From "Backseat Driver," in Ghost Writers
One sunny afternoon in April, not long after her release from the hospital, Susanna looked out the front window of her apartment and saw someone sitting behind the wheel of her car. She had been tidying up the living room, putting books away, straightening three-month-old New Yorkers on the coffee table. She had only glanced out the window as she stooped to snatch the television remote off the sill—how had it gotten there?—and return it to the top of the TV. Bent at the waist, her nose inches from the glass, she caught her breath at the sight of a figure—she couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman—sitting with its hands on the wheel and its face turned away from her towards the passenger seat. Then she stood up straight, clutching the remote in both hands as though she might aim it at the car and make the figure vanish with a press of her thumb.
Oh great, she thought, you need this right now like you need . . . what? Like you need what?
The parking lot was long and narrow, an oblong of cracked and stained old asphalt that emptied onto Trowbridge Road. Her little blue Chevy Prizm was parked at right angles to the strip of matted brown lawn between the lot and the boarded-up restaurant next door, and next to the Prizm was the only other car in the lot in the middle of a weekday afternoon, a red Dodge that never moved from its spot. From the grass between their front bumpers rose a youngish maple, its shadow printed on the asphalt, sharp near the trunk, blurred at the tips of its branches. The upper reaches of the tree itself were fuzzed with new buds of a translucent green, while from the lowest limbs, just over the two cars, a few brown leaves still flapped like skeletal hands in the mild spring breeze. Crazed with crooked shadows, the Dodge’s sheen was dulled with a settled layer of grime and plastered here and there with dead leaves. From her own car a brilliant coin of sun glared in the rear window, making spots in Susanna’s eyes. She shifted her gaze back to the driver’s side window, hopeful that the figure she’d just seen was only the reflection of a tree limb in the glass. But then figure twisted in its seat, turning its back to her to face the passenger side more squarely.
She gasped and stepped back, squeezing the remote tightly in both hands. Then she drew a deep breath and said, “Right,” and she wheeled away from the window and stamped across the carpet. She flung open her apartment door, thumped in her bare heels down the cold concrete steps, and strode out onto the rough asphalt. This is stupid, she was thinking, even as grit pricked her bare soles. It was cold, and all she had on were a pair of exercise tights and a sweatshirt, and when was the last time she walked barefoot on pavement? When she was, what, fourteen? Go back upstairs, she thought, lock yourself in, call the cops, but she was also thinking, no, this is what got you into trouble, this is the pattern.
“Get mad at who you’re mad at,” Dr. Ghose had said, in his quiet, condescending singsong. “Direct your anger out, not in.”
So, the remote clutched to her chest, she marched right up to the side of her car, stooped to the driver’s side window, and lifted her other hand to rap smartly on the glass.
But the driver’s seat was empty. Susanna stooped a little lower to peer through both windows on this side. There was no one in the car.
She stood up straight and let her hands drop to her sides. She was uncertain if her skin was tightening and her toes going numb because she was afraid, or just because she was cold. Then the remote control slipped from her hand and clattered against the asphalt, and she snatched it up and dashed back across the parking lot and up the stairs, muttering “Idiot,” with each jarring impact of her heels.
Nice going, Nancy Drew, she thought as she scuffed the grit off her soles onto the doormat and slipped back into the warmth of her apartment. She was shaking, and she was pretty sure it wasn’t just from the cold, so she put the remote on the coffee table and sat crosslegged on the couch and closed her eyes and tried to find her center. But it didn’t help.
Now I’m seeing things, she thought in the dark behind her eyelids. This’ll wow Dr. Ghose.
Copyright © 2011 by James Hynes