The hot July pavement rippled with a distant aqua mirage, and Careena pushed me out of the way. “I will drive!” she screamed. The look in her red-rimmed eyes was terrible to behold — I meekly handed her the car keys. Her rampage continued. “Just get in and be quiet! And don’t forget your stupid seatbelt!” She threw herself into the hot car; all three hundred pounds of her flopped into the driver’s seat. She slammed the car door with a vengeance.
Looking around for someone, anyone who I might be calling as a witness to this scene if things got even more terrible, I carefully limped around to the passenger side of the four door sedan. Cars were flying by us, but there was no kind soul to call.
Through the passenger side window, I could see her mouth moving with the viciousness of a snake eating a mouse. “Get IN!” Careena screamed again. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I reached for the car door handle. Just one slight touch burned my hand and I cried out in pain and fear.
“Careena, it’s hot! I can’t open the door. I just can’t!” I sobbed out loud in hopes of sparking some small ember of compassion from this angry woman. Careena didn’t hear me, and she was already starting the car. Her hands were shaking and her head was bobbing crazily back and forth, and I began to think that maybe she’d just drive off without me.
I hoped she would. I would rather walk twenty hot miles down this dangerous highway in a midday swelter than get back in the car with Careena.
Using the bottom of my blouse as a potholder, I pulled on the door handle. The door opened and her voice violated my ears once again, like the sound of a cement-cutting machine in an alley. “What is your problem?” she shrieked. “Just shut the door. We’ve only got thirty minutes, and now I know we’ll be late because of your stupid driving. What’s wrong with you anyway?”
Gingerly, I fastened my seat belt, using my blouse again to protect myself from the hot metal. Seeing that I was secure, she grinned. Her grin was a maniac clown grin and for the first time today, I noticed that her thick lipstick was much too red for the rest of her face, and it was smeared on her large yellow teeth. Her lipstick only added to my fear and confusion. Why had I agreed to ride with Careena on this day of all days?
She grabbed the shifter with avenging power and slammed the car into “D” for drive. At the same time, her thick right leg raised a few inches off the plaid car seat and then with a loud grunt, she jammed the accelerator to the floor. Gravel flew out from under the tires and sprayed the dry ditch and small bushes along the road. The front of the car was momentarily overwhelmed by the back of the car and the momentum of this insane take-off shuddered through me.
“Careena! Stop it! This is so bad, so scary.”
The sound of the semi-truck’s air horn filled the inside of our little car, and she didn’t hear me. The truck blazed past us, and the ebb tide of its wake pulled us out of our lane and into the path of an oncoming car.
“Careena! Watch out!” I screamed through my hands which were covering my face and my eyes. When I lowered my hands, I realized that I was still alive, and Careena was speeding faster and faster. With the speedometer needle at 75 in the middle of rush hour traffic, I gripped the edges of the dashboard and waited for my early demise.
I saw the red lights up ahead as the traffic slowed, but Careena did not. Swerving to the left lane and swerving back to the right lane, she reminded me of an out-of-control sewing machine, humming along through the fabric roadway. Clicking along the cotton causeway. Spinning the steering wheel like a bobbin of thread along her thumbs and speeding along the asphalt material until the red lights were all around us, and she had no choice but to step on the brakes. And she stepped on them with all of her might, throwing me forward with only my shoulder harness to stop my head from slamming into the windshield.
When the traffic began to move again, Careena wasted no time in the continuance of her weaving in and out. My right hand clutched the door, and my left hand sat wounded in my lap, the fingers twitching slightly as though they were breathing their last. My left knee throbbed, and the pain spoke to me about Careena slamming me into the car when she had taken the wheel just minutes before.
Exits from the highway came and went, and still Careena drove on. I was reminded of the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow — the animated version I had seen so many years ago with the pumpkin-headed man with the flaming eyes. Beads of perspiration were building up on the forehead and beakish nose of Careena. She frequently took one hand and then the other off the steering wheel and wiped them on her dress, leaving trails of moist grime on the white silk.
“Careena,” I begged. “Please can’t we turn on the air conditioning? I’m wringing wet and so hot. I think I might die of this heat, Careena. Please?”
“No,” she screamed just twelve inches from my face. “I like the windows open. I love the wind in my hair and all the fresh air. It makes me happy and that’s what I need most of all right now is just a little happiness. Why can’t you just let me be happy? Is that too much to ask? Just a little fun and some happy times?”
I said nothing, feeling the sting of her venom for the umpteenth time that day.
She turned the radio on. “Hand me my phone,” she ordered. I found it on the floor by my feet and handed it to her. “Careena, you can’t drive and talk on the phone,” I said quietly so as not to upset her again. With horror, I saw that she was looking down at her phone and back up at the road and down at her phone and up at the road, with just one hand on the wheel. “Careena, NO!” I cried with all the energy and fight I had left in me. “No, Careena, please don’t text him while you’re driving.” She just grinned at me.
“I was just letting him know that we’re almost there,” she smirked and started to sing along with the radio. Then she looked at the numbers of the radio station. “Change that station. I can’t stand that song. Jeez, I hate that song.”
And I twisted the knob to get to the station she liked and the song playing reminded me of someone I used to know, and I just turned and looked out the window, trying to forget that Careena was driving.
Our exit sign flew by my face, and we turned onto a quiet street just past the 7 Eleven. “Careena, can we please just stop and get a bottle of water? I’m so thirsty, I think I’m going to die.”
“Be quiet,” she yelled. “There’s no time for that now. I can’t be late.”
We turned the corner too fast, the tires squealed and the brakes gave it their best shot We hit the curb anyway.
“Damn,” she said and then punched the accelerator again. I could see the tall steeple of the church just down the block. Careena at last slowed down and then slammed on the brakes when she reached the front steps of the church. Her long white veil which had been streaming out the window through the duration of the terrible ride finally settled into place over her head, over her face, down her shoulders and her broad, sweaty back as she got out of the car and walked with heavy purpose towards the open doors of the church.
I heard wedding bells ringing, clanging feverishly above me as I climbed slowly out of the car. I can still hear Careena yelling at me, “C’mon, this is my big day! Are you coming or not?”