Monday, November 15, 2021

The Woman in the Backseat

Okay, so it's Saturday. It's snowing softly and the kids are playing in the yard across the street with the neighbor. I'm getting into my car to go meet a friend. I'm about to drive away when I notice some snow that needs clearing on the corner of the windshield. Just enough to make a left turn slightly unsafe.

Ah! The joys of winter in Saskatchewan. 

I get out, clear the thing, get back in. Good to go—but when I try to run the windshield wipers, nothing happens. They're stuck in the ice on the bottom of the windshield.

This problem's a little harder to solve. The ice is thick and I'm not wearing mittens. How does winter catch me so off-guard, every single year, bare-fingered and bare-toed? Snow in mid-November isn't exactly a strange concept, even if it is a crappy one. I hack at the ice for a few minutes with my bare hands and the wipers pop loose. Good. 

But when I get in and try them again, they only go halfway up. Progress, I guess, but there are small flakes of snow collecting just out of reach of the wiper blades. Ugh, I'm going to be late. 

I sheepishly climb out of the car, yet again. Barclay's inside the house; I'd left him in the living room on the couch in front of the bay window, reading a book. I have a fleeting, self-conscious thought about how I hope he's not in there watching me get in and out of the car, like I've lived in California my whole life and don't know how to properly clean snow and ice off a windshield. 

Here's a wonderful thing though: when I finally free the blade and get back in the car for the fourth time, I check the clock and see that, though it felt like I was clawing at that ice for three hours, it's only been five minutes—I'm no longer going to be five minutes early, but I'm not going to be late either. I smile at the win and rummage in my purse for my phone.

At this point, out of the corner of my eye, I notice a woman walking down the sidewalk toward me. I don't pay much attention to her though; Regina has been known to contain a woman or two—yes, even in my quiet little neighborhood. There are dozens of us.

I set my phone in the cup holder and press play on a podcast and that's when the back passenger side door of my car opens and the woman—the one from the sidewalk, the one I've been paying very little attention to—climbs in. 

I push pause on the podcast. We look at each other. 

"Hi," I say automatically. "How may I help you?"

That's really what I say. As though my car is a customer service kiosk and it's a very normal thing for me to wait on people in it. I cannot, for the life of me, tell you what she says in response. I just don't know. My brain is making a whooshing noise; it's doing the same helpful thing it always does where it shuts everything down so it can use all the power to compute the worst possible outcome for any given scenario and make strange suggestions in response. Stranger in the back of your car? Probably wants your car. Probably has a weapon. Did you smile at her? Don't be rude. She probably has an accomplice hiding behind a tree. You're definitely going to die. What are you going to do about it? Meh. Why would you do anything? Just sit there. Raise your heart rate a BPM or two. Make a sweat droplet. Smile at the stranger! Say hello! Be hospitable; she's in your car! Did you push pause on that podcast? Wouldn't want to miss something interesting.

We look at each other some more. She says another thing, and it doesn't make sense to me why she's saying it. Something very casual, something about the weather.

"You know what," I say, finding the override switch for my overwhelmed, inefficient brain. "I'm going to come over there and talk to you. Give me a second." 

I get out of my car and walk around to her side. 

She opens her door and we size each other up, her sitting in my car, me standing beside it on the sidewalk. I'm wondering, again, if Barclay's watching this from inside the house. She's looking at me expectantly and I have the strangest feeling, like I'm the one who has walked up to her car and tapped on the window and she's sitting there, bewildered, like, what do you want? Why are you bothering me in my car? I'm on my way somewhere!

There's another brief pause. I guess I feel like she should be the one to lead the conversation, but she's not doing that, so here I go. I try to think of something less pointed than, oh, I don't know, Why are you in my car? "How's it going?" is what I come up with. It's better than the stiff formality of how may I help you, for sure. Right?

"Good," she says. She's really calm and sweet. I don't think she wants to steal my car. I think she's just more than a little drunk. An afterthought: "...but I've hurt my leg."

"Oh!" I'm so relieved. A hurt leg is a very physical problem with a very tangible solution. A somewhat reasonable explanation for a person to crawl into the back of a stranger's car. I live for physical problems and reasonable explanations. "Can I call someone for you? A friend? An ambulance? Do you need to go to the hospital?"

She snorts at me. "No." 


We talk for a bit about the weather, again, for some reason, and then she tells me that her kid is in my kid's class at school—which, I find later, is verifiably false but it endears her to me in that moment anyway so whatever—and I ask, again, what I can do for her and this time she points down the street. "I live right there," she says. "Just around that corner. Actually, can I get a ride? My leg just hurts so much."

Reader, she does not live right around that corner. We drive down the street, we drive around the corner, she shakes her head. "Not it," she says, surprised, as though her house has moved. "Maybe over...there?" We drive down more streets and around more corners, on the hunt for the hiding house. "Just one more block," she keeps saying. "I'm pretty sure it's just one more block." Frowning in consternation at unfamiliar streets. Smiling apologetically in my direction but never quite making eye contact. Shaking her head in disappointment at all of the houses in which she doesn't live—until she sees one in which she does. 

"That's it," she says.

I pull over. She puts her hand on the door handle, but before she gets out of the car she looks hard at me and says, "It just sucks, you know?"

I nod. I don't know. 

"It just really sucks. It hurts so much."

I nod. I think she's talking about her leg. I'm not sure.

I ask her if she needs anything else and she laughs. She gets out of the car and goes into the house and I watch to make sure she makes it. She's limping a little. I feel simultaneously like I haven't done nearly enough for her and like I shouldn't be driving strangers around the city. I wonder, suddenly, if Barclay saw me drive off with the woman in my back seat and is worrying about me.

I text my friend to say I'll be late. I text Barclay to say that if he happened to look out the window and see an injured woman climb into my car, not to worry, everything's okay.

He texts back. He knows my track record and he thinks the injured woman must be me. "You wipe out pretty hard?"

So at least, I guess, he didn't see me get out of my car three times to clear the windshield? 

No comments: