NOTICE: You are currently viewing an ARCHIVED version of the Waccamaw. Visit the redesigned site.


                                    Ted Chiles

Here’s the short-short version. You behaved badly and ended up buying a new computer.

Here’s the short version. Some guy in a van honked at you when the light turned green, and you got even. Realizing he was truly pissed, you quit the game and took off, but he chased you until you hid in a computer store. An hour later, you came out with a new computer.

Here’s the long version. The air felt good that day. And you wondered if it was the smell of the sea or the morning freshness, or the fact that your grades were turned in. The Beach Boys were on the radio and your hand, on autopilot, reached to change the station. You never listen to the Beach Boys, yet you held back. The song fit the day, so you diverted to turn the volume knob. Even though you didn’t listen to the Beach Boys didn’t mean you’d forgotten their hits. The best line was coming, and you started singing along. 

That was when the horn drowned out Brian Wilson and you in harmony. Not a tap. Not a polite, the light’s green and green means go. No, a full, four-beat blast. The car on your right started turning. You looked in the rearview mirror in time to get eight beats from some lean, middle-aged guy in a silver Toyota van. 

You stepped on the gas but didn’t floor it. You could have escalated the situation and flipped him off, or you could have offered him one of those Buddhist kind of waves that are half apology and half why are you letting the minor details of life disrupt our inner peace. You live in California and that was the likely response and would have shifted a little guilt back to the guy with the horn. But you did neither. 

You chose to fuck with him. 

Accelerated to five miles below the speed limit and held steady. You didn’t weigh the potential outcomes of your actions, nor reason why you made that choice. Half way down the hill, he swung into the right lane and attempted to pass. You’d been waiting for this and sped up. The fact that you drive a BMW, a tight turning, four-cylinder German road machine, was to your advantage. You down-shifted and accelerated through the turn. The van fell back. You slowed down, put on the left turn indicator, and waited for him to either line up behind you for more, or pass by in the right lane, driving out of your life. 

The van filled your rearview mirror. You couldn’t say you were not a little happy that he was there. When the light changed, you turned left, choosing the right-hand lane of the cross street. He took the left-hand lane. You heard his engine whine. But it was a Toyota and you stayed even with him. You remember thinking that you might be in a bad mood too if you had to drive a seven-year old Toyota van. He surrendered and fell back into the right lane as you artfully slowed down for the yellow light, laughed, and said, “Timing is everything.” 

You watched the cars turn across the intersection and then looked back. He was talking to himself. No, he was screaming, and his hand pounding the steering wheel. Oh, shit. You don’t remember if you said that or thought it. But, oh shit, reverberated through the car. You didn’t look at the rearview mirror again but kept watch on his door with the side mirror and pressed the button to lock your doors. They were already locked. The mechanism just made an empty click. When the intersection cleared, you turned right, abandoned the game, and floored it. 

The van followed. You worked through the gears trying to distance yourself. Took the first exit and made the left turn, just before the light changed. He stood on his brakes, and you, and everyone else within hearing distance, turned and stared. Smoke hovered over his skid marks. 

Twenty yards separated you and him, and you were clearly in his field of vision. No doubt, he could spot you walking down a street or describe you to a sketch artist. You swore his nostrils were flared. Your light turned green, and you knew if you could make it under the highway and through the next left, you would have two, maybe three, minutes to disappear. But when you turned left onto the one-way street, the traffic ahead was stalled. You panicked and drove into the parking lot of an Apple computer store. An old VW van plastered in bumper stickers provided some cover. You parked and ran. 

The store was arranged in a rectangle with the door at the bottom right corner. Computers on desks lined three sides. A young, professional-looking woman sat in front of a laptop. She didn’t fit the profile of someone who droves an old hippie van. Two kids, probably college students, stood behind the counter. One had a ponytail. You gave him the VW. 

“Can I help you?” he asked. 

You paused. You almost asked how he knew. A question materialized. Do you look like you need help? 

“Just looking.” 

He smiled and turned away. 

You had run into a corner. You wanted a seat that offered a clear view of the door. You wanted what every gunfighter wants, the sun at your back, and settled for distance, sitting at the end of the long diagonal from the door. 

You waited in front of the computer. You listened for the door, imagined the middle-aged guy driving around and how he would eventually realize that he’s late for Pilates and that you were not worth the effort. 

You checked your email and then the young woman stood. Even though you didn’t think she belonged to the VW van, you followed her out – stood in the doorway and brandished your cell phone as she climbed into a small SUV. 

Across the street, you saw a crowded parking lot filled with, at least, thirty cars, vans, SUVs and trucks. You wished that were your lot. You wanted your car hidden in a crowd. You started worrying about the size of the town and the probability of future encounters. You contemplated your relative socio-economic status. 

Avoiding eye contact, you walked back to the store. Googled Consumer Reports, checked the mileage on Toyota vans, and estimated the resale value of your BMW. After researching the population of our town, you wondered what set you off. 

You don’t do this. You’ve never even had a speeding ticket. The guy in the van looked like a bicyclist who runs stop signs by your corner. His type cast spandex encased disdain for everyone in a car and their contempt for people of normal physiques, people who don’t have four hours a day to exercise. You don’t have four hours a day to exercise. He was tall and thin, looked like he subsisted on granola and tofu and acted like some new-age-green-holier-than-thou even though his van didn’t get shit for mileage. The same kind of van your ex-boss drove. The one who, after three margaritas, told you he should be with your partner, told you that you weren’t up to the task. 

“Do you have any questions?” 

You looked up and saw the non-VW sales guy, the one without the ponytail. 

“Yes,” you said. 

He waited, but the question you had he couldn’t answer. Instead, you asked about new features on the computer. 

He showed you the widgets, the multiple screens, and the graphics. Then, he turned on the camera, and you saw yourself, and speculated how many people looked like you and how that worked in your favor. 

“We have educator’s discounts.” 

You wondered how he knew. Was it the way you dressed? Your diction? And then you considered how many students might hate you for being clever. Or condescending. And perhaps, occasionally sarcastic. Maybe you reminded the VW sales guy of his freshman lit professor. And wouldn’t it be a hoot to let the air out of your tires? That was your moment of clarity. You figured it out. You did it because you could. 

“Are you ready to pay for it?” 

You nodded. Before he asked how, you handed over your Visa. 

You didn’t ask who drove the VW. 

You just walked to your car, carrying the white box by its plastic handle. Drove home with the music off, signaling your turns and observing the speed limit. You didn’t make assumptions. You paid attention to everything around you.

Copyright 2017 Waccamaw. All reprint rights reserved by authors.