the good life
Today could have been like any other, but the yoga teacher had been a sub and went over on the meditation by a lot, and now she was stuck in her Audi Q7 behind a Yukon going exactly 35 in a 35 MPH zone and would be seven minutes late to pick up Alyssa at her private school and whisk her to ballet if that behemoth wouldn’t kick it into high gear ASAP.
The car’s massive steel gray roof reflected the low-hanging sun, and both gave the impression of supreme laziness, as if they were a saggy couple in the midst of a slow waltz together, more schmooze than skill. She couldn’t make out the driver from behind the car’s wide tinted back window, but she craned her head frantically from one side of her steering wheel to the other and back again, trying to make out the lazy slob. The driver, most probably because of a lack of motivation, a tendency toward junk food and stupid novels, was acting as if she (it had to be a “she” at this hour of the day) were more parts fat than bone and muscle; could just quiver down Paradise Road going precisely the speed limit. “I bet that woman is overweight, dumb, and has a slew of kids she can’t keep under control,” she thought as she rode the Yukon’s bumper. She was this close to pushing her palm on the horn, but knew that would be rude.
Oh, why was the world full of these kinds of people! Stupid, fat, lazy. When her husband had made his first millions with his hedge fund company, MeadowLane, it hadn’t been because he was lucky. No, he worked hard, so hard she and the kids rarely saw him. And even though he had a substantial trust fund thanks to his grandfather’s business in sugarcane, the fact of the matter was that his grandfather had also worked hard despite being given all that land in the Caribbean from his father.
And all that hard work meant that now they were living in a stunning five-bedroom she’d been eyeing in Kentfield on the mountain with gated property up and down, a pool and spa, basketball court for her son, tennis court for herself and Alyssa, and an impressive organic garden she hired a man from Honduras to tend to.
She, after quitting her job as 7th-grade history teacher in the local public school, was getting certified in mindfulness coaching and interning with a San Francisco guru. She intended to open her own mindfulness practice within the year. Her days were utterly jam-packed.
She loved it, that feeling of taking exactly what she wanted; of pushing her body and brain in ways that kept her stimulated, on fire. Sometimes she could feel her potential at her fingertips, in her scalp, zipping out of her like electricity. If only everyone knew that they too could feel this way! But at the same time, she knew that not everyone could. That not everyone could handle Stanford and Harvard Law as she had (though she couldn’t stand the law and hadn’t practiced a day in her life). That, honestly, not everyone could know or care as much as she did.
Briefly, she thought back to Alyssa’s latest parent-teacher conference. “Do you know about the work of P–?” she had asked her daughter’s incredibly young teacher. “Positive reinforcement. Redirection by positive suggestion. Alyssa needs a lot of that. If you simply put her in time out for, what, hitting this other girl? (and by-the-way, I’d like to know what this other girl did to her), then she will just want to fight back. You know what I mean? Gentle, positive, calm redirection.” And she had gently touched the teacher’s forearm and smiled warmly. “Let me get you some resources.”
Now she could feel her blood in her ears and realized that she was squeezing the steering wheel only after feeling an unusual amount of sweat on her palms. She relaxed her hands, took a deep breath, rode the Yukon’s white trash bumper. Was there any way to speed this dumbie up? Imagine, there were people like this in the world! Not needing to be anywhere! Wavering along the line without a single ambition.
Imagine having lived a life like that and then dying at the end with nothing to show for it except a bunch of ignorant kids, clogged arteries and shelves full of sloppily labeled photo albums full of blurry, pasty humans with too much arm fat.
The Yukon slowed to 25 in the school zone by the public school. “What the fuck!” Her words came out like fists against the windshield. She passed there every day at 45. And though she immediately felt guilty about swearing, she also knew it was, at this particular time, unfortunately justified. “Forgive me,” she hastily added to the Lord, fingering the simple bone cross she’d bought in Peru last year, cupped within the indentation at the base of her throat. She was inches from the Yukon’s massive scratched-up bumper.
Then her sparkling charcoal Audi was crunching into the Yukon’s rear end and her smooth white forehead was hitting the air bag. It happened impossibly fast, as if somehow time had been cut and spliced and there she was, having gone from one moment to the next at precisely the same time.
When it was all over, she realized she had her foot on the brake and the world was strangely quiet. She was moving her head from the opaque air bag as if in water (but she could breathe, she could breathe!), and feeling the seatbelt a blade against her neck. She was turning off the engine but her hands couldn’t stop shaking. What was this? What had happened? Stop, she told them. Stop it.
The door was heavy. She leaned on it with all her weight and stepped out. Was the ground moving? Had it been an earthquake? Was this the aftershock? She felt something warm on her upper lip and a pain that moved like the sharp crest of a wave through her chest to her head. Outside there was silence and the painful glare of the sun.
Up ahead was a short, round woman in a skirt and long ponytail, black socks and white tennis shoes, on her knees in a white-barred crosswalk. The driver’s side door of the Yukon was wide open; a car, two, stopped just beyond; and was that a siren, a breeze chilling her upper lip?
She walked past the Yukon with its engine still rumbling (and were those children inside, their many eyes wide, one of them crying?), her knees wavering, the fabulous pain coursing through her, the sudden salty taste of blood and mineral in her mouth.
She was next to the woman, then, standing above her as if from a great height, and the woman was making little noises as she cradled a boy’s head in her lap, his dark curls splayed across her beige skirt. Those colors seemed so vivid to her, as if in display on the wall of some museum. He wasn’t little. There was a skateboard in the lane ahead, upside down, its wheels slowly rotating. He was on his side, his legs scissored across the striped asphalt, his backpack on and his bare arms above and below his body as if he were simply lying down in a game of hide-and-seek, perhaps, in an effort to avoid detection, to assume no space at all. But his eyes were open. He was looking up at the woman. He was awake.
She felt as if she were towering above the woman with the boy’s head in her lap, all of it coming to her from some great height. But she was getting closer and closer; she was landing and hearing, “está bien, está bien” again and again and seeing the woman’s hand caress the boy’s slick-looking forehead and feeling the sun hot against the crown of her head; hearing the swishing grasses along the road and the voices of people around, staring, hovering, and the sirens coming louder. Something caught her eye. Above, a black bird, a crow, yes, flapping across the immaculate blue sky.
When the woman turned to look up at her, she saw the woman’s face red like desert stone and wet with tears, snot running into her mouth. Oh, the woman was beautiful, she thought, her face round and smooth, her hair long and black and reflecting the sun. And such tenderness in her small black eyes, such care and fear and something else, something she couldn’t exactly put her finger on, but it was growing, that something, it was eating the fear in the woman’s eyes the longer the woman stared at her.
“Didn’t you see?” the woman was shouting at her, shouting!, in a thick accent, her black eyes seeming to condense and harden, sucking up all the space between them. And then she saw that the woman wasn’t crying, she was weeping; that her whole body was shaking; that her tears and snot had splattered the boy’s face. “Didn’t you see me brake?”
She turned her head to the golden grasses at the side of the road. Her head held the pain in place, a growing, malleable ball inside. Oh there! Amongst the spritely stalks shooting up from the ground in brazen happiness, the tiniest brown bird hanging, hanging, upside down, from a grass’s soft cone of fuzzy seeds. And she remembered she had forgotten to turn off the automatic pool vacuum. She could see it now—endlessly roaming the bottom.
sommer schafer’s latest stories are featured in Boulevard, Hobart, North American Review, Catapult, The Carolina Quarterly and Fiction. She is senior editor of The Forge Literary Magazine.Visit her at www.sommerschafer.com.