by Paul W. Marino
Jen looked at the road stretching out in front of her. The blacktop shimmered in the heat of the day, winding through rolling fields of wheat. Two more hours to Kansas City, and to becoming a grandmother. Of course, it was impossible to predict the latter so precisely; it all depended on the little one and when she decided it was time to move. But Jen was confident she’d wait. The women in Jen’s family were famous for their impeccable timing. When Jen was in labor with Karen, her own mother had been delayed by a blizzard that prevented her plane from leaving Minneapolis. Karen obligingly waited until her grandmother arrived before making her appearance. Karen’s own child wouldn’t have to wait anywhere near as long, so Jen was certain they’d both arrive in good time.
A flash of light in the rear view mirror caught her eye. She looked and saw it was more than just a flash. Blue and white lights were strobing. Instinctively, she flicked her eyes to the speedometer. She was doing fifty. Her foot tapped the brake, slowing the car to forty five. The flashing lights drew nearer. She could see the car now, a sleek box of blue metal and glaring reflective glass. Something about it troubled her, she wasn’t sure what. Perhaps it was an automatic sense of guilt, triggered by seeing the Police car behind her, but it somehow felt more than that. More like a sense of dread or
foreboding. Something that threatened to get between her and the birth of her grandchild. Still, there was nothing to do but wait until it got up to her. They were probably on some other business altogether.
The cruiser drew closer. She could hear the siren now, a shrill, faint whooping, growing louder. She kept her eyes glued to the road ahead, guiding her car easily around the long curves. The cruiser came nearer; in a minute it would race past her and gradually be lost in the wheat fields ahead of her. But it didn’t. It pulled up close behind her and stayed there, its lights strobing, its siren wailing. She locked her eyes on the mirror and saw the officer waving his hand at her, telling her to pull over.
She felt a moment of panic, but put her foot on the brake, steering smoothly to a stop on the side of the road. What could he possibly want with her? The siren fell silent, but the lights continued to flash as the cruiser came to a halt close behind her. She gripped the steering wheel nervously as the officer climbed out and stalked up to her.
“Good afternoon, Ma-am. Could I see your license and registration, please?” She fumbled for them at once.
“I’m sorry, Officer.....was I speeding? I’m on my way to Kansas City, my daughter’s giving birth, it’s her first child and I have to be there! I—.....”
“You weren’t speeding, Ma-am. She gaped at him and handed over the papers. He took them with a silent nod and walked back to the cruiser, swinging into it.
Jen’s fingers played over the steering wheel as she watched him doing whatever it was Policemen did after taking your license and registration. He appeared to be sitting more or less at ease, taking into his microphone. God! This was taking forever! She had a birth to get to, she’d told him that. And there he was wasting time talking on the radio instead of giving her her ticket so she could be on her way! She gripped the wheel until her knuckles turned white. She’d never
been in trouble before, this had to be some kind of a mistake! He’d mistaken her car for someone else’s, or her for someone else. Something was wrong here, she felt it in her stomach.
He startled her by speaking to her, close by the door.
“Would you step out of the car, please?” She gaped at him again, unwilling to leave the security of the car.
“Do you think I’m drunk? I’m not! I’m just nervous, that’s all! My daughter’s having a baby and I have to be there for her!”
“That’s very nice, Ma-am. Would you step out of the car, please?”
His voice was soft and polite, inviting almost. She reached for the handle and swung the door open.
“What is it?” She asked, stepping out of the car. “Do I have a light out or something?”
“This won’t take long, will it? I have to get—.....”
“To Kansas City. I know.” He smiled gently, as if to put her at ease. Jen smiled in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry! I must sound crazy, I know. It’s just that this is my first grandchild.”
“I understand, Ma-am. Mrs. Moore, you were involved in an accident in Fowler.”
“You were. And you left the scene.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mrs. Moore, it’s illegal to leave the scene of an accident before the Police arrive.”
Doubt clouded her face. She was sure she hadn’t been in any accidents, but something about it rang true.
“What sort of accident?” It had occurred to her that she might be in shock; she’d never felt so nervous in her life. Maybe she’d been in an accident and just couldn’t remember it.
“Two car crash at an intersection.”
“Now that’s ridiculous! Just look at my car! There’s not even a dent in it!”
“Be that as it may, you left the scene. I need you to come with me, please.” He reached for her elbow and she skipped out of reach.
“Now just a minute! You can’t fool me! I wasn’t in any accident, in Fowler or anywhere else! I have to get to Kansas City!” She grasped the door handle and pulled, but nothing happened. She looked and saw the door was locked. How had that happened? The officer’s fingers slipped into her elbow.
“Please, Mrs. Moore.” An alarm went off in the back of her head. Police that met with resistance weren’t this polite. What in hell was going on?
She let him lead her back toward the cruiser.
“This really is silly,” she insisted. “I couldn’t have had an accident! I’m a very careful driver!”
“I’m sure you are,” he agreed gently. Jen shook her head. No matter how nice he was, she wanted to be on her way. Accident indeed! She remembered Fowler with perfect clarity! She’d stopped for a red light, was at the head of the line. The light turned green. She hit the gas and pulled out. She stopped walking, froze where she stood.
“Oh....my....God!” She whispered. The officer watched her with mild eyes, waiting. The light turned green, she hit the gas, was halfway into the intersection when a car came roaring in from her left, the driver not noticing the red light. A look of horror spreading over his face as he noticed the car in front of him. A scream of tires on the blacktop, a scream of rending metal, another in her throat. She looked at the officer’s mild eyes, her own brimming with tears. “I.......I.....”
Numbly, she let him lead her to the cruiser and put her in it, not noticing that he put her in the front passenger seat. She stared straight ahead and didn’t see her car, only the road winding on through the rippling wheat fields. He settled in beside her and turned the key.
“Where are you taking me?” She asked timidly. He smiled, putting the car in gear.
“For a start, Kansas City.”