Is the door locked? Okay. Is the door locked? Okay. Is the door locked? Okay. Now I can leave. I turn swiftly and approach my car in the full 7 strides it takes to be beside the driver’s side door. Grab the handle. Let go. Grab the handle. Let go. Grab the handle. Okay now I can get in.
After sitting, I take a quick survey to make sure everything is in place. All is well. I’m ready. I snatch the keys from my pocket, and start the car. It’s time for the pre-drive check. Wipers? Wiping. Blinkers? Blinking. Headlights? Lighting. Brake lights? No, it couldn’t be. I feel the skin on my face run cold. A bead of sweat pushes out and finds a home in the middle of my forehead. My brake lights! The left brake light was out!
I sit in place for a minute. I don’t know what to do. A quick check on the time, glancing at my wristwatch. 7:37 A.M. Okay. 7:37 A.M. Okay. 7:38 A.M. NO! Now I am officially running late! I normally have left by now! Not okay. Quick. Think. I’ll have to drive to the auto shop and get a replacement bulb. But my brake light is out! My car is illegal! Okay. No, not okay. Can I call someone? No, there’s not enough time. I have only a 10 minute window depending on traffic to get to work. If I leave right now, the shop is on the way…
Okay. I can’t over think this. I just have to make it to the shop. I take a deep breath. Exhale. Deep breath. Exhale. Deep breath. Okay let’s go. The car slides into reverse and I ease out into the street. I push the brakes after backing out, and nearly pass out. If there was a car behind me, and this was at night, who knows if they could have seen me just then! They might have plowed straight into me! I put the car in park. My sweaty palms clutch to the rubber steering wheel cover. Twisting it. The headache has officially settled in. Coming up slow, like a barge, but then announcing its presence with a blaring horn. My head gets tossed back, the pain is so intense.
No time for this. This is all a temporary inconvenience. I just have to, I just have to make it to the shop. Everything will be okay once I get to the shop. Everything. The car is back in drive, and I inch my way forward.
I just have to be careful about using my brakes. I can’t handle knowing that one of them is out, so I’ll just drive slow and roll to a stop, right? Okay. Right. Only a few blocks to the store. My car is inching along now. It should only take a few minutes. Luckily there’s only an intersection or two (3 to be exact) that I have to make it through. That’s okay. It’s okay.
The first intersection is only a hundred yards away. I slow down, taking my foot completely off the gas. I’m only going about 10mph, I should be able to roll to a stop in time, hopefully sooner. I glance to the right and watch as a couple of schoolchildren keep pace with me. They are staring. My brain bristles. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?! I want to scream at them. They don’t know. They don’t know. I return my attention to the stop sign that is creeping towards me. Close. Closer. Come on. It’s going to be okay.
The schoolchildren have already turned the corner, as I finally sputter to a stop, a full 15 feet short of the sign. I give the car a little gas. Inch closer. Little more gas. Closer still. Just graze the pedal with my foot. Close enough. I’m here. Okay. I don’t bother allowing myself any relief, though. I still have to make it to the shop. I look left. Then right. Then left. Right. Left. Right. The road is clear. A small victory. Deep breath. Exhale. Deep breath. Exhale. Deep breath.
I start to suggest the car to the right, refusing to give it more than just a little momentum. Who knows what sort of unexpected things might pop out in front of my car, requiring me to slam on my brakes? A child might dart across the street. A dog. Another car might pull out. The headache is now a full bodyache. The sweat is sliding down the back of my neck, burrowing into my shirt. My breathing is shallow, despite my exercises. I feel twitchy. The car is scooting down the empty street, but my worst fear lies ahead of me. I can see it now.
The next intersection.
I have to get on the highway. The stop light looms above me. I see several cars stopped at the red light, waiting to turn. Their brake lights emit a soft glow in the feebly lit dawn. A reminder of the absence of my own required safety measures. My stomach does a full flip, and I gag. Must focus. Have to get there. I speed up a bit, hoping that I might time my arrival just right, and catch the green light. Surely I deserve a green light? I’ve played by the rules my entire life, it’s not my fault my brake light is out. How could I have known? I couldn’t have known.
