Madison Ellingsworth
​Image by zapravka2 on Pixabay                                                                                      
Madison Ellingsworth recently graduated with an English degree at the University of Southern Maine. She can be found on Instagram @smellingsworth, on Facebook at /madisonellingsworth, and her website 
Date Night 

 Larry decided we should not drive the RV into town for date night. I had wanted to do the beehive because it makes my forehead look larger and my face younger, only it doesn’t fit in the pickup. Roof’s too low. But this time, Larry wanted to go to the city—to the new fancy place that opened up next to the strip club—and we both remembered what happened last time we drove the RV into the city, so I forlornly resigned myself to wearing my hair down. Larry came into the room when I was finishing up. “Are you ready yet?” He scratched himself. “At this rate there’s not gonna be a table left.” 

 I slid the last bobby pin in, heard it make the little click as it interlocked with another, and felt it settle. I walked past Larry. He was annoyed. 

I pulled my rhinestone purse out of the closet and dumped my leather purse into it. I had wanted to look unbothered, but I forgot my sweater the first time I went out to the car. Then I forgot my hairbrush. Then I remembered my other lipstick, but by that time we were already moving and Larry had turned the radio on. The news was loud and Larry had his hands loose on the steering wheel. His knuckles were hairy then, just like mine, only he didn’t know that—I kept them trimmed. Just another womanly secret. 

 The newscaster had a voice like a seal; he barked that a vehicle had just been hit and the woman killed on the interstate. He said it just like that: the vehicle was hit, and “the woman” killed. I changed the station. The new guy said tomorrow’s market was looking “fruitful.” I left him on. 

 Steam billowed out of smokestacks, dissipating into the air above all of us on the highway. In the morning, it would rain back down and fill the planters in front of the stoop so I’d have to dump them out before work. If I didn’t, the moss rose would get all ugly and sad looking. 
    “Do you think the plant’s why everyone gets all these cancers now?” I asked Larry. He shrugged. He was not bothered by it being so close to us. I could see the clouds forming already. “I forgot to put peanuts out for the birds this morning.”

    “You’ll remember tomorrow,” he said. He adjusted himself. “I’m goin’ to the doctor soon, right?” I nodded. “They feel like they’re getting in the way. That can’t be good.”

Since the plant’s completion a year ago, Larry had begun squirming about and pulling on his crotch, often pairing the behavior with a grimace. For anyone else, any discomfort—let alone an increase in growth— would excite paranoia and compel them towards scheduling an appointment. But Larry would never reach out himself. I frowned. 

    “Well, I called last week.” The cars in the distance were slowing down. I could see the toll before the bridge coming up. “Let’s get off soon and skip the bridge—it’s rusted through.” 

Larry shrugged again and put the blinker on. He always insisted on driving, even when it meant he had to drop me off and head home again. I only got in one accident, but one is enough. Especially when it means pirouetting around a lamp post and connecting with an oak in your husband’s new, used Toyota Sonata. The newscaster had given the broadcast over to his partner, and she was now describing at length the carnage left by the reckless driver who killed the woman. I turned the radio off and rolled the window down. The wubbing of the back windows made my ears feel like they were going to explode, and I was becoming increasingly annoyed by the wire in my bra rubbing on the wing of my arm through my shirt. Larry turned left onto the ramp.

    “Why are we getting back on? We’re gonna wind up on the bridge,” I whined. 
    “Yeah, but you know it’s the fastest way.” He slowly merged. The cars were now deadlocked. I could see that some people had put themselves in park and were getting out to stretch.
    “Look what you’ve done,” I chastised him. “Fat chance we’ll make it to the restaurant in time, and we’re still gonna have to go over the bridge.” I craned my neck through the sunroof to see if there was anything up ahead. “At least it looks like they’re speeding up to go over that hill.” 

After ten minutes the cars began to inch along. I was reading my pocket novel; Sharlene had just been proposed to by the dapper Southerner who wanted to whisk her back to his ancestral home. I was engrossed when Larry started tapping on my leg and pointing out of the windshield. We had crested the hill and could finally see why the traffic had stopped. There were lights flashing, virtually useless in the sun’s afternoon glow.

    “Look, do you see? I mean how many police cars is that? And for what?” 

We rolled closer. Everywhere except the right hand shoulder had been cordoned off. Everyone slowed to a crawl to pass the accident. As we were forced to let others merge in front of us, I could see the tire skids leading up to the area, twisting and whirling over both lanes, as if the car had been dancing. There were two ambulances blocking our view. 

    “They’re acting like a semi crushed a school bus here, c’mon! Can we get it moving?” 

