Waiting at the stoplight Henry tries to time his blinker with the car ahead of him, but it seems slightly off, like a badly dubbed Chinese film. The only way to make it work is to manually turn the blinkers on and off at correctly spaced intervals. He is so focused on this task he doesn’t see the man at his window. He looks up only after he hears the clicking of metal on glass, and turning his head, sees the red of the stoplight reflecting off the barrel of a gun.
Henry feels the cool night air even before he rolls his window down.
“What can I do for you Officer?”
The buttons on the man’s shirt strain against his overflowing gut. There are dark stains at his armpits and his mustache curls in uneven strands around his mouth, hiding his lips.
“You’re trespassing on private property buddy, you need to leave now. I have a gun and I have used it before.”
“Officer, the light is still red. If I go through now, there is no telling what kind of accident I could get into.”
Henry is a careful driver, especially when he has his two daughters in the car with him. He just picked them up from dance class and is only a few blocks from home. He can almost smell the pot roast his wife is preparing, his mouth filling with the flavors of onions and beef. The girls begin to squabble with each other and Henry tries to tune them out so he can deal with the policeman. The officer is shifting his weight from side to side, his gun gripped loosely in his hand, bouncing against his thigh.
“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I am losing my patience with you.”
“Officer, I promise to move on as soon as the light changes. There seems to be something wrong with the light, maybe you should focus your efforts on finding out what the hold up is.”
The muscles in the man’s neck twitch and his color deepens. The gun, which till now has hung placidly at his side, is now gripped with white knuckles.
“What is wrong with you? Are you crazy? There is no stoplight, there is no road and I am not a cop.”
Henry is hit again with the cold breeze, causing his skin to rise in bumps across his neck. He looks through the windshield ahead of him, noticing the spider web pattern of cracks. Dust cakes the wipers and his view is tilted, not quite parallel with the ground. A macaroni necklace, cracked and moldy, is wound around the rearview mirror, where he sees his own reflection, haggard and worn. His right foot is pushed down on the brake pedal, but where the gas pedal should be there is only a rusted and jagged hole.
Henry looks up at the man standing beside his car. He notices he wears no badge and his shirt is not the crisp blue cotton of a uniform, but a thin flannel in an unforgiving plaid.
Henry closes his eyes and hears his daughter’s voices fighting over whose pirouettes were better during dance class. He can smell their skin, the sweet smell of children’s sweat and powder. He can even feel the slight pressure of a leather wrapped toe pushing into the back of his seat. He begins to smile, but the breeze sweeps over him again and thoughts come unwanted to his mind.
The pavement was shimmering with rain and oil and he was impatient sitting at the unusually long light with the incessant bickering in the back seat. He watched the light for the cross traffic, waiting for it to turn yellow so he would know when it was his turn. As soon as it turned red he drove into the intersection, not even waiting for a green light. He was eager to get home after his long day of work. Then the high-pitched sound of car horns and screeching tires, fighting for grip on the wet surface filled his ears.
Screams, not of anger or happiness, but terror, reverberated through the car as the metal folded in on itself behind him. Glass sprayed his face and arms.
Then there was a cold breeze.
Henry looks at the man standing beside his car. He can feel the tears pooling beside his nose and his chin is quivering.
“Man is there anyone you want me to call?” The man in the flannel shirt tucks the gun into his pants and leans forward, resting his forearms on the door of the car.
Henry shakes his head and slowly turns in his seat, his heart pounding so fiercely it might push its way out of his chest.
Behind him there are no little girls in pink leotards with ribbons in their hair.
All that fills the car now is empty space. Looking around Henry can see cars stacked one on top of another, some suffering the same fate as his, others outlived by their drivers. A chain link fence simply marked with ‘no trespassing’ is all that holds them in. All around him, pieces of other people’s lives, forgotten and broken.
Henry is sitting in the pieces of his.