Jane Hertenstein

Driving
May 21, 2012
 

It got so I was choking on every breath. For about the hundredth time that day, I contemplated dropping everything, backing the car up and taking off. To where? It didn’t matter. Away from Winnetka, the North Shore and its insipid strip malls where you can get an L.A. tan, gourmet pet food, swimming pool supplies, and deluxe frozen yogurt. Instead I gripped the steering wheel. I had to keep driving.
 
As I sat in the car waiting for my daughter Whitney to finish up soccer practice, I popped a Teddy Graham into my mouth. It was a damp and dreary afternoon. The hazy Indian summer days of late fall that once seemed as though they might go forever were now gone, obliterated by a cold front. Overnight the trees bordering the park had changed from red-gold to a mottled purple. They looked like bruises.
 
I pried a fruit roll-up off the slick plastic and stuffed it into my mouth. I rarely had time to eat properly. I was at an all-time high with my weight. In disgust I rolled down my window and dumped the rest of the Teddy Grahams into a puddle. If the car weren’t in PARK, I would have gunned it out of the lot. I imagined barreling toward the football field, down the sidelines and into the stands: killing half a dozen soccer moms and sending their lattes and honey-bran muffins flying. Imagining this made me feel better. In some cultures it is permissible for a person to cut her arms, to fall screaming and writhing to the ground, to publicly work through grief. But on the North Shore, in Winnetka one sucks it in, grins and bears it.
 
I couldn’t describe the emptiness inside of me; it was like a long hallway with doors on both sides. I opened one door and this door led to another door, which simply led to another door. I started the car. What would it take to act on my impulses? I checked the rear view mirror. What would it feel like to drive and drive until I crossed the state line, to pull over and eat a real meal, to check into a hotel and sleep for fifteen solid hours?
 
Suddenly I broke down crying, snot pouring out of my nose. All my internal organs seemed to be liquefying into tears. I rocked back and forth, keening to the lyrics of 10,000 Maniacs on the radio.
 
Whitney jerked open the passenger-side door. “Mom? What’s going on?”
 
I jumped. “Nothing, honey.”
 
Pause. “Ah, oh—kay,” she said, keeping her distance.
 
“Score any goals?” I sniffed and wiped my fingertips over my tear-drenched lips.
 
“It was just practice, not real.” Her tone of voice was restrained, lacking its usual teen contempt. “So everything’s all right?”
 
I pulled myself together. I had to. Mother wit demanded it. I had my daughter to think about. “Yeah, yeah sure.” I sighed, and echoed abstractly, “Just practicing.”

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Jane Hertenstein’s current obsession is flash. She is the author of over 30 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise, and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. Jane is the recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. She can also be found at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/

 

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