Larry had grown agitated, realizing that if we were late getting to dinner, we would be late to leave, late to get home, and late to the first half of the game. I patted him on the leg.

    “I’m sure it’ll start moving after this. People don’t like to dwell on the bridge.” I looked behind us. “Look how far back we were! And at least we aren’t in the RV!” 

He chuckled. “Yeah, it was a good call.” And then we were in the heart of the accident. The people in front of us were rubbernecking and had come to a complete stop. The man driving the car had pulled out his phone and was taking pictures. I leaned around Larry. The dancing car—a Range Rover—had done its whirl into a Mini Cooper. The woman had been thrown through the windshield, flown several car lengths, and spread across the pavement. Her car, having been devoured by the Rover, was being towed away. The driver sat on a gurney near his car, front slightly crumpled, with his head bleeding and wrists being wrapped. The police were working to scrape up and hide from the drivers the woman who was now a smear. I threw up a little out of the window and dabbed my mouth with a napkin. Larry looked over and rubbed my shoulder. He leaned out the window.

    “Would you move it already? My wife’s being sick,” he yelled at the man in front of us. The man turned around. He was laughing, and his wraparound sunglasses reflected us. 
    “Tell her to cool it, we’re not movin’ fast anyway,” he yelled back. He drove a few feet forward and continued taking pictures. Larry took a deep breath and adjusted himself again. He was fiddling with the door handle. He gestured at the man.
    “Look, we’ve got somewhere to be and my goddamn wife doesn’t want to see this anymore!” 

He looked back at me and I gave him a half-hearted smile before I looked back at the woman. She had been wearing a yellow vest and a pair of boots like the ones I have at home—the red ones. Or maybe they were just red now. Her hair had been brown, with highlights. She must have wanted to look like she had just been someplace tropical. And now she was dead. I threw up again, not much this time, just into the napkin. I threw the napkin out the window. The man had been laughing and talking to the other people in his car. I could see through the back windshield that he was passing his phone around. He gave Larry the finger when he yelled at him, and kept laughing. I could see beads of sweat on Larry’s forehead.

    “Alright, you’ve got ‘til three to hit the gas or I’m gonna come and beat the shit out of you!” Larry yelled, “My wife is traumatized!” 

He banged his fist on the dash with every word. I looked down into my lap. He was unlocking and re-locking the doors again and again. I looked back at the man on the gurney, who had lain down. The EMT was talking closely to him. She was the heaviest EMT I had ever seen. Her pockets looked too tight for her to fit anything in them. The man rolled onto his side and looked like he was crying, and the EMT walked away from him. I shook Larry’s arm.

    “Maybe we should just go home, not go out tonight. Is that ok?” 

He looked at me, then ran the back of his hand along the side of my face and nodded. The man in front of us decided it was time to go when the police started walking towards his car. He floored it away from the accident, tires screeching and car backfiring several times with the acceleration. Larry and I slowly sped up, going over the bridge, and got off at the exit…only to immediately drive back over the bridge. Larry turned the radio on and tuned it to a classic rock station. He nodded his head along to the music, tapping his fingers on top of the wheel like he was playing a miniature drum set. The tension that had grown inside him from tapping his foot on the gas was melting away with the extended guitar riffs, and he already looked much looser than before. He was looking forward to getting home earlier than expected and catching the commentary that preceded the game. 

It was hard to hold onto the image of the woman with sound crashing from the speakers. Larry wanted to wipe the moment clean, and the image in my mind did fade more and more the further we drove away. Was the woman’s hair blonde or brown? What kind of car had she been driving? I couldn’t recall. I could remember the blood, but was it close to the car? My mouth tasted like acid and the back of my throat hurt. It felt disrespectful to what was left of the vague memory to think about Larry and I being home, spending the night in, waking up tomorrow, and living on. But my mind continued to wander while Larry nodded away and the digital clock on the dash marched on. I started to take the pins out of my hair and put them in the cup holder. I still remembered the woman’s red boots, but were they really that much like mine? What had I really seen? 

In the distance, the plant and its steam were rising up again. Larry pointed at them and shouted over the music, “Almost home!” He was getting more into the song, singing and smacking his palms against the wheel instead of his fingers. He was shaking his head from side to side with the drums. I smiled at him and he smiled back, ceasing the movement of his hands to rest one on my thigh, but continuing to wail away. I looked out of the window at the people in cars rushing by. None of them looked at me, but I felt comforted knowing they were there. I remembered that I needed to bring the moss rose in when it eventually rained tomorrow. 

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