The cars whip from side to side in the intersection that I’m steadily approaching. Flying about without a care, they are. Stupid disgusting careless people. That one there just had a headlight out! Just asking for a life ending collision they are. I know better. I know so much better. Okay. The cars have stopped passing in front of me, which means…There! The light has turned green for my side to go. I’m too far away! No. That means it will turn yellow, and then red, and then I’ll have to… NO!
My foot falls on the pedal and the engine roars to life. It whines for a split second, before catching its courage and throwing me back against my seat, leaping forward at a heart stopping rate. Half the cars have cleared the intersection, only a few more left. Parked cars on the side of the street go whizzing by, I must be speeding but I have to make this light. 200 yards. 150. 100. The light turns yellow. YELLOW. I CAN STILL DO THIS. 25 yards. The way in front of me is clear. My lane to turn left is unobstructed. It is the answer to my prayer.
The rubber squeals as my tires frantically cling to the road, hitting the turn as I crank the wheel. The car skips once, twice as I fly through the intersection, clearing it just as the light turns red. I start to fishtail on a patch of loose gravel, but quickly regain control. I look up in my rear-view mirror and start laughing. I’ve made it! My foot retreats from the pedal again as I try to calm myself. I fall back to the pace of the traffic and start planning my next move. The exit for the auto shop is in a few miles. From there it is a right turn, down on of the main streets in town, and then a left into the shopping center and the auto shop is positioned in the back left, next to the yogurt place.
It feels daunting, but if I could make that intersection just then, I should be okay. I settle into the normal flow of traffic, allowing myself to relax a bit. Deep breath. Exhale. Deep breath. Exhale. Deep breath. I don’t have to worry about anything for a little while. Traffic is consistent here. Nothing to worry. I get ready to make the exit, and signal my intention to get into the far right line. Signal on. Then off. On. Off. On. The car to my side passes and I have my clearing. Okay. Perfect. Perfect. This is going well. I shouldn’t have worried so much.
I scan, looking for the all too familiar sign. There. Next exit, a mile and ha — What is this? Ahead of me, not a half mile away, a domino effect of red brake lights. Flaring up. Then off. Then permanently on. Traffic is crawling to a stop? An accident? No! I’m so close! I can’t, I won’t. Must make it without having to use my – ngh – brake lights. Absent, broken, brake light. Destructive, sinister brake light. Ruining my day. The drive into work is supposed to be my peaceful time before I have to face those people. But no!
I have to focus. The line of flashing red is nearing. Soon, the cars directly in front of me will be stopping, and they’ll be expecting me to do the same. Okay. Think. It’s not okay! Wait. Of course. The emergency lane! This is an emergency! That is an emergency lane! It’s so perfect. I just have to get over. I check my left mirror, then the right. The rear-view. Left, right, rear-view. Left, right, rear-view. I’m clear. It’s clear! I signal. Off. On. Off. On. Merge over. There! A straight shot to my exit, now! I don’t even have to worry about cars in front of me. I just have to – wait, what’s this?
Behind me, the twirling chant of a siren approaches from the early morning fog. It must be an accident ahead of me. This must be the ambulance. That’s okay. No, not okay. It will be in the emergency lane as well! They’ll expect me to pull over and stop. I shudder. I won’t. I can’t! I keep a steady speed, passing cars that officially stopped in the other lanes. Car after car. Red glow. Everywhere. I know I have a brake light out! I KNOW I KNOW QUIT REMINDING ME I’M GOING TO FIX IT. I just have to get there. Only a half mile until my exit. Deep breath. Exhale. Not working. My breathing is too panicky. My leg fully spasms and extends, causing the car to lurch forward with this new intent on accelerating. No! Too fast! I need to slow down to coast to the exit!
I ease off the gas and start my coasting. This should be good enough. Just like last time, I’d rather come up short than having to (shudder) slow down. I peek back behind me. I can see the lights turn the last corner before coming up on the same straightaway I am on. As if on cue, I see the front end of the ambulance appear from behind the row of cars. It’s coming up fast. There’s nothing I can do. It will just have to wait until I reach my exit. After all, this is the emergency lane and we both have an emergency. I was just simply here first.
