The leafy main street of my town was as familiar to me as my own bedroom, every driving inch of it fortified with layer upon layer of muscle memory that guided my hand as surely as I was able to brush my teeth each morning despite Carson screaming, swearing at the top of his lungs about whatever was his target of the moment. Sometimes me, sometimes electronics gone wayward, sometimes an early work email. I’d long ago resolved to ignore it, keep my head down and wait for it to pass. It always did. His mood would unspool like a string of Christmas tree lights, first a bit then all at once.
Today the road seemed amorphous and strange. Houses I’d driven past a thousand times looked a new shade of their former selves, as though some artful force had draped a caul over the weathered clapboards and spilled an amber tea over the lawns and shrubberies and three car garages. Even the schoolkids spilling from open doors before being shepherded through the crosswalk seemed contrived of watercolors. The sight ignited an old sorrow. Carson had changed his mind about having children soon after we were married.
I was marveling at the sepia-toned town square when the Suburban ahead of me slowed down enough to make me lean on my brakes. I came to a full stop when I saw the car’s bumper stickers: two black and white exhortations to co-exist and vote. I had the same ones on my car, and in the same location.
The vehicle also was the same vintage as mine, same make and model, same color: dark green. I’d wanted a lighter color for safety, but Carson had said it’d be too hard to keep looking clean. So green it was. Not worth fighting over.
I looked at the driver. The back of her head looked very much like my own, a tangled blonde bob of agitated curls I’d been too impatient to tame before leaving home. The woman ran both her hands through her hair now, then tied it back with a band of some sort. She gazed into her rear-view mirror, and our eyes met. Hers were framed by professorial round glasses. Involuntarily, I touched my own. Mine were the same shape, but darkly tinted, a protection I needed against bright light. Carson thought them an affectation.
The woman looked to her right, and it was only then I noticed she wasn’t alone. She put her hand on a man’s shoulder for a moment. He must be tall; she needed to reach up several inches to make contact. Then she got out from behind the wheel and walked toward me.
The sun seemed to slide then, and drift audibly behind the woman with a sigh. Its radiance burnished the edges of her form and obscured her features, but I’d recognize that face anywhere. I left my car to meet her. She handed me her keys and something else before she passed me.
I walked on, pulling my hair back into a ponytail with the elastic the woman had given me and slid into the seat she had vacated. To my right was Sam, my college boyfriend, who smiled when he saw me and asked if everything was okay. The car behind us moved forward and accelerated. Then it was past us. I watched until it crested the hill that marked the beginning of the cornfields that bordered our sleepy town and disappeared.
I told Sam everything was perfect.
Carolyn R. Russell’s latest novel is In the Fullness of Time, a dystopian thriller published by Vine Leaves Press in 2020. Her poetry, essays, and short stories have been featured in numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, Eunoia Review, 3rd Wednesday, Litro Magazine, Reflex Press, Club Plum Literary Journal, Daikaijuzine, Orca: A Literary Journal, Bridge Eight, Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, and New World Writing. Her new collection of cross-genre flash will be published by Vine Leaves Press in October of 2023. Carolyn lives on and writes from Boston’s North Shore.