Chapter 1 :   

Gripping the steering wheel tighter, Carol squeezed her eyes closed, just for a sec, she thought, just until they’d begin to water a bit.  She held them shut that way just a moment longer.  They’d feel better, less dry, when she opened them again.

It wasn’t a very smart thing to do, but she'd been sitting there, in the same position, since she left the office an there was practically nobody else on the road, a long straight highway through nothing. She shifted her weight, rocking her hips just a little and rolled her shoulders.  Did those wooden bead seat covers the ads said taxi drivers in Hong Kong use really help?

There wasn’t much to look at on the side of the road.  Traffic was always light.  It was rarely any different out here, not much to be going to or coming from.  Nothing like the jams out East or in California  she’d read about.  Well, she’d heard Seattle was getting pretty crowded these days, too.  Just miles of farms, fences, and open land, some livestock.  Nothing particularly remarkable, especially now it was after sundown.

What time was it?  She glanced at the clock on the dashboard.  Damn.  Quarter to eight already.

It was always like that;  getting out late on Fridays.  Every week, there was something that had to be "finished today and there by Monday."  Mr. Reiner always seemed to make the promises, but it was Carol who stayed late getting it all together and out the door   long after he’d gone home to catch one of his boys’ ballgames.   Every time, he’d promise and she’d get it done.  Naturally, the rush only mattered on Fridays or Mondays.  The end of the week, the beginning of the week—the two hardest days to stay late.

Carol stared out at the road.  Still a ways to go yet, and almost pitch black dark already.  She pressed the heel of her hand into the steering wheel, stretching her fingers one-by-one.  Why did the radio in this car have to go dead?  The silence made the commute seem to take forever;  no music or talk, even lousy talk.  Just listening to the steady hum of the engine and feeling the shiver of the tires rolling over the gravel stones in the black top was crazy-making.

By the time she got home, dinner;  franks and macaroni, hopefully someone remembered to make a salad, would be cold and crunchy.  But then, crunchy was really the only way to eat macaroni anyway.  Her mouth watered just thinking about it.  She swirled the saliva around in her mouth, her tongue rubbing against and around each tooth and then she swallowed.  Her stomach rumbled too.  It had been a long time since that cup of yogurt somewhere around noon, or was it one?  A while ago anyway.  Wasn’t there an apple in the glove compartment?  She reached over, rummaging through.  Aha, pay dirt!

The kids would be ready for bed already.  But they wouldn't go upstairs until she got home.  It was getting awfully late, she'd better get going.  Carol glanced down at the speedometer.  Seventy was probably as fast as she should go, any faster and the steering wheel would start shimmying.

Would the kid's have gotten their homework done?  Or had they convinced Dan to let them stay up and watch TV?  Depended on what was on tonight.  If they had their homework done, then she wouldn't have to insist that they come in early tomorrow evening.  And they could all go on down at the pond after dinner.

Still, those two were pretty persuasive, especially after a long day in the lab, and if everyone at school had been talking about a really great show coming on tonight.  Besides, who wanted to come home after work and argue with the kids especially without backup?  She really couldn't blame Dan if he’d kicked back with them, all three of them nestled on the couch together.  Sure sounded a whole lot better than cruising down a highway at seventy miles an hour, the shadows encroaching on her headlight beams, nighttime closing in hard.  Maybe there wouldn’t be time for that movie after she got home.

All four of them together on the couch would be even better, Dan his arm thrown around her shoulder, his hand  reaching around just to that place her arm usually covered, where her side and her breast came together, his fingers lightly caressing.  She’d have lain her hand high up on his thigh, fingers pressing ever so lightly that not  the kids even sitting there with them wouldn’t notice.  Imperceptible to anyone but Dan.

The flash of high beams reflecting in the rearview mirror yanked her thoughts back to driving.  Sheesh, whatever it was behind her, the headlights were riding way high on its front end. Couldn’t  be just a regular old truck. Had to be huge.

She released some of the pressure on the gas pedal and began easing out of the high speed lane, ooh, her ankle was so stiff after all that time holding a steady seventy.  Next time she’d get cruise control, like on Dan’s truck. It made highway driving so much more comfortable.

