Test Drive

Prompt: Fragrance

Terracotta Army figure

The inside of the car smelled like wax. That’s because the heater was broken and constantly blasting hot air, no matter what the outside temperature, which on that day in May was about 15 degrees celsius. So they drove through the flatlands with the windows down, trying their best to direct the vents away from skin surfaces, smelling the melted wax from the intricate and expensive souvenir candles hand-carved in the shape of six soldiers from the Terracotta Army of Xian, which Cash had purchased as gifts for his parents. They were now puddles of fragrant wax on the back seat of the car.

His guide and translator, Su, was fluent in English and was telling him a little about the history of the region through which they were traveling, but Cash was so warm that he drifted off to sleep, his head lolling against the seat back, and he started to dream that he was a bird flying high above the plains, with a massive wingspan, so huge it cast giant shadows on the land below, and then on the towns and then the cities, where towers were so high that they brushed his bird belly. He then had to navigate then between the spires and cell towers and flagpoles of a dense, sprawling city, until he suddenly realized he was not in control any more; that someone else was controlling his flight, dodging between dark buildings, like a teenager with a joystick.

“She smells like ra-ain,” sang Leep. He sang the song because he saw the ad. The television commercial was for a Toyota Corolla, so that’s what Leep was test-driving this week. He decided (as if he didn’t make the same decision every week) to drive past Beth’s house on Sandalwood Street, just to see if she was home or maybe catch a glimpse of her working in the front garden. If she saw the car cruising down her street, Beth (or as he called her, in his head, Lizzy) would never know it was him, as on any one weekend he might be test driving a Chevrolet Equinox, or a Ford Mustang, or a Toyota Corolla.

There was no one in the garden, where daffodils clustered all along the front porch, and the curtains were drawn, which was unusual.

Leep had only had his driver’s license for two years, and was not a bad driver, but nor was he very experienced or equipped to handle unexpected road conditions. That’s why when tires of his Corolla hit patch of oil only a block from the dealership, Leep yanked the wheel to the left to avoid colliding with a stop sign, skidded violently, and ended up ramming the stop sign with the passenger side of the car. “It could have been worse,” said Todd, the Toyota salesperson, who was astonishingly indifferent. Leep wished he had the money to buy a car. He would have bought a car from Todd on the spot, if he had.

Cash and Su waited outside the car for the ambulance to arrive, which might take awhile. The motorcyclist who had rammed into the passenger side door, narrowly missing Cash’s abdomen, was standing with them, chatting idly with Su. The driver of the motorcycle was clearly at fault, said Cash to Su, who shrugged her shoulders. “Perhaps we stalled too long at the intersection,” she said.

“We didn’t,” said Cash. “He clearly saw us making the turn and didn’t slow down at all. In fact, he might have accelerated. Why did you call an ambulance? He looks fine to me.”  Su didn’t respond, and he felt a flush of anger and frustration. The motorcyclist, meanwhile, took a sip of something from a metal flask, then offered it to Cash. Cash shook his head impatiently. The flask was not offered to Su.

After the motorcyclist disappeared in the ambulance and the police had arrived and taken names and measurements, Cash and Su were allowed to continue their journey. He had to climb into the car from the driver’s side, since the passenger door was mangled and dented shut. It was uncomfortable, but still roomier than the back seat, where the puddle of wax had fallen to the floor.

The hot air blasted through the vents, and the wind blew in through the open windows, tossing Su’s hair in all directions and irritating Cash’s contact lenses.

“It smells like rain,” said Su.

Chocolate Milk

Prompt: Caper

crosswalk graphic

Why hadn’t she thought of this before?

When ever she picked up her brother Flax from Sunny Sun Pre-School at 3:45 pm, he was a fireball of energy, because he’d been awoken from a long nap at 3:30 pm, was over his drowsies, and now wanted to find the world and change it, in the way almost-three year-olds do. His caretakers always smiled at her during the hand-over, with something like pity but not quite pity, because mostly they felt relief. She was an energetic teenager who’d only just come from a leisurely day at school, not a professional child-minder who’d had a very long, very exhausting day with hyperactive toddlers who tended to test the limits of reality and patience.

Never mind that Chai was tired too, dehydrated from dry, too-warm classrooms, dulled by robotic teachers, stressed by social angst, possibly on her period, and unable to study with Jon and Carly in Carly’s basement because she had to pick up her younger brother from Sunny Sun. She then faced a ten minute walk home, where she played the role of border collie to Flax’s herd of sheep. He had an uncanny talent for slipping his tiny hand out of hers and tearing off somewhere, trailed by Chai with her backpack heavy with textbooks and an uneaten lunch.

So this time, as soon as they were out of the nursery, she slipped his unsuspecting arms through a sea blue nylon harness, and clipped a leash to it.

“No, you don’t,” she said to Flax, as he raced to the end of the lead, lost his balance, and fell on his ass. He didn’t cry. He tried it again, and fell again. Chai shortened the leash so that the abrupt fall at the end was less violent, and Flax, bless his tiny brain, kept trying until Chai crouched down in front of him, took his flawlessly smooth cheeks between her hands, and said “Baby boy, you are tied to me now, see? You can’t just run off. See this?” (Holding up the loop at the end of the leash, wrapped around her wrist.)

Flax said, “Fuck this!” just the way their mother said it. He didn’t talk a lot, but when he did he was expressive.

He then earnestly tried to separate himself from the harness, with no success, since the clip between his shoulder blades kept the truss in place.

“Pretend you’re a doggie,” Chai suggested. “Want to go to the doggie park?”

Flax paused for a moment, then shook his head and looked, surprisingly, like he might cry or have a tantrum.

“Let’s just get home,” said Chai pleasantly, standing up again, taking his hand, and stepping into the crosswalk. Flax bolted, right into the path of an old, green Chrysler Imperial with out of state license plates, which was making a right hand turn.

Chai found that legendary super-human strength and yanked the leash so fast and so hard that Flax flew over her head and landed on a grassy boulevard behind her. Toddlers are like drunks, loose and flexible, so he broke no bones, nor suffered any injury but a bruised elbow and upper arm.

The driver of the Chrysler was less fortunate. Chai held Flax under her left arm, and with her right hand she reached into her backpack, took out the heavy, warm glass bottle of chocolate milk she hadn’t consumed at lunch, and smashed it into the driver’s side window. The window didn’t break but inexplicably popped, and warm sludge covered the driver’s glasses and dribbled down his nose, which Chai then punched.

Their mother was actually home before them this Thursday because of a stray dog on the school grounds, and as she dumped chicken pieces, potatoes, and capers into a sheet pan, while checking email on her cell phone, asked, “How was school today, my chickens?”

“Chai killed someone with chocolate milk,” Flax, out of the harness, said in a sentence that broke his world record for syllables.

“That’s nice, honey,” said their mother, setting down a bottle of olive oil and impatiently stabbing a few letters on the screen with her forefinger. “Oh, more spam. Fuck this!”