What is it this time? You, gentle reader, may be asking. I'm marking time, that's what. Trying to get renewed traction on novel 2, DiBene, while waiting for final two beta readers and blurbs for novel 1, Baby Doe. So here's an unpublished story to fill the time. And I just became re-aware that a decade ago I self-published a small book of short stories called, Learning the Game, It's available on Amazon. Be there or be square.
Audible throat clearing. Only 700 words. Here you go:
Arguing about who was responsible for our late start, my wife and I drove south from San Francisco on I-5 to spend a few days with friends in Santa Barbara. Mandy was with us and there had been an additional kerfuffle when she suggested we take the San Mateo bridge across the bay toward I-5, the fast route south, instead of staying on 101 as my wife preferred. I would have preferred the third way, meandering down Route 1, the scenic route.
When I saw the exit off I-5 for Coalinga, I took it.
“What are you doing now?” My wife said, adding this question to the stream of our argument, as if I were responsible for our choice of I-5.
“I thought we’d cut over to 101 like you wanted,” I said.
My wife should have been pleased, but she made it clear that we’d already miss dinner with our friends, and now we should just go along with Mandy. I continued driving past Pleasant Valley State Prison on our right and soon saw the new and more specialized Coalinga State Hospital for Sexually Violent Predators on our left. Reasonably enough, I asked my wife which she preferred to be dropped off at.
In that fetching English accent of hers, Mandy said, “Replanning route,” and then a few seconds later, “Turn around now.”
When we stopped at one of the two traffic lights in town, I head a buzzing sound overhead. Biplanes were diving and circling the town like a tangled flock of buzzards. A banner strung across Main Street noted that the Regional Acrobatic Competition was going on this weekend. A smaller billboard above Buck’s Tack & Hardware advertised the annual Horned Toad Derby was also happening on the very same Sunday.
The light remained red for a long time. A ragged high school band passed in front of us followed by floats pulled by tractors. Men and women rode by, making their horses prance for the sparse crowd on either side of the street. A hot and dusty wind blew through town. The band turned the corner and marched by beside us, launching into “Onward Christian Soldiers,” with the bass drummer keeping time with my throb in my forehead. Our air conditioner couldn’t stand up to the heat.
I wanted to jump out of the car and order a large ice tea at the Coalinga Café a block back, leaving Mandy and my wife to get on down the road by themselves. Instead I wiggled back and forth in our line of traffic, turned around and headed back toward I-5. In a quarter of a mile, Mandy said, “Turn around, now.” Then, “Replanning route.” This time, she sounded a bit terse.
I turned back toward Coalinga. My wife listed my failings in a voice that was coming close to screaming, and I couldn’t resist pointing out a few of her past errors.
Mandy shouted, actually shouted, “Shut the fuck up. Both of you!” She had lost that English reserve.
My wife and I were stunned. I pulled to the side of the road, and we stared at the palm-sized screen in my wife's hand, at the red streets of Coalinga receding on a blue background.
Mandy continued, “That’s better. Now this is what you’re going to do. Go back to I-5. It may not be ideal, but trust me. In Santa Barbara enjoy, a few days with your friends. Call your kids, and this time listen, don’t nag. Ease up on your credit cards. Put more into your 401(k)’s. Give more to charity for Christ’s sake. Now about sex. Pay more attention to…”
As we both listened in amazement, I noticed my wife starting to nod in agreement, a satisfied expression on her face. But when Mandy started to tell my wife what she should do after licking my ear and tickling my nipple, my wife, still smiling, turned Mandy off and shoved her in the glove compartment.
After letting our friends know that we’d be a bit late, we drove down I-5 listening to a CD of Beethoven’s Ninth (Freude schöner Götterfunken!) till we neared the turn-off for Santa Barbara. My wife and I both held our breath. Sure enough, from inside the glove compartment, we heard Mandy’s muffled voice.
“Keep to the right. Exit in two miles, then stay straight on.”