One night last fall, I opened the door of a car I don’t own and almost got in. It was an innocent mistake, which the man inside recognized. My daughter was embarrassed for me, but I was intrigued by the strange drama of the moment and decided to pursue it in a story. I had to take the couple all over town before I could figure out what to do with them.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of the novella Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015). Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in FLAPPERHOUSE, Hypertrophic Literary, (b)OINK, Unbroken Journal, Gamut Magazine, The Forge Literary Magazine, and Storm Cellar. She reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly, and lives in Southern California with her husband and children. Find her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.
She got into his car because all sedans are the same in the dark but she wasn’t his wife and he wasn’t her husband. He had a moment of terror as he saw her green eyes light up. He smelled her perfume. She appeared completely ready.
In the first days they drove for hours. Instead of hotels they chose amusement parks and movie theaters. Instead of sex they reveled in not answering to anyone, not belonging anywhere. They ate popcorn for dinner and chocolate for breakfast. They felt as though they had returned to toddlerhood, a free fall of the id with an assumed safety net. After all they were two decent people. He would not let her do anything rash. She would not let him hurt himself.
You remind me of my wife, he said. Just a little.
You are nothing like my husband.
At night they slept on the beach. Occasionally their children would join them and then their spouses, who approached with the exquisite caution of wildlife photographers.
It looks as though they’re doing a good job, he whispered.
Let’s get out of here, she said.
He did not know where to go. Covered in sand they drove to the nearest neighborhood and walked into the first house they saw, which was white with black trim, punctuated by Cape Cod windows. They wandered through the rooms and up the stairs, peeking into drawers and closets, the dread creeping up his ribcage. When he could no longer stand the suspense he escaped to the backyard.
She waved at him from the master bedroom balcony. The family who could lay claim to those Cape Cod windows had returned home, jingling keys and calling out to each other but she was unconcerned. He knew himself to be an intruder while she remained still and serene. He wished the damp soil, already claiming his heels, would take all of him. Soon the mother and the father who lived at the house were standing on the balcony alongside his accomplice, as he thought of her, and before long the three of them were talking and smiling.
She has made herself acceptable, he thought. Somehow she is not a threat to them.
I could never be like you, he confessed when they were back in the car, driving off to a neighborhood in the hills with seductive views of the ocean. He wasn’t sure if he had enough gas.
I’ve been doing you a favor, she told him.
He protested that he had not even kissed her but he did not want to fight. He wanted to hang on.
She blew a kiss into the air.
Look, she said, pointing. Look how loosely everything is held together. Drop me off over there, she told him, nodding at a sedan parked under a canopy of jacarandas. They were in the heart of the hills now. In the car sat another man, looking down, as yet untroubled.
by Jan Stinchcomb