As she eased over into the right lane, she it occurred to her that it didn't really matter where either of them drove, since there wasn't another car on the interstate for miles.  But she didn't like anything, especially something as big as that thing must be, going by on the inside, and he was going to pass her.

When he did, she could steal some of his thunder and get home all that much faster.  And maybe the kids would go to sleep quick so she and Dan...

Didn’t take him long to step on it again and start passing her.  What a monster of a truck that thing was.  She gripped hold of the wheel again.  Before, her fingers had relaxed some, but now she needed to be holding on tight.   The suction of the truck passing by, like a whirlwind buffeting her, pushed against her car. This one didn’t weigh anything... Dan’s truck felt so much more substantial even empty.  But the car was better in the city, and for driving around town.  Besides, when they bought it, she hadn’t planned on commuting to the City. And now, with two kids, who could afford a new car...

Sometimes they hitched two, three trailers together, piggyback, and made a massive thing was this baby one of those?  Out of the corner of her eye, she watched it going by.

No, it was just one big truck, and he was just moving now. She squeezed the steering wheel tighter still, holding it with both hands, steering the car slightly more toward the breakdown lane.  She probably should have slid over in that lane more before she let him by.  Did he seem so close because he was so big?

After he got ahead of her a bit, she’d pull in and up behind the truck, and tailgate him.  Ever since the oil crisis.  When was that any way? Seventy-two? Whenever. Ever since then, she’d been riding  tailgate on trucks whenever she drove the highway.  Especially at night.  They used to publicize it saying that if you got your car into a truck's air pocket, you'd conserve gas and help the country loosen the Middle East grip on the economy.

Okay, it was time now.  She pulled the wheel a little to the left,  slipping in behind the truck.  As she did she found herself thinking about the math and science that would verify that.  It was interesting, thinking about the theories explaining how it worked.  Both the ones she knew of had interesting assumptions, The question was, did a moving truck create a vacuum in it’s wake, or was it that following in close decreased the drag on her car, like running interference. What was the physics of tailgating, she wondered.  Maybe some day when she had a little extra time on her hands—ha! Like when the boys were in college?

Still, whether or not it saved any gas, it was the way to take this buggy to seventy-two without the shimmy .  She’d been doing it for years, why stop?  Besides, with a commute like this, a hundred-twenty miles each way every day, and most of it highway, if it only added a mile or two to a gallon, that would be something.

Now that she was snuggled in behind him she could relax a little bit, riding in the air pocket was smoother somehow.  So what would it  save?  Figure a dollar seventy-five a gallon and twenty-five miles to the gallon...

Oh why the Hell had she let the radio stay broken?  But really, it was kind of un thinking  word problems in her head.

She pictured Mr. Pierce back in high school cracking the chalk against the blackboard, except they were always green..., trying to drill the math into the class, and how surprised he’d been when she got it and that she liked it.

“Carol Jamieson is driving a hundred-twenty  miles at seventy miles an hour,” he would have said.  Only then it would have been Carol McDonald.

“The car averages twenty miles to a gallon of gas. She can get one point two-five miles more per gallon, Carol just made up a number chuckling to herself, if she always drives in the draft  of a big rig truck, say an eighteen wheeler.  If she works five days a week, takes three weeks vacation and ten paid holidays and gas costs two dollars, seventy-five a gallon, how much money will she save annually.”  He’d make up word problems like that, using their names, just like that.

God, she hadn’t thought of Pierce in years...  But he’d given her a good foundation, that instead of going into research or teaching she’d used to create a well-paying career figuring all the bids.  Until she’d come, they’d never properly factored in all the variables—commodities, time value of money, labor of course—just guestimating based on earlier jobs. How long had it been since she’d done any real math.? Just calculating the bids, really, it was really only adding a few numbers together.  Funny how Reiner & the rest of them thought she was just brilliant the way she could just manipulate the figures in her head.  She always laughed to herself remembering her thesis project for the Masters that was supposed to get her a teaching job, something in research, maybe at NASA.  What would they think about a applying mathematics to evaluate message intercepts?