The ambulance is upon me. The horn is blaring. My headache is blaring. I try my breathing exercises. No luck. Too much happening. Shut up shut up shut up you stupid ambulance! Over and over again like I can’t hear it, the horn is honking. Piercing my thoughts. Sirens wailing. My fingers wrapped around the steering wheel are pressing into my palm, tight. I can feel the nails pressing into my skin. I’m starting to feel faint. Must. Make. Exit.
The ambulance swings to my right and inches up. Intends to pass me, but there’s hardly room. Not enough. Maybe. I’ll inch over to the left and then – there! It made it! The ambulance scoots by, but I don’t dare look over. I can’t worry about judgment right now. No time. I can’t. The ambulance is now safely ahead, back in the emergency and racing ahead. I breathe a sigh of relief and wipe the sweat from brow. Right to left. Right to left. Right to left. A slight bend of the highway to the left, and then I see it! My exit!
I guide the car towards the exit, and drift closer. My attention is pulled from the road as another set of flashing lights snatches my attention. Another ambulance? No. Oh no. No, no. Police. Please let me make my exit it time! The cruiser is racing around the last bend, but I’m so close. Yes! I signal on. Off. On. Off. On. And then I am on the exit ramp, free of the emergency lane. A sharp breath strikes my lungs. The hill! I forgot the exit was on a hill!
There’s no way I’ll slow to a stop in time, not unless…of course! The emergency brake. I can use the emergency brake just like I used the emergency lane. Okay. Yes. Okay. Yes, it will work. I’m going slow enough, I’ll just start pulling on the emergency brake halfway down the – behind me? The police cruiser has turned off the exit as well, and is now right behind me. So close. I can almost make out the features of the officer behind the wheel. Older man, looks upset. Just go around, I think. That’s when I hear what makes my heart plummet.
“Pull over. You in the wagon. Pull over immediately. This is the police.”
The sound comes over the vehicles PA system. Loud and clear. He must be talking to me, as I’m the only wagon on the exit ramp. My mind starts racing. I can’t pull over. Doesn’t he know? Oh! He must now. He’s trying to get me to pull over so he can see that my brake light is out! And then he’ll write me a ticket. And I’ll have to go to court. And sit with all those criminals. Murderers. People who don’t follow the rules. That isn’t for me! I follow the rules! I always follow the rules.
Our cars are creeping closer and closer to the bottom of the hill where the stop lies. From there it is a right turn, and a left against traffic. I’m so close to the shop. The police have to know that I’m just trying to follow the rules! It’s not my fault that my brake light went out! I just have to – I just have to get to the shop. He can follow me to the shop and I’ll make it there and I won’t use my brakes and it will be okay.
“Citizen, pull over immediately or I will be forced to take action. You will be arrested.”
Arrested? ME? I’ve never, I haven’t – I can’t. What is he talking about? Doesn’t he know I’m trying to do the right thing? Arrested? Me? Jail? Jail? My god. Jail. No. Disgusting, filthy uniforms. Surrounded by disgusting, careless, filthy criminals. What would people say? Everyone would know that I hadn’t followed the rules. But I do follow the rules!
My fingernails are drawing blood, oozing from my palms. My brain is becoming numb as the sweat drops from my brow onto my nose. I twitch. Hyperventilate. A darkness is looming over my eyes, slowly casting a shadow. The bottom of the hill is impossibly getting farther and farther. I seem to be shrinking into myself. The space between my ears is now nothing but flashing pain. I squeeze my eyes shut, squishing my face, and the scream bursts forth from my lips. A wail. Long. It hangs in the air, and stifles my breathing. Then, just as I can feel myself slipping, the thought shoots straight through to the forefront of my mind.
Fix the brake light.
Of course. Yes! How could I be so silly. I need to fix the brake light and everything will be okay. Okay. Yes. Okay. Nothing else matters now. Nothing else. The police say something else over the intercom, but no matter. I know what I have to do. I slam the pedal down, and the car shoots forward. Barreling towards the stop sign at the bottom of the hill, I hit the turn going fast. Got to go fast to fix my brake light. Can’t slow down. If I brake, then the police will know that my brake light is out, and that’s against the rules.
