Pearl touched the pedal one-two-three-four times. Her shin burned. The music picked up again, bass pounding under cymbals slapping a beat into her brain, guitars lawn mowering over each other in steady rhythm. She absorbed it all, itch in her vagina, a fleck of hair pulsing over her temple, drops of sweat tracing the ridge of her ear, a heavy smell of salt and grease mingled with a faint odor of weed and burning oil and hot metal and a sour aroma rising from below that made her gag.
It was the high-pitched screech of a padless brake disc grabbing dry metal that brought her back. She ticked off the colors in her mind—orange tickets spread across the dashboard, white and yellow food wrappers at her feet, brake lights blazing and fading red in an unsteady rhythm—but her eyes never left her mark: the rear view mirror of the Meridian Blue Saab 9000S rocketing along just a few inches from the front bumper of her shitbox Tercel.
Her foot slid over the accelerator, the pad under her big toe pushing the frayed rubber just slightly, and she was almost there, in the Saab, with the woman. She could see her terror: shoulders steeled for impact, nervous glances into the rear view mirror, an almost imperceptible tremor in the neatly cut blonde bangs that fell over the headrest. The woman’s fingers were wrapped so tight around the steering wheel that her white knuckles interspersed with rings of gold and colored stones turned the arc of the wheel into a bejeweled snake. Pearl could almost smell the expensive perfume steaming off the woman’s body.
Latrobe said it would be like this, the way she and the woman moved together, speeding through the night as if they were in small movie theatre watching a home movie, and every time she went on a recruiting mission she thought of the words he so often repeated for the new recruits: they will think they fear you, and they will think they hate you, but they will know that you have given them a gift that they could never find without you. Then Latrobe would turn to Pearl, and tell the story of the night she was recruited, and how he knew Pearl would join them, not, he often reminded her, when he saw how rigid and unseeing she was behind the wheel, but when he first noticed her car plowing down the center lane as if it were “driverless.”
The woman searched the rear view mirror and her eyes locked with Pearl’s and she came alive. Panic. Terror. Love. Hate. Surrender. Maybe the woman was thinking about her kids or her boyfriend or why hadn’t she stayed home, or maybe she thought about her luck, or how she got here, on this highway, at this moment, or maybe Pearl had stripped it all away; maybe she was like Pearl now—pure driver, one with the machine, existing only in function.
The woman was pushing what? One hundred thirty? One hundred forty? Pearl never quite sure, her speedometer busted, but she was pretty good at guessing.
The cops would approach cautiously, eyeing her hard through the side view mirror, and she would reconstruct, how the engine whined, what kind of rattles she heard, when she smelled oil, what she had been thinking, and then she would come up with a guess. In her head, of course. She was never off by much. “I clocked you doing…” and she was elated or disappointed based on how close she had come.
The city whizzed past on the left, but the woman’s world was a gray barrier and a white line and a gulp of air—and to look outside it would have been absurd.
Then the woman’s neck stiffened, her earrings froze in place, and a millisecond later Pearl touched the brake and guided her toothpaste green sedan into the middle lane, just in time to see the woman swoon, her shoulders relaxed, her head tipped back, and as she gazed over as Pearl raced by, the woman breathed a “thank you” in a long, slow full breath.
As Pearl steadied her ride, fished her phone out of her pocket, and guided the car across the open road, she considered the city, standing cold and shimmering in her side view mirror and noted a tiny blue flashing light too far in the distance to be a concern.
A quick text to Latrobe, “south st ramp 5 mins,” confirmed her destination, and as Pearl gradually reduced her speed, she imagined the burning moon falling over the jagged roof tops and satellite dishes that would mark her final descent into the dark streets where she would find Latrobe and the others and a brightly lit parking lot, and a warm, knowing welcome.
Pearl flicked on her directionals, crossed the open lanes, and eased to the top of the ramp, and she did not see the Meridian Blue Saab 9000S, did not feel the cold ugly stare from the frightened woman, or hear the low animal grunts as small bursts of hot air flared from the woman’s nose. She only heard the fully throttled engine of a small plane flying low overhead as if it were approaching the end of a runway, preparing to take off. And as the plastic and metal of the Toyota started to compress around her, Pearl remembered the last thing Latrobe had said to her about that night she was recruited, something he did not repeat as often as the rest of the story. He had told her that although he knew she would join with them, resurrection was an imprecise business, because, “when you bring someone back to life, you never know what small part of them may have changed.”
©2012 Mal Duffy