Might as well think about that thesis, staring at the way ahead all here was to see was the butt end of this truck.  It was bigger than anything she ever remembered seeing, wider too. How fast was she going now?  Carol glanced down at the speedometer, wow, seventy-five, seventy-six.  And she hardly had her foot on the gas.  The truck just pulled her along with it, almost as if they were lashed together. The only way she could tell she was moving was the air on the windshield, and the feel of the wheels on the pavement with the road so smooth, o it wasn’t much to feel.

But it was like flying, doing seventy-five miles staring at a gray metal wall—eerie.  She read the stickers pasted all over the back door:  Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Ontario, North Carolina, Guadalajara, Idaho, Oregon, California.  This truck was licensed t o every where.  Hmm, except anywhere Northeast, New England.

Where Jackie was, little brother Jack, already twenty-six now, and a college grad, now working and finishing up his Master’s.  Little bro, she smiled just thinking about him. Out there studying, what did he call it?  Umm, yeah, landscape architecture.  She couldn’t believe he’d gone on and on talking about designing open spaces…  She glanced off to the side, chucking to herself, and straight ahead too.  Sure was plenty of that out here. Apparently not so in the city where what did he call them?  Oh yeah, pocket parks—little landscaped areas of green—were a big deal. She tried to imagine a pocket park and still all she could come up with was the grassy on the inside hole Alice fell into on her way to Wonderland. Hilarious how funny Jack’d thought that was.  She shook her head though, it sounded awful community participation in the design—all that talk over where to put a tree…Yuck.  “Yeah,” he’d said, “you’d rather just come up with an algorithm, right?”

Too bad she and Dan couldn’t swing going out there last Christmas.  Would’ve been fun, Jack always had to do the traveling.  She’d love to see that house he’d rented with a bunch of students—he could have had it to himself since everyone was gong home for the week—and see how crowded it is there, ride the public transportation...

Did he really buy the story about her jinxing his final project with her “black thumbs” that kill all growing things?  Or did the family know she wasn’t working just because the boys were in school?  It was criminal that a research scientist as talented as Dan didn’t get paid well until they had something to take to market.

She scrunched up her mouth smiling, hearing Dan say, “Pretty soon, Carol.  We’re going to have something pretty soon.”

Then it would be her turn—back to mathematics and no more driving miles and miles to add and subtract numbers—God it was boring!

She was really getting tired.  Must be getting close to the exit.  It wasn’t much farther from there.  She glanced to the left, not much over there, some farm someplace, just open land.  She should probably think about moving over to the traveling lane, But she hated to move over too soon.  It was such a waste of gas.

They really should stop in at the Home tomorrow and spend some time Gramma Jamieson, all of them, tomorrow.  Dan saw her as often as he could during the week--Hard duty, going by there, but the nurses encouraged it, she seemed to perk up so whenever the boys visited, they said.

Carol shook her head.  It was hard to believe that Gramma Jamieson got anything at all out of their visits, she seemed so lifeless.

How was she doing for time?  Carol glanced down at her watch.  Almost eight-thirty.  That exit’d be coming up soon.  She should probably start moving over now.


Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!  The soundless words clanged through.  All she could focus on were the bright red tail lights lighting up the inside of the car, shining in her eyes, as the car kept going forward.  She jammed her heel on the break pedal until she almost stood on that one foot, her body raised out of the seat.  Even so, she could only watch it all happen.  It was as if the front end was somehow being sucked underneath the truck and all she could do was watch, in slow motion.

She clenched the steering wheel, the car filling with smoke still pressing her full weight into the break pedal.  Dan!  Thoughts swirled, clamoring, inside, her lips frozen shut.  She couldn’t even scream.  What difference would it make anyway?

God damn it.  Oh shit oh shit.  Dan, It won’t.  It won’t.  It won’t stop.  I think I’m going to be a little late tonight.  don’t wait up for me! The macaroni pan, don’t forget to soak it overnight.  It’ll be like cement tomorrow.  Oh crap!  Will you give my folks a call? And Jack?  Don’t forget Honey, remember we agreed—kids in bed by nine, nine-thirty at the latest.  Son of a bitch.  It won’t stop.  Why won’t it stop?

Don’t let’em con you, Sweet, they’ll try.  When it’s both of us...but one against two...God damn it.  Honey, I love you...