Sorry About Your MINI, Chapter 1
Green Monsters come in many forms.
The start of the ride, and of my short life that day, was when I saw a tanned woman's arm — the kind that moves without effort and often reaches for trouble — downshift my aging MINI Cooper into second gear. I knew whose it was from the F-shaped mole on the wrist. There were past things, events that might have been important, before I watched Julia flick the shifter back and heard the stoic 15-year-old engine respond with some sense of duty. If so, these happenings live somewhere else or died with me that day, because to me they never were. I know, for sure, only what they built and leveled.
As the engine hrrrummed toward a sexier RPM count, Julia swerved to dodge a dead branch the size of a baseball bat on what was obviously Yttrium Drive, the only street in town consisting of a circle a half-mile around. Had I been at the wheel instead of riding shotgun, I would have just plowed over the branch, inching it closer along its journey toward becoming elemental carbon. Julia thought that if you paid for a car, you should use the whole thing.
It was sunny, the angle of the shadows suggesting early afternoon or late morning. At first, I was sure we were coming from, or headed to, a run, probably an easy eight-miler on the North Louismont Creek Path. There was no other reason we'd be together by ourselves. But regardless, it was unusual to be riding in the same car, as she always met me lately for runs at the trail head in her Firebird. And why she was driving my MINI was a troubling question, or should have been. I trusted her, but I trusted a lot of people who didn’t get to drive my green douchewagon with white trim.
I had the symptoms of emerging from an ill-timed but refreshing nap: Not quite oriented to my station yet, but alert and keeping pace. But I was not…involved. Not invested. Why? Was I drunk? Had I started drinking again? When? Why was—
“This fucking city collects a lot of taxes for doing jack shit,” Julia snapped, both of us leaning a little to the right, my side, as the car negotiated the counterclockwise turn around Element Park at about forty, forty-five. On profile, her angular, taut features looked grim. Her outburst was a commentary the uncollected branches and other low- to mid-level debris in the road, and there did seem to be an unusual amount of it.
I perceived, however, that Julia was upset at more than the town and its maintenance crews. Her dyspepsia didn't seem directed at me, because that tended to make me nervous even when I’d guessed wrong, but I was presently several hints short of a clue. About everything besides what I could see, hear and process in real time. My body had feeling and sensations, but no context, like low light through a window that could just as easily be the coda of sunset as the symphony of dawn. No hunger, no satiety. No itches to scratch. I was more curious than panicked at the idea that I'd been drinking, a bland sort of curiosity suggesting I might have been drugged instead. Which would be bad, but less bad than willful intoxication.
Julia and I were running buddies, indeed good friends, with a clear past and mutual respect for our considerable differences. But the fact that I couldn't remember planning any of this was concerning. Or should have been. More so than Julia’s needlessly risky driving through a residential neighborhood. My house was a half-mile north, on the other side of the city's most dangerous four-lane. Well, one of them. We were circling away from there, for now. Was Julia taking me to the hospital? Nothing hurt. She was speeding, but she was a zippy sort of character anyway, not the sort to willingly endear herself to other motorists even when not racing the clock. So that was little help, and it seemed premature to ask questions.
As centripetal force pressed me against the passenger door, I noticed for the first time that the double yellow line of Yttrium Drive was outside my window, with a full empty lane beyond. The MINI in its steady leftward yaw was hugging the curb, ten feet from the tall spruce trees and broad elms on the upslope leading into the park from this side.
Julia was driving on the wrong side of the road.
I looked back over at her, prepared to contribute a pointed navigational advisory, but noticed with interest that she had piled her long, always-braided hair into a tight bun, and kept my hectoring to myself. Beyond Julia’s face, which was partially hidden by what looked like oversized Ray-Bans from the 1980s, individual trees flitted in and out of view out the window. Most of these were missing a startling number of branches, even for...fall? Winter? The trees didn’t just have leafless branches; they had lost a lot of limbs outright, even the elms. The taller ones looked like the spiky, nubbed obelisks of decay seen reaching from poorly nourished marshes or dried lake beds across America, more like splinters than plants. The vibe was not quite Mordor; more like the western Colorado plains, hopeless and indifferent, but not threatening.
Whatever potion I might have had on board, I thought it had to be pretty selective in its capacity to impair my thinking. I had never been more curious and more complacent at the same time. One or the other, almost always.
Now that I was twenty-odd seconds into my conscious experience, the crudscape of broken trees granted a potential insight: Rather than rushing toward something, Julia — both of us — were perhaps in fact fleeing. Not the police or civic authorities: Somehow, in my strangely attuned daze, I knew that something on that scale would have been obvious. Julia no more liked the police than anyone else with a lead foot, but she wouldn't try to escape them.
She also wouldn't drive twice the speed limit on the wrong side of Yttrium Drive without a good reason, or at least a reason. It wasn't a thoroughfare, but was no road for random burst of frat-boy shitpranks. Was Julia drunk or otherwise medicated herself? I decided it was time to request a refresher on why she was at the wheel, recklessly or not. Even if I somehow felt procedurally restrained from asking. Although the scrolling 200 or so feet of asphalt I could see in the lane in front of us was clear now, at some point it wouldn't be.
As the sign for Francium Circle flitted past on my right, I opened my mouth to introduce my agenda, aiming for a somewhat non-interventionist salvo of “What the fuck happened, Julia?” Instead, I called out, “Sunroof open!” in a jaunty monotone, as if commanding the car itself rather than my driver. To no end, of course. The MINI was amply computerized, especially for its vintage, but wasn't outfitted to listen to human bullshit.
Julia looked over, and I could see that one lens of her sunglasses was missing, and that the eye I could see looked bored. She looked like an idiot. Not angry, like I'd thought, just sullen. Then — shwip — her head was facing forward again. Her neck, usually gracile, at that moment looked like a knot of pure muscle. Though confident, her movements were usually deliberate, not like auditions for a Madonna backup singer.
“Could you run the sunroof back? I can't use my left arm.” As unexpected as this also was, I knew at once I was telling the truth about this, but not why. The more I talked, the more frayed my environment seemed, and the more my random-to-me responses seemed to matter. I somehow knew we’d get…there. Yet I pushed on, needing some purchase in this game, whatever it was. “It's hotter than balls in this go-kart. And if you wouldn't mind—”
The explosive WHAMP less than a foot from my left ear was my first flirtation with fear, or at least raucous core vibrations, during my mystery ride that day around the perimeter of Element Park, which would not reach one full lap. This would also be the last sense of dread I ever experienced, because after that, all the terrifying things that happened weren't even disturbing.
Julia had rammed her right hand, palm-up, into the MINI's closed sunroof and torn the entire plate of glass from its frame intact, blasting it toward the heavens. In the gap it left, I could see it whickering end-over-end against a background of azure mountain sky, like a stiff, doomed, magic-depleted carpet. Rather than marvel at the violent development, I suddenly imagined myself the size of a gnat and riding the whirling piece of grass to the ground, if it got there. The freed chunk of car seemed to be rising, in the mirror anyway. Would I survive? If a bug—
Julia, her three-seconds-ago triumphant roof-punch forgotten, was thumb-humping the horn, an asset I deployed so infrequently myself that I could barely find it. I turned forward, and saw that the side of Yttrium Drive directly ahead of us was no longer empty.
What was there confirmed that I wasn't drunk, or drugged. I knew it was all real then, and exactly how I'd invited it.
God, it really was over.