(Art by spoon+fork.)
I was about to cross the street, far from the crosswalk, when I had to stop for a Jetta coming down.
It was moving just fast enough that I couldn’t cross the street but also slow enough that the driver wanted me to know he was holding me up on purpose.
I swept both arms to the left to suggest that the car speed the fuck up. To my amazement, the car turned slightly and bared down upon me. The sun was low and threw a glare on the windshield so I didn’t see Mrs. Angrywall in the driver’s seat until she was nearly on top of me.
“I thought it was you, Sean!” she yelled out the window.
“Hi, Mrs. Angrywall.”
“Can I give you a ride?”
“Where are you going?”
“Nowhere in particular.”
“You’re just driving around?”
She smiled and shrugged.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” I said. “I don’t want to piss off your husband.”
“It won’t piss him off.”
“He looked pretty mad last time I saw him.”
“That’s how he gets from time to time.”
“I don’t know.”
“He’s out of town right now, if that really makes a difference to you.”
I shook my head and came around to the passenger side. I sat down and strapped myself in.
“Which way?” she asked as she let up off the brake.
“Go down to the third light, make a left.”
“Are you just going to go home now?”
“That’s what people do when they’re done with work.”
“No! The Americans go out and have fun in tacky corporate pseudo-pubs! Go down to Applebee’s or TGIFs!”
“I’ve never been to a TGIF! That’s for yuppies!”
“Do you want to go now?”
“God, no. What’s gotten into you, Mrs. Angrywall?”
“I don’t quite know. I got into the car, intending to go buy some groceries and on my way to the supermarket, I realized that I had already done the shopping for the week. I just didn’t want to go home so I started driving around. Then I found you.”
“Who’s watching the hotel now?”
“Gaia, perhaps. I just locked the office doors. There are so few customers, anyway.”
We were at the second light when I said, “Make a right here.”
“Oh?” she asked.
“Let’s go to the Clown Drive-In. That’s a fun place.”
The Clown Drive-In was, I think, the last roller-skating wait-service in Ocean County. Mostly old people and tourists went there, but I figured Mrs. Angrywall hadn’t been there. The asphalt was freshly paved although the building itself, which was shaped like a circus tent, needed serious restructuring. It was lopsided.
Girls in jeans dragged themselves around on skates with tight uniforms that were supposed to look like ringleaders’ outfits. They probably looked sexier in the days before Hooters.
There used to be a drive-in movie theater in the back, but they chained up the entrance and let the trees and plants grow wild over it.
“Wow, where do I park?” Mrs. Angrywall asked.
“Anyplace next to the tent.”
“It’s quite like ‘American Graffiti’!”
“You haven’t seen the movie?”
“I’ve never even heard of it.”
There was a tap at Mrs. Angrywall’s window. She wound it down.
“Could you bring it down all the way? I need to fit this thing in.” Our waitress had to be younger than 18. I was good at sizing up women’s ages. But I would have never guessed 40 for Mrs. Angrywall.
“Certainly,” Mrs. Angrywall told the girl, jerking the crank some more.
The waitress pounded the tray holder into the window slot.
“You guys know what you want?” she asked.
“Can we get some menus?” I asked.
She shoved off and came back with two menus that were wrinkled and greasy like someone dirty had slept on them. The waitress stood by, breathing hard through her mouth and chewing gum as we read over the menus.
“What would you recommend, Sean?” Mrs. Angrywall asked.
“Honestly the food isn’t great here,” I said, looking at the waitress and seeing no reaction from her. “I’m just going to get a shake.”
“The pork-roll sandwich is good,” suggested the girl, who leaned into the car to gawk at us. “Where are you guys from?”
“We’re from India,” I said. “I’ll have a vanilla shake.”
“I’ll have a chocolate shake,” said Mrs. Angrywall.
“You guys want some fries?”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Angrywall. I already ate a pound of French fries a day, but I could eat some more just to be a sport.
“Raj, that’s my husband, would never come to a place like this. It’s much too fun.” She said that last word in a mean way.
“I have to admire him,” I said. “Not everybody can fix up a hotel by himself.”
“Fix up,” sneered Mrs. Angrywall. “More like fuck up. I think he’s only been making things worse. He’s too ashamed to even let me see what he’s done.”
The girl brought in our shakes and fries with a glass bottle of ketchup that had dried black crust running down the neck.
One thing that I’d forgotten about the Clown was that they used real ice cream for their shakes, which meant that they were undrinkable when you first got them. If you tried to suck too hard, your brain would crawl to the top of your skull and shiver.
