Geek-boy nodded toward the windshield. “I’d say it’s out of the question.”
“Let me out at the next corner.” Although I didn’t want to, my voice had telltale nervousness to it.
He pointed out the window of our bobbing Volkswagen. “There is no next corner. It’s only water.”
“Just let me out.”
He shrugged. “Where would you like to be let out?”
“Right here. I can’t be in this car any longer.”
I wanted to get out for the entire time the two of us had been bumping along from housetop to telephone pole. What had it been ten hours? I wanted to remove myself from the floating coffin in the first ten minutes.
I’d not been used to being in such close proximity to any man for more than thirty-second intervals for longer than I could remember. I certainly had not been forced to sit in the same car with one since my ex kidnapped me just after little Tammy was born. What was it, two years ago? There I was, stuck in another car with another geek. The only difference was, the car was not even close to a Camero. I was worried sick about my kids. I couldn’t hold back another second.
“I’ve got to get out of here.” I reached for the door handle.
Geek-boy pleaded, “please don’t. If you open the window, the water will swamp us.”
“I can’t stay in here.”
“If you even open the window the water will flood this little floating bubble and we’ll rudely drop out of sight.”
“I can’t stand it in here any longer.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to float out this flood high and dry than try to swim for it in the freezing water?”
“But. . .”
The engine on Geek-boy’s little bug had long since died. He reached down and turned on the radio. “Why don’t you find a station you like?”
I felt another rip in my fabric of guardedness, another strand loosened from my reality. It wouldn’t take too much more of what was left of my sanity before I opened the window. Who cared about the cold water? Who cared about swimming? I needed, no I had to get out. I was at the end of my rope and the radio reminded me of Frank, that bastard, and what he did the last night I saw him. Just before he forced himself on me, he suggested I listen to the radio.
I reached for the window crank and tugged at the handle. In less than one half turn, after five gallons of the freezing Yuba River dumped onto my lap, my frantic, I’ve-got-to-get-out-of-this-car, turned more reasonable.
I rolled the window up. Geek pulled his feet off the floor, leaned to the back seat and handed me a blanket.
While I scrambled to get the window all the way up, there was a moment of clarity. He could’ve stopped me. He could have fought me, but he didn’t. He was willing to swim rather than force me to stay.
Adding to the uncomfortable feeling of being stuck in a car with a strange man, I was soaking wet and freezing. The same few gallons of water that dumped on my lap sloshed around on the floor as the little car jostled from house to light pole. I pulled my feet up, but in a minute the water was gone.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s okay. I felt like doing the same thing a dozen times.”
“Why didn’t you stop me?”
“I would never stop you. You chose to do what you want.”
“Even if I swamped your car?”
“I can swim.”
“What do we do now?”
“Wait it out. Hope for some high ground.”
“Doesn’t look like high ground is anywhere in sight.”
Something in me shifted. Some basic feeling of uncertainty and being trapped had been replaced with something else. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I wasn’t as frantic.
The car nudged up against a house and scrapped along one wall, shattering some windows. The crunching glass unnerved me. “I can’t stand the sound of breaking glass.”
He looked at me with a reassuring smile. “As long as it isn’t Volkswagen glass, I’m fine with the sound for now.”
His little joke made me snigger. Now that I was sure he wasn’t going to take advantage of me, I felt calm. I managed a small smile and looked over into the darkness.
“Are we going to get through this?”
“So far we’re doing pretty good. This car can probably float for hours, maybe days, that is if no one opens the windows.”
I giggled. “Thanks for saving me in the parking lot.” I hold out my hand, “I’m Marie.”
He griped my hand for a second. “Sam.”
“I guess I waited on you for months, but I never knew you by any other name than table forty-two.”
“Is that the table I sat in?”
“Every time you came in you sat at the same table. Sometimes you’d wait for an hour to get that table.”
“Creature of habit I guess. I felt more comfortable there.”
He paused for a moment then stammered getting the next sentence out. “It. . . it. . . well. . . it was in your section.”
