. I pushed him toward the door. His eyes looked somewhere beyond the police officer. A car door slammed, the officer’s pen clicked, laughter from down the block punched the air.
“I was driving… the car,” he stated with effort. I exhaled and guided him back to bed. The next morning, he remembered nothing.
Days ran into weeks and weeks ran into months. Excuses all began to tangle together:
I just buy the liquor to dump down the drain so I can show I have the power over it. The receipts must have printed wrong, I didn’t go to the liquor store three times in one day. You drink and I don’t nag you all day. The fact that you think I’m drunk right now shows you don’t trust me.
If you only answered the phone I wouldn’t have to drink. You were late from a work event, that’s why I drank. You won’t marry me, that’s why I drank. You caused this. This is your fault.
“We all have our mistakes,” he said. “My mistake is occasionally drinking too much because you don’t love me as much as I love you.”
My mistake was not loving enough.
My phone history became a string of unanswered calls each night. The voicemails became repetitive, a recording of my pleas to please just let me know you’re okay, you don’t have to talk to me, just text to let me know you’re alive. I created a nightly route walking the neighborhoods following a map of liquor stores and park benches and gutters. Sometimes I found him; sometimes he showed up in the morning to collapse half on the bed, reeking of rotting berries and piss.
After putting Alan to bed this morning, I used his computer to email his boss that he wouldn’t be coming in due to food poisoning. Again.
I placed the computer back in his backpack and saw the key.
Leave. A whisper, like a twitch. Don’t be ridiculous, I thought. Where would I go? I have classes and work and a relationship that’s not that bad, that used to be good, could be good, could be worse.
Run. Go. Leave. My fingers closed on the keys. I would just see if the car even still turned on. He hadn’t touched it since the incident. He didn’t have the money for the repairs.
I sat in the seat and turned the key in the ignition. The entire dashboard lit up, but it turned on.
Run. Go. Leave. The voice sounded more persistent now. My hands had found their way to the gearstick. I would just see if the car even operated. The car reversed down the driveway. I shifted into drive and accelerated.
Run. Go. Leave. Something clicked near the right rear wheel. The dented door bumped open and shut. Run. Go. Leave. The motions of driving were easier than I had imagined they would be after not driving in so many years. Run. Go. Leave. Run. Go. Leave. I can do this, I thought, as I sped up. A rolling laugh overtook my body. Run. Go. Leave. I am free.
My phone chimed, a text message. Bending down, I stretched my arm to grasp my phone. I pulled myself back up to the blur of a cat running through the road. An unraveling: swerving steering wheel, screeching brakes, a thud. A parked car. An empty street.
Run. Go. Leave.
I slowly reversed the car. The bumper of the parked car fell to the ground. I glanced in the rearview mirror again. No one. I inched home. I placed the key back in Alan’s bag and poured a glass of water.
A knock on the door. I crossed the room and opened the door.
“Hello again.” It was the bald police officer. “Someone called to say a car was hit in front of their neighbor’s house. They were able to take down the driver’s license plate and it matches your boyfriend’s car. I’m sure insurance will cover the parked car. There’ll be a fine but as long as it doesn’t happen again he won’t have to deal with court. Is he home? If you can fetch him I’ll talk to him quickly and be on my way.”
I nodded and turned to the bedroom. “Alan, wake up, you need to talk to the police.”
Stay. Staying. Stuck.
Rebecca Ressl is a professional grant writer for community nonprofits and a volunteer at several conservation organizations. Her work is forthcoming in Sky Island Journal and Second Chance Lit.