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Friday, January 29, 2010

Scene Storming: "Surface"

More practice for me. Thanks for your patience. I know the ending is contrived. I haven't learned how to do it better yet. With gratitude again to Darnell Arnoult at Dancing with the Gorilla who gets me going when I am good and stuck.

When she arrived at the supermarket, the parking lot surface shimmered with puddles rippling in the low areas left after the new tar job. “A quick trip for milk and I’m out of here,” she muttered, pulling her skirt down behind her as she slipped off the high seat. “God, I hate driving this thing.” Grabbing the handle, she tugged at the rusted door with two hands, swinging it closed with a clunk that left her arms vibrating. “Seven years ago I was only going to have to use the truck a year or two. Yea, right,” as she walked away from the fourteen-year-old pick-up toward the store.

She tried not to look at the Mercedes SUV’s, the BMW’s she passed, ignoring the shining black Lexus that inched out as the driver waited for her to walk behind him. “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter,” she chanted to herself as she walked through the revolving door. “It gets me where I want to go. That’s all I need, right? At least the grocery-store-side of the parking lot is paved again. If I had to walk through the mud one more time to buy a gallon of milk, I swear I’d shoot myself,” she thought, glancing to the other side of the lot, where a sign explained that a restaurant and designer shops were taking shape, amid a dusty construction zone.

Her high heels clacked as she walked the five miles to the refrigerated section at the far corner of the store, wondering for what seemed like the thousandth time why they couldn’t put a milk display up front. Checking the date on a plastic carton, she heaved it under her arm.

Inhaling, she acknowledged that it wasn’t the truck itself that was getting to her, or the parking lot. They were her scapegoats. After a day like today, something always needed to be. The truck didn’t bother her usually. With Darryl out of work for so long last year, and for six months the year before that, they were lucky to have any wheels at all.

Beat up as it was, the truck had, after all, been with them for the whole of their marriage. They bought it together, two weeks before the wedding, pooling together most of their cash and taking out their first loan so they could drive it on their honeymoon to a campsite up in the White Mountains. It had seen them safely through many an icy winter, plowing out their driveway as well as three of their neighbors’, and it never slowed down over any of the countless weekends they had driven down the rutted track to the cabin at the lake. It had even taken a fifteen-hundred-mile, mid-summer journey down to Florida non-stop without complaint. Smiling, she remembered last Fourth of July when after the fireworks, Darryl took a detour down a deserted fire road, just as he had when they were teenagers, into darkness that feathered soft and warm, and how his breath smelled of spearmint as he leaned in toward her.

But earlier today she had jammed the shift into first gear, and then stomped on the accelerator too hard while recalling the endless phone calls she’d been required to take at the office. The truck had squealed and jerked forward, then filed a protest by stalling mid-intersection, with a trail of honking commuters stacked up far behind her.

It wasn’t her fault that the XQ30 was recalled for safety reasons. But she was the Senior Customer Service Manager and her job description required that she allow people to vent at her as if she was the one who designed it. All day long she had listened as angry voices demanded to know how soon the two-inch part that would get their backhoes back in service could be shipped. And all day long she had replied: “I hear your frustration, sir. We will get it out to you as fast as possible. No sir, we don’t recommend you drive your vehicle until the part has been replaced. We have been informed that there have been incidents where the machine has failed to stop. Please accept our apologies.”

“And now this damn truck,” she had said between gritted teeth, as she sat in the intersection, turning the key and praying the engine would turn over. Coughing and choking, it did, spewing grey smoke in a haze behind her as she pulled in to purchase the milk.

Ten minutes later, in line at the automatic check-out she fidgeted with her keys behind the elderly woman who didn’t know how to use the scanner. Closing her eyes for a brief instant, she sighed, then stepped forward, demonstrating how to scan her courtesy card, and then the bar-code on her items; pointing to the correct button to push when the woman was ready to pay. Concentrating on the smile the woman offered her, she felt herself relax. “This is what I like to do. Help people. I’m good at it. It’s not the truck’s fault that people were over-the-top mad today. I would be too.” Checking herself out, she resolved to have more patience, to be kinder to the vehicle that in truth had been part of their family, a part of their lives, for so many years.

Pocketing her change that spit from the automatic dispenser, she heard snaps and static as a voice over the intercom called, “Will the owner of a green Ford pick up, license 573WIP please come to the customer service center?” Eyes wide, she looked up at the clerk bagging an order at the end of the next aisle,

“Did you hear the crash?” He asked her. “A backhoe outside just drove into some old pick-up truck.”


glnroz said...

just before leaving for the week, about to turn off my computer, said to myself, "I think I will check out Ms Liz before I go." Durndest thing. Here is this story. You broke the code on this one. thnx

Sharon said...

I'm still laughing! (Is that mean?) What a great episode for a TV sitcom; or a chapter for a novel; or... Liza, this is wonderful.

Suzette Saxton said...

Great writing. Really felt like I was there. Your pacing is good, too!

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh no! Dead Truck! Great story Liza :)

Helen Ginger said...

Two notes - don't apologize before we get a chance to read and form our own opinion, and I think what you need is to put the backhoe in before the final line. You mentioned the problem with backhoes, but didn't put one in the parking lot. I like the story.

Straight From Hel

J.B. Chicoine said...

Okay, I like the ending...what's the term? Poetic!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The ending reminds me of that old saying: Be careful what you wish for! Funny story.
By the way, I've left something on my blog for you.

Chandrika Shubham said...

Nice story. I enjoyed reading it. :)

The pic on the top is awesome. :)

Best wishes. :)

Jon Paul said...

Wow Liza! Great story! I think the end works fine. I agree with Helen: an earlier mention of the backhoe would strengthen it, but that's a minor issue.

The voice and pacing are just right. Thanks for sharing this with us!

P.S. You mentioned you were attending an online writing class a few posts back. Do you mind sharing the details? Are you happy with it? Would you recommend it?

Diana Paz said...

Haha, funny!! You have a great voice!

Robyn Campbell said...

Wow what voice. What authentic story telling. Funny. Thanks for making me laugh among the sickness. I needed that. *hugs* =)