I slam against the driver’s side door as the car bounces on the uneven surface at the bottom of the hill, launching into traffic. Horns blare. Tires scream. I see a car to my left swerve to avoid hitting me and go head first into the concrete wall. I narrowly miss the rear end of another car as I settle into the center lane. Too many cars. I can’t be bothered to wait for them. I have to fix my car! I have to be legal!
The morning rush hour traffic is in full effect. Before me is a sea of tail lights and headlights, winking from all around me. With an unprecedented urgency, I push my car into the mass of steel ahead. I begin to think that they’re all part of this. Sent to obstruct me from doing what was right. Well, screw that! I will not be made a fool of for any longer. My foot doesn’t even think about the brake pedal as I weave my way through traffic.
The row of cars is dense, and I am forced to actively maneuver through the lanes. I come flying up behind a semi, and have to act quickly. A sharp jerk of the wheel, and I am into the lane on the right, narrowly missing the car, now behind me, that takes issue with this move. They lay on their horn, but are already disappearing into my rear-view mirror. Zig zagging through these cars, driven by dirty, nasty people, I keep my focus on the end destination. My fingers are flying from the wheel to the indicator, as I am cautious to make sure to signal my intent on each dash across the highway. Must signal my intent. It’s only legal.
A traffic light ahead indicates my final intersection that I must overcome. Too much traffic. Too many cars! I hunker down in my seat and aim for the meridian, determined to not let the mass of the unclean keep me from my mission. I swing left and catch the edge of the grass, the car bucking along the transition. The intersection lays before me. A glance up and I see the insistent flashing of the lights from the police car. Fool. He doesn’t know. My wagon is thrashing about the uneven ground of the meridian as I quickly approach my next turn. I have to make a quick left here, and I’ll be in the parking lot complex! The shop is only on the opposite side of the parking lot from there. I am so close!
Deep breath. Exhale. The headlights on my left are but a blur at this point. Up ahead, The meridian angles up as it meets the intersection. Traffic is flowing heavily to both my left and right. No matter. They don’t know what kind of hurry I’m in! I hit the upwards angle and the wagon is sent into flight. I clear the first lane of cars cleanly, as time slows down. A school bus is littered with greasy little dirty children, their disgusting faces pressed against the window as they watch me overtake them through the air.
Up, up the wagon is soaring, but quickly begins the descent. The hood of the car is now angled to the ground. I stare daggers at the cars that are approaching to my right. HOW DARE YOU, GET OUT OF MY WAY! I NEED TO FIX MY BRAK—
My explanation is cut short as I am reintroduced to the ground. My face flies into the steering wheel, bringing forth a warm sensation that dribbles down my face. The car heaves forward, then rocks back again. A compact sports car slaps me from the right, and I am spinning before I even have time to get all four tires on the ground. Spinning. Spinning. Spinning. Stop. I rock back in my chair, and almost forget what is happening for a second. I’m stopped! No! That means… Wait! YES. I didn’t use my brakes! I came to a natural stop, just like the first intersection! My momentum was slowed and I didn’t have to use my brakes! I am laughing now, as the intersection around me explodes in silence. A car horn is going off somewhere. Someone is leaning on it. Stupid loud careless people!
Regaining my composure, I wipe the blood that has been dripping from my eyebrow, and am overjoyed at the sight in front of me. Straight ahead lies the parking lot. Cars have pulled over to the sides, and they are finally letting me do what I need to do. I need to follow the rules! I tap the gas, but am left unlucky when nothing happens. The engine has died! I give the keys a turn, and the engine coughs. Sputters. Chokes on itself, before finally whimpering to life. Perfect! Everything is going to be okay!
I can’t be bothered to check my surroundings when I’m this close to my destination. I have to push forward and hope people will keep getting out of my way. It’s like the parting of the Red Sea. I am called to make it to this auto shop. Nothing can stop me. Not even the forces of nature!
