It was snowing pretty hard and I was driving with one eye open. Not another car in sight, I never could understand how a person lives in a place where other cars are up on you all the time. I like my space. I like other people having their space too. I was so blitzed that I was practicing, in my warbled louder voice than the crackling of the rock on my radio, the speech I would give to the world about the enhanced safety and inherent superiority of one-eyed driving. There I was, on national television, proselytizing about a future where you didn’t so much as start a car without a patch on one eye. We’d be a nation of pirates, without hazard, perfect driving records for all! And then I made it into my parking spot. And then I managed my way out of the car. And then I found the keys. And then I made my way into the building. And then smart me, I’d left the door unlocked, thereby saving myself another war with the keychain. Inside it smelled different, like pinecones in a drug store. I figured my nostrils were just bent from too much time in the bar and I didn’t turn on a light. Light would be too much. I collapsed onto the couch, murmuring myself to sleep with the one-eyed driving speech I’d by now perfected. In my dreams, my celebrity was instantaneous, my presence on the list of important thinkers of this century a foregone conclusion.
Brett, not that I knew his name yet, screamed when he saw me lying there on his couch. His hair stood up like fur. You could tell he’s one of those guys only at ease when he’s got his gel in. He wore a bathrobe that revealed something about him, a quality that would get his ass kicked in the bar, a yearning to be an old man, hunched in terrycloth. I was awake and coughing and I pegged him at thirty-four and I wanted to ask him to close the blinds he was opening but I knew better. His girl came out next, wearing nothing but a t‑shirt, her hand on her throat and he had his arm around her right away. I liked them right off the bat, this young old man, this needful social worker type gal.
Because they weren’t the kind of small brains who kicked me out and called the cops, I just started talking a blue streak, telling them about yesterday at the diner, the girls that stiffed me, the bar last night, the way my songs never turned up on the juke box because some college kids kept stuffing it with quarters, the way I drove home with the one eye. They laughed a lot and Brett asked what my songs were and then he dug up CDs and he played me my songs. Something about being here with them did call up a low-lying sadness in me, as if somehow I was supposed to be telling this story at an AA meeting, as if somehow the world wasn’t doing me right, giving me this kind and tolerant couple, my songs playing finally. I’d been drunk. I could have killed somebody. But my songs sounded good and Brett cooked up eggs and bacon and I figured, maybe bad deeds bring good things. Brett and Shelly drank juice out of the same cup and it wasn’t like one was being nice to me to appease the other’s politeness. They both meant it, they were alike, kind, not like the trapped he-she combos I tend to at the diner.
The next day, I saw Brett in the mall with a different gal, clearly his wife. I stopped short. He grabbed his kid’s hand and his face bleached out and the wife was studying some piece of shit jumper in the window and he didn’t say anything to me. I don’t think I ever saw a person look so sad and now I got why he was in such a rush to be old. I kept walking down the corridor toward the food court, dazed, feeling as if suddenly everyone in America was speaking a new language for no reason at all and nobody would so much as teach me a word of it. So much for the future I’d been planning on, so much for the way I had seen it all so clearly. Brett and Shelly, me and the no doubt wonderful man they’d set me up with, the four of us playing board games, sucking back cans of light beer, sometimes in their apartment, sometimes in mine down the hall, stumbling home softly buzzed or sometimes crashing on each other’s couches, our inside joke about how we all met always good for a laugh. I’d felt so at peace when I arrived at the mall, having concluded that my condemnable one-eyed drive had been my little way of testing the gods, daring them to give me something good, something to sober me. And they had given me kindness in the form of Brett and Shelly. And maybe, I had thought, this is how you bring good folks into your life. When you’re weak, you crawl into their house thinking it’s yours and you lie there like a Christmas present that Santa left in August, because Santa was drunk, driving with one eye open, his sleigh swerving about, shiny wrapped packages falling through the night into neighborhoods, onto gravel.
Caroline Kepnes is a TV writer living in a Los Angeles' Franklin Village, where it's all about roasted chicken, used books, cinnamon coffee and late night happy hours. Her stories have appeared in The Barcelona Review, Dogzplot, Eclectica, Eyeshot, Monkey Bicycle, Word Riot and Thieves Jargon. In 2004, she won the Hemingway Resource Center's Short Fiction Contest. Her biography of Stephen Crane is available on Amazon, though it is intended for little children. She grew up on Cape Cod and started out in New York, covering boy bands for Tiger Beat.
I always love Ms. Kepnes and her wonderful stories. Quirky, endearing…something for everyone. Keep 'em coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Strong and satisfying. What I imagine lay deep inside the unassuming diner employees we pass in life.
Rich and short, satisfying! Great little slice of life with a jolt! (Sounds like I'm describing a cup of coffee!)