BY KIRK NESSET
Problem is it’s cold outside, her fingers don’t work like they should, and she can’t think which secret pocket she stuck the keys in, if it was even this jacket. She finds her Kleenex, her toenail clipper, a red rubber bone. Todd her dog squirms on Edgar’s arm. Edgar has to set the suitcase down on the drive, though it’s wet.
Mom, let me drive, he says.
I told you no.
Todd yips, squirming again.
Well, let’s get in at least.
Hold your frickin horses.
They’re on their way to the hospital. To Kaiser, in town. Edgar isn’t happy about this. He’s been reading things on his computer as usual. A gallbladder’s like a tonsil, his computer insists. They don’t yank tonsils out anymore; that, they say now, was barbaric. The same goes for gallbladders—or it will, he says, when people wake up. But she does what her doctor says, period. She’s sick of this burn and ache in her guts. She’s sick of yellow eyes, and the diaper. And Edgar’s no doctor. Her doctor’s the doctor.
She unlocks the car door finally. Edgar slips her bags in back and drops Todd on his plaid dog blanket. Todd snaps the blanket up with his teeth and shakes it, snarling, too cute almost for his britches. She turns the engine on, and the heat. Edgar stands brushing dog hair off his sweater, then gets in. He’s got his undertaker’s expression on, like he just sucked a half dozen lemons. The fan blows cold air at her feet.
I hope we know the way, he says.
Edgar, don’t start.
Just so we don’t get confused.
I know what’s what.
But you get confused.
I do not get confused.
The last time something happened he took her car keys away. She had to call a locksmith and lie and say she lost her keys, could he make more, and the job wasn’t cheap. She had the guy make multiple sets, actually. She’s got keys stashed all over the house now; she can’t help but find a spare set, wherever they are, if it comes to that.
Let’s go, Edgar says.
In her day a person warmed a car up. It doesn’t seem right to just get in and drive, despite Edgar’s facts, whatever he has to prescribe. Warming the engine, she tries to find gum, but the gum’s in her purse and her purse is in back and she can’t reach like she used to, her body’s so stiff—but she needs it, the gum, since she smoked before, smoked in fact for forty-six years, she always smoked when she drove, but now she can’t, she quit, they made her quit, smoking, not driving, and only—
What? Edgar asks.
She tells him Gum. He sighs. Then leans back for her purse, belly pulling the buttons on his businessman’s shirt, his freckled bald spot pointing her way. Todd does his dance, grinning, panting, standing on tiptoe for Edgar, his little hands on Edgar’s shoulder. Simply too cute! That peach and cream fur on his face! Those bulgy eyes, and eye and lip liner! She paid a hideous price at the pet shop but what a sweet dog. And not stinky, no matter what Edgar says. Todd’s blanket might stink just a little. It smells like Todd. And Todd is a dog, and a dog can’t help but smell like a dog.
Edgar gives her the gum. She takes a stick and hands the pack back to him, saying gum? but he doesn’t want any. She stuffs the wadded wrapper in the ashtray. She checks her hair in the mirror, revving the engine. All she’d done that day was take a wrong turn and head for Sparta, or was it Rock Lake. She called her niece to say where am I, and her niece called Edgar’s wife, who called Edgar, and there lay her error; she’d have to watch her ass better.
I’m keeping it, she tells him now.
He looks at her.
My organ. Gallbladder.
You’re keeping your gallbladder.
That’s very nice.
I got a coffee can out to stick in the freezer.
Your father’s tumor’s still in there, God rest his carcass.
Why don’t you ease up on the gas.
She lifts her right foot a bit and the roaring dies back. She looks at him. The fan keeps belting out air. Edgar stares out the windshield. The garage door is pale green, the same color almost as her dress, which she got for half price at Blair.
He’s a good son, it’s true. He calls to see how she is, he comes by to eat or help her clean house or mow and weed whack, he sprinkles the crystals under her rhododendrons. He brings videos over, which they watch, she and Edgar and Todd. He’ll surprise her with bagels, or a cake from the bakery, or See’s candy. He’ll say let’s do the garage, and they’ll begin, but there’s too much to sort, all those boxes of pictures and papers and books and knickknacks, stools and plant stands and lamps and who knows what else, dog toys, embroidery, kites, even his father’s golf clubs, God rest his dead ass, which she can’t quite give up. Who says it’s wrong for a car to just sit in the driveway?
He is a good son. So good he pisses her off, wielding his knowledge and youth, even if what hair he’s got left is gray as hers is these days. And that smart ass computer! Or that tragic look he gets on his face—it makes her furious! Like this might be the last time he’ll see her!
I’ll be picking you up tomorrow, he tells her now.
She tips the rearview down to see Todd, who stands with his little chin on the window edge, making his nose prints.
In my car, I mean, Edgar says. I just don’t think you should drive.
She guns the gas again.
What’ll you do, take it to Fairfax and sell it?
He looks across, then away.
Well—yes. We did find a buyer, actually.
He looks both shocked and relieved, like this was exactly the thing he’d wanted to say but not the place nor the right time to say it. She turns the fan down on the dash.
You sold my car.
We got better than blue book. The money’s yours.
She looks in the mirrors and checks her seat belt. Edgar stares straight ahead.
So it had come down to this. The next thing she’ll hear is her house is for sale. Isn’t that how the old story goes? Then it’s off to Rolling Acres or Greenbrae, assisted living with the bedwetting loonies, cold gruel and pills and turds flying, nonstop weeping and screaming. Todd will end up adopted, he’ll be beaten and kicked, left to sleep in his own piss in a cage. In the meantime of course she’ll be stuck. She’ll be at Edgar’s mercy completely. She’ll have to depend on Trudy her neighbor, that fat old bitch, that battle axe. And on the van that comes to cart the pissants around, the geezers and drips and shit-butts with walkers.
She undoes the emergency brake, slips the shift knob down.
We don’t want you killing yourself, Mom.
Don’t you Mom me, she says.
She turns, tries to crane her neck to look but her neck is too stiff and they’re rolling now anyway, slipping down the drive backward, and maybe too quickly. She hits the brake hard. Instead of stopping short like a decent car should the thing jolts ahead, or does it, who can say, who can think in the cracking once the chaos begins? The garage door is kindling and the kitchen wall too, and now the wall to the den, but who’d notice, it happens so fast, who’d see the roof caving in, collapsing on plant stands and puzzles and shattered antiques, croquette sticks and kites, on eight generations of china in pieces, her water dispenser upended, the coffee can for the organ sitting quaintly upright. Besides, she’s got an appointment, and motherfuck it she’ll get there, by crook or by hook. Even if she has to circle back by Rock Lake, or Sparta, wherever. Even if there’s a truck dead ahead on the road, and there is, bearing down in the dusk, hugely floodlit, a truck loaded with logs or with ice, aiming straight at her, bearing down on the car, which is hers.
Kirk Nesset is author of two books of fiction, Mr. Agreeable and Paradise Road, as well as Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo (translations) and The Stories of Raymond Carver (nonfiction). Saint X, a book of poems, is forthcoming. He was awarded the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in 2007 and has received a Pushcart Prize and grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, American Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Ploughshares, Agni, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He teaches at Allegheny College, and serves alternate years as writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers Institute in upstate New York. For more information, visit http://kirknesset.com.