I slam the gas down and the car wobbles forward, unsure of itself. Damn you, I’m trying to fix you! It wants to pull to the right, but I keep it centered and shoot forward into the parking lot. I weave through the randomly parked cars (careless drivers!) and point my car in the direction of the auto shop. Right ahead.
I can see it! I can fix my brake light!
My joy in interrupted by a sickening crunch from behind me, and again I am sent spinning. Now I am facing the wrong way, and am looking upon the same police cruiser from before. He has friends now, as I spot several more squad cars racing up the highway from the distance. GOOD. They can clean up all these careless drivers from the road! But I can’t be bothered to tell the police about all these poor drivers right now, I have to fix my brake light!
Again I lurch the car forward, cranking the wheel as hard as I can, just for it to drift lazily to the left. Taking too long! I come about and am faced with a clear shot to my destination. My savior! I can fix the brake light and then go to work and then everything will be okay. It’ll be okay! It will be okay. I gun my car forward and get ready to use the emergency brake to slow my approach when the time is right.
Sirens are screaming from all directions, a helicopter is approaching from some distance. It is a cacophony of disgusting noises, meant to invade my mind and make me break the rules. But I don’t break the rules! I’ll show them! The auto shop is near now. Right in front of me.
I let off the gas and yank on the emergency brake to slow me down. Nothing happens. Nothing happens!? This can’t be! I can’t use my emergency brake? Then how will I stop in time!? Is all this for nothing? Will I have to use my brakes and then the police will see how illegal I am?
I cannot! I will not! I will stop like I did at the intersection just now. I will make my momentum stop without using my brakes! I aim for the far left side of the building, the side opposite of where they keep the replacement bulbs. That would be foolish to come all this way just to accidentally smash the goal of my mission! I laugh at this, the gurgling sound of my laughter drowning out the sirens around me.
My car and the building meet in an explosive embrace. Glass is shattering. The sigh of steel bending. I am tossed about like in a dryer, and briefly lose consciousness.
I wake but a few seconds later, face pouring blood. Stabbing pains in my side and legs. White hot flashes of great intensity in my left arm. I can’t move my left arm. I reach across, slowly and with great pain, and grab the handle of the car door. Then let go. Grab, then let go. Grab, then let go. Okay, now I can get out. Instead, I fall out, collapsing to the ground as if I am a puppet being cut loose of it’s strings.
All the lights seem so dim, and I start scratching at the ground with my feet. With great exertion, I prop myself up with my right arm, the pain almost too intense. But I’m too close. Crying out with pain, I stagger to my feet, before falling across the crumpled back end of my wagon. The dust and rubble settles around me. I see the police cars zooming close, but the sirens sound miles away. Faint, throbbing. I roll across the back of the car to get to the auto shop’s door. I cough. Blood splatters the ground. I look up, and the door to the shop greets me like an old friend. I know why you’ve come. Let me help you. I manage a weak, blood soaked smile, the red contrasting the outline of my white teeth. Dripping down my bottom lip, fully split open.
I straighten up, gutting out the pain. I reach back with my good arm to check my wallet. I pat it once, twice. A third time. Okay. Everything is okay. I have my wallet. I am at the store. I will buy a replacement bulb and fix my brake lights. Then I’ll be legal! I won’t be breaking the rules anymore!
I shuffle over to the door, my left leg dragging helplessly behind me. With a final lunge, I reach the frame, and give the door a shove. It won’t budge. It won’t budge?! I rattle the handle a few times, before I notice the crudely handwritten note that has been taped to the inside of the door.
“Closed for the day – Doctor’s appointment.”
No. No. No no. No no no NO! I drop to my knees and start wailing. Screaming in bloody agony as I am ripped from my purpose. All for naught. Now I am no better than those filthy common criminals who always break the rules.
“FREEZE! HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK!”
I look over at the half-dozen police officers, cautiously approaching me with weapons drawn. They already know. They already know about my brake light! My wailing fades out as I begin to laugh maniacally. Hard, whooping laughter from the depths of my soul. A cruel joke. And to have been played on such a person like me. One who always follows the rules.