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“The Red”

Volume 8 | Spring 2018

by Amie Charney

It’s the car that strikes panic into your heart. Nondescript gray or blue, a sedan selected by American families across the country as a solid, dependable choice for its airbags and good gas mileage. It’s the car you never want to see parked in front of your house unless, of course, it’s your teenage daughter’s boyfriend, whom you like. He reminds you of Dean, on the Gilmore Girls, a great first boyfriend. Respectful. Decent. Cute. His car is red though, not fire engine red, but impotent maroon. This car, the one you see as you turn down your street, is gray, and parked against the curb. It would never park in the driveway, that would be intrusive, an unwanted violation.

At first, you can’t tell if the car is in front of your scrap of lawn or your neighbors. He’s deployed, too. It could be them, not you. But your stomach has sunk, and a cold sweat beads your forehead. You stop in the middle of the street. Considering. Panic constricts your chest. You put the car in reverse, and execute a perfect three-point turn that your Drivers Ed teacher taught you one rain-drenched afternoon your junior year. If you don’t follow the bend in the road that dumps into your driveway, then nothing the gray car bears can hurt you. But you know, if the car is there for you, it will stay as long as it must.

You’ve always been the type to yank the Band-Aid off, so you reverse the three-point turn, relieved none of your neighbors are home to smell hesitation. Inch by inch you creep up on the car, trying to see silhouettes through the car’s tinted glass. Are there one or two? Section 2 of the Casualty Assistance Calls Officer manual requires they always come in twos, requires they wear service alphas. You pull into your driveway and wait. Maybe they won’t come out of the car unless the person is inside. It would be too casual to tear someone’s world apart, just standing around a driveway. You’ve always imagined, when it happens to you, they’d sit, stiff and officious, on the front room couch, the one no one ever uses. Not the TV room couch, too comfortable, and lumpy. It’d seen action, and you’d like to keep it around for old time’s sake. If they notified you on the TV couch, you’d have to get rid of it along with the tools, and camping equipment, and the Guns and Ammo back issues. Some feeling has burned back into your legs, and you decide to go into the house. The hair on the back of your neck prickles, and you shut the door behind you, leaving it unlocked just in case you’ll have to remember how to turn a deadbolt. You sit on the stiff cushions of the sage green couch. He bought it off a moving neighbor for cheap. He liked the couch. It was fussy, and traditional. You hate that couch.

You get up and pace, the click of heels hollow on the fake wood floor. You would move home to Seattle. You have friends there that knew you before, and after the initial round of sympathy and questions, they’ll retreat into long looks of pity, but you won’t have to repeat the story ad nauseam. You have family there too, and the kids always seemed to like the rain and green and coffee. Coffee, you pivot toward the kitchen. It would be rude not to offer them something. You choose the delicate cups your mother-in-law re-gifted you one Christmas. You hate those too, and wouldn’t mind chucking the Royal Dalton flowers out with all the old pit-stained concert t-shirts he’d never throw out. Before he left, you asked him to update the Red so you wouldn’t have to tell his mother. It would be cleaner that way, kinder to you.

The kitchen window overlooks the street, and you swear there was a flicker of movement inside. Should you change your clothes? You look down at your favorite sweater and decide you’d better go put something on that won’t pain you to toss in the bag with his old Yankees cap and Nikes. You check out the car again through the window. You notice Jane’s mini-van crawl down the street, inch by inch. She pulls into the driveway next to yours. You watch her release the side door, and a couple pairs of sneakers fly into the house. The flicker in the car moves again, and the gray sedan doors open. A shiny pair of Oxford Corfams sink into the grass next to the curb, and out of the other door, a green service cover hovers above the car roof. You pull down your sweater and return to the green couch, teetering on the edge, waiting… waiting… waiting.