Thank God it was still dark because I felt myself flush. I’d known his story ever since he started coming in the restaurant. I saw his puppy dog looks. I’d heard it in his nervous voice when he ordered. I felt him watching me.
He had it all right, but I was not in any position, nor was I in any mood to reciprocate. As far as I was concerned, romance belonged in the movies. There was no room in my life, except for my kids of course, for the word that rhymed with dove.
He didn’t sound the same in the car. His voice didn’t have that lost quality to it. His acceptance for whatever I wanted made me feel more comfortable than I’ve ever felt with a man. The fact that he, except for the embarrassing moment when I got into the car, kept his hands to himself was in itself a miracle. He might be the first man in my entire life who didn’t try to maul my breast the moment he had me alone.
When I reached puberty and my chest swelled beyond anyone’s expectations, men couldn’t keep their eyes or hands off me.
Even my father, damn his dead and restless soul, had tried once. If it hadn’t been for my screams that woke mom, he would’ve succeeded. I never told mom, but I made sure never to be alone in a room with him. I was never alone with any man.
Frank was the only exception. With Frank –who was ten years my senior– I was in the state of mind and heart rhyming with dove.
Mom tried to help me make some clear-headed choices around Frank, but I didn’t trust her. Since that night dad tried, all I wanted was out from under his peering eyes and oppressive attempts to corner me. I wanted away from my dingbat mom who couldn’t see what was going on.
Frank was the answer, at least for a year or so. For the first year I was swimming in it. That first twelve months, I found myself trusting again. We were like two inseparable peas in a pod, except for Wednesday nights when he went bowling with the boys.
It was just past the second year and our second child when I found out. For over a year, Frank had been using his Wednesday nights to visit that damn Selma Franklin slut on the south side of town. Why he wasted his time on trash like Selma, I never could figure out. He had more than he could handle with his own little Bunny at home. Why he needed her was beyond my comprehension.
Once I found out, except for the experience in the Camero six months later, I was never with Frank again. With that one stupid move, he joined the other three billion men on earth. Frank confirmed that all men were complete and total scumbags.
This guy had not tried a thing. Had it been ten hours? It was dark, but I was positive he hadn’t looked at my breasts once. I had a sixth sense about ogling eyes.
Once I was assured that Sam wasn’t going to try anything, the question of where the little floating coffin was taking us was foremost in my thoughts. As dense as she was, I was sure mom had enough savvy to get the kids safely upstairs.
We bobbed along, floating past housetops and telephone poles. The rain thundered on the tin roof. I sat in uncomfortable silence, getting warm under the blanket, feeling safe in more ways than one.
Okay, maybe there were only two billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine, men on this planet who are total jerks. Maybe there was one nice guy. Maybe, just maybe, the one and only nice guy in the entire world was sitting right next to me.
In the early pre-dawn hours, I awoke sobbing and felt a consoling hand touch my shoulder. The hand didn’t try to grope me anticipating inching down to my troublesome bosoms, but just a hand reaching out in support.
“You okay,” the soothing voice said in the dark.
I’d been dreaming of the one good man on the planet. He had not been Jimmy Stewart or Robert Redford, what I thought a good man might look like. He had been plainer, more like the guy down the block. He had been a well-meaning man with heart and integrity. When I awoke, I realized where I was and who was sitting next to me. When the hand of concern touched my shoulder, I broke into a fresh round of sobs.
It was pitch black. The car had been bumping along for most of the night. Although I’d been able to sleep some, my long legs were cramped, my arms had nowhere to rest and I was a bit cranky. I’d been awake for over an hour, when the woman of my dreams awoke in the darkness with a start. I touched her shoulder as an automatic response and asked if she was okay. When she opened up into a full blown wail, I had no idea what to do. I left my hand on her shoulder and simply waited it out.
When she calmed she answered, “I’ve never been so long in the company of any man without him trying to grope me.” She went into another short bout of tears.
Putting my hand on her shoulder took extreme boldness. Keeping it there took acts of heroic proportions. Not that I didn’t want to grope her, I was much too shy to be so overt. Thank the gods for my shyness.
