You think horrible things on your commute through the insidious cesspool that is Los Angeles.
Pulling the little enamel red shells off ladybugs.
How good a carjacker could you be?
How much money will you get when your mother dies?
The layer of smog and the mountains and the sunset are like sedimentary rock, layers upon layers of history. Somewhere in there is your history. A small nautilus shell, ridges signifying the big moments. You know, the wedding, the miscarriage, the disease, the divorce.
There are so many drivers. So many Mercedes and Toyotas and Priuses. A fair amount of pickup trucks and refrigerator trucks filled with things like ice cream. The latter is next to you right now, the truck plastered with the giant face of a woman enjoying some mint chocolate chip. You are parked next to her on the 101. Traffic hasn’t moved in three minutes. You’re counting. You look at the ice cream woman and think, woman, are you happy? Are you eating your feelings? And are they cold, so cold, but also so sweet?
The guy on the other side of you is picking his nose. Which would be fine because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t pick their nose? But he’s Graham Briggs, the latest hot thing on the latest hot primetime drama. The one about the doctors and the drugs. You consider taking out your phone and filming it. But then he turns and sees you, lowers his sunglasses back over his eyes and stops excavating. He then turns on very loud rap with a heavy bass, so thick that your own windows are vibrating. Asshole.
You inch along and approach a crest. At this moment you can see both the city and the valley. Below, light upon light in orderly lines, like a computer motherboard. Flicker, flicker, burn out. Crash. Hope you backed up your work. Why would anyone want to live here? You are just a dirt speck here. You are no one here.
You’re from here.
So you never left. Mistake Number 1, your sister tells you one night on the phone, after her husband nodded off in his Barcalounger in front of the TV. You can hear his snores through the phone. All the thousand-something miles. She’s living in Milwaukee.
Just then, you decide to call her. Push a button on the steering wheel and say, “Call Molly.” She answers immediately. The kids are screeching in the background. You think you detect a long “O.” “Your accent is changing,” you say. “You sound like you’re from Fargo.”
“It’s snowing right now,” she says. The A/C in the car isn’t working and you don’t want to open the windows and invite in the poison air and catcalls from trucks parked on the freeway next to you. Your thighs are sticky on the seat. It is not snowing in L.A. You hang up.
Mistake Number 2 was taking in your mom. Your sister doesn’t say that, but you know. Your little bungalow has an ADU: a little mother-in-law apartment over the garage. You don’t have a mother-in-law; she left along with Donnie. No one talks about that benefit of divorce. That, well, that there is Mistake Number 3. But at this point, there have been so many mistakes, why bother counting?
When you arrive home, your mother will watch as your car pulls up. When you get out, she will knock furiously on the glass. Beckon you in. Ask what’s for dinner. Asshole.
The car in front of you has one of those Wag More, Bark Less bumper stickers. You briefly think about getting a dog, a shih-tzu or something. And then you think of its eyes getting all crusty the way little white dog eyes get.
It’s stifling. You roll the window down. The hot valley air blows in. Gusts over your face, feels good. And then it doesn’t. You can taste the CO2, like metal and things left under the broiler too long. A new truck has sidled up beside you. Red. Dusty. A guy smiles at you. It’s a nice smile, crooked teeth, dimples. Then he says something.
You roll up the window.
You eat the words. Chew on the Hey, mamacita. Masticate it unrecognizable and then roll down the window again. Spit.
Radio. You turn it on. Talk. Talk. Traffic report. Thanks, but you’re already well aware. Talk. Fun pop song. You turn it up. The singer is 20 years younger than you. When did that happen? Why do you know all the words?
Your exit is approaching. You ease your way in front of the actor. He lays on the horn. You take your time. Wave in the mirror to him. Thanks, your fingers say. Two more lanes. Fucking California freeways. Seventy lanes. All going to the same place. The exit lane is moving faster. You roll in and take the curve to the main road. The window goes back down. You hit 22 miles an hour and feel the rush of speed in your hair.
Right turn. Traffic light. Then another. Then another. Left turn. A mile. Turn into the driveway. Home. You drive up toward the garage. The light above it is on. As you get out of the car, collect your purse and the heels that you shed that were riding shotgun, there are no knocks on the window.
You leave your things and go up the stairs to the little apartment. The door is unlocked. You go in. Your mother says, “Don’t you even knock?” as she quickly covers up her breasts with a throw pillow. Dr. Krieger, her podiatrist, is scrambling for his pants. This turn of events surprises you. You laugh. Back out quickly. Mistake Number 4 was not giving your mom enough credit.
You fix dinner. Consider asking if the foot doctor wants to stay. The light in your mother’s apartment goes out. You decide against it and eat spaghetti from the pot in front of the TV, where you binge-watch recorded episodes of that primetime drama everyone is talking about.
Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based essayist and short-story writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Citron Review, Bird’s Thumb, Brain Child Magazine, *82 Review, District Lit, Ravishly, The Compassion Anthology and elsewhere. She recently was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Contest and a winner of the Writing By Writers short-story contest. More of her works are on jenniferflisscreative.com.