I needed to say something to assure her, but I didn’t have anything to say, so I just sat quiet.
The rains had stopped. Dawn was tracing the outlines of buildings and trees as we floated past. I could almost see Marie Ollinski’s tear streaked face.
By the time I was able to think of one thing to say, her milky white, movie star face, was easily recognizable.
“When we hit dry land I’ll get you back to your mother and kids.” It wasn’t much, but so much time had gone by, I felt obligated to say something.
We sat in awkward silence, pitching and bumping along, now and then recognizing landmarks and speaking about where we were.
I sensed a shift in Marie’s demeanor. After her cry she seemed friendlier, more willing to interact. It was so much easier when she wasn’t speaking. It was simpler when I knew she wanted out of the car. It was more feasible for me to feel the familiarity of rejection by yet another woman. It was so much harder to face a woman who wanted conversation. I’m only a guy. All I know about is Volkswagens. I can talk Volkswagens a blue streak. I could give an hour dissertation about brake systems alone. I had a keen sense of the sound of the engine and what might be wrong. I could recite the history of Volkswagens, but I’d never met one woman who was interested. Why would I assume this lovely dream girl would be any different?
At that moment, like no other, I wished I knew more about other things than Volkswagens. I wished I’d taken that art appreciation course at the junior collage last autumn. With the class under my belt I’d have something to say. I could talk about Monet or Picasso. I could remunerate about the works of current artists, and talk the talk of the centuries. At that moment, I could –if I was able to get my cramped leg out from under the dash– kick myself for not taking the class and having something intelligent to say.
If only that little blue bug hadn’t shown up the first night of the class. I was so excited about working on it, I forgot to go to the collage. When the next class came around the following week, I was elbow’s deep in another restoration and happy as a bug in a rug, or was it a bug in a bug.
The day was well on its way before I came out of the depths of my regrets and up for air. Marie’s smooth face was easy to see and I loved looking at her. In the few inches of space between the line of the water and top of the window glass I saw the gray of another day, yet thank the heavens, no rain.
After an entire night of leg cramping, woman crying, bilge pumping, the little Volkswagen jerked, bumped and without warning, came to a halt.
I looked through the side windows, then turned fully around to the back. There, in the middle of the biggest lake I’d ever been in, was a small island about twenty yards off to our stern. A crumbling cottage sat at the very pinnacle of the island, which couldn’t have been more than a foot or two out of the water itself.
I turned to Marie. “I think we’ve arrived.”
I reached for the ignition and turned the engine over. After hours of being under water, even though my special attention to sealing every possible crack, the water had swamped the engine. It turned over all right but so sluggishly I was left with putting the car in reverse and using the starter to back up. The starter gave up after a ten yards, but the car had pulled out of the water enough that we could open the windows without getting swamped.
I turn to Marie. “If we climb out the windows, we can wade to shore and see if anyone’s home.”
Marie looked at me. “I won’t need any help this time.”
I got an embarrassed look. “I’m really sorry for what happened, but there wasn’t any other way.”
She pointed at my window. “You climb out first.”
Getting my scarecrow body from under the steering wheel and out the open window was another thing altogether. My right knee locked up under the wheel and Marie had to jiggle the steering until it slipped free.
After a few minutes, I stood crotch deep in ice water.
Marie made a swirling motion with her index finger. “Turn your back and I’ll get out.”
“The water is cold. If you want, I’ll ride you piggy-back to shore.”
With a cautionary voice, she said, “I can make it.”
I obeyed and stood for another minute in the water. My legs began to go numb before I heard Marie gasp for air. “It’s cold.”
I turned, reached inside my window and rolled it up as far as I could.
I sloshed around to the other side, rolled Marie’s window up, then followed her to shore.
A light shower began as we stepped onto dry land. I led the way to the house. I couldn’t help but noticed a profusion of chickens and roosters posted on tree branches and pecking on bare spots of earth. We waded through the flock and reached the door. I knocked.