I put my shake in my crotch while rolling Mrs. Angrywall’s cup in my palms to melt it down.
“What are we to do?” she asked giddily.
“Just wait. Or you can pop the lid and pour it into your mouth.”
“I don’t want to soil my sari.”
“Why do you dress like that, anyway? I mean you’d probably be more comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans.”
“It’s my culture,” she said, “and it’s far more comfortable than anything else.”
“You know, I’m Irish. I don’t have to eat corned beef and cabbage to prove it.”
“Culture aside, it’s pretty. I wear it because I think it’s pretty.”
“But it’s probably why the waitress was staring at us. You wearing this thing and all.”
“If I worried about people giving me looks, I wouldn’t have been able to survive in this country. You don’t mind when people stare at you, do you?”
“Yeah, but I get that because of my good looks.”
“And you don’t suppose that’s why I get stares?”
“Maybe,” I said.
Were we really flirting here?
I hooked my right thumb into a belt loop in my jeans.
The fries got soggy in the ketchup and I used a fork on the worst ones. Mrs. Angrywall couldn’t finish her shake so I poured hers into mine.
“Do you wanna see something really cool?” I asked Mrs. Angrywall.
“What is it?”
“It’s kinda scary, too.”
“Ooh, I like scary!”
First we stopped at a drug store to buy some baby powder. Then I told her how to get to the Washington Street exit off of Route 9. By this time traffic would be light enough so I could show her the trick.
“Pull off onto the exit, but stop before we get onto Washington itself.”
When we got there, I said, “You see how we’re at the bottom of an incline?” I asked.
“That seems to be the case,” she said.
I got out and sprinkled baby powder on the front bumper. Mrs. Angrywall leaned out the window.
“Sean, what are you doing? Don’t make a mess of the car!”
“C’mon, it’s just baby powder.”
I got back into the car.
“Okay,” I said. “Put it in neutral.”
“Let go of the brake.”
We sat there for a few seconds. Then the car slowly started rolling uphill. We seemed to be gaining speed. She turned to me. Mrs. Angrywall’s mouth was wide open and wet. I smiled at her. The car slowed near the top of the hill and then stopped.
“Oh, my!” was all she said.
“We call this exit Gravity Hill. Back in the 1960s, there was a school bus that came off this exit and was hit by a cement truck when it turned onto Washington. All the kids were killed.
“Now, when a car stops here before getting onto the road, the ghosts of those kids push the car away.”
She stared at me and didn’t say anything.
“Get out of the car,” I said.
At the front end, I pointed in the baby powder.
“See those little handprints?” I asked her. “Those were made by the spirits of those kids, pushing the car up.”
She stared at the prints and even traced a finger around one of them.
When we got back in the car, we sat in silence. I gave a triumphant smile.
“I’ll bet you’ve never seen anything like that before,” I said.
“It’s quite clever, I’ll grant you that.”
“Yes, you see, although it seems that we’re now at the top of an incline, it only appears that way because the incline of Route 9 here is so sharp. So while it appeared that we rolled uphill, we’ve actually rolled downhill.
“Those handprints on the front of the car were made by children, but not their ghosts. Children are naturally curious and touch everything within reach. When this car was parked at the supermarket or even back at the hotel, quite a number of children already got their hands all over it. The baby powder mostly slipped off but some stuck to the skin oil from the handprints.”
I bit my bottom lip and shook my head.
“You know, Mrs. Angrywall, you really know how to take the fun out of everything!”
A shy look came over her face. The moonlight made her skin look nearly blue.
“Well,” she said, “we’ll just have to put the fun back into things.”
I grabbed the back of her head with both of my hands and shoved my face into hers. She rolled her tongue into a tube and pushed it just past my lips. I bucked in my seat to get more leverage. I ran my hands over her back to undo the latch on her bra, but she wasn’t wearing one.
I worked my fingers down to try to find an opening so I could touch her bare back. The sari was tricky. Every flap in the fabric seemed to lead to a dead end.
My tongue was furiously paddling around in her mouth. Our combined saliva was oozing down my cheek and dripping off my chest. I kept working at her sari and in frustration I just gave it a hard tug. We both felt the rip.
“How dare you!” she yelled. “What the bloody hell is your problem!”
“I was just trying to touch you,” I said.
“You don’t need to rip my clothes off in the bloody car! I deserve more respect than that!”
“Did you want to go to a hotel?” I asked.
It was the worst thing I could have said to someone trapped at one 24/7.
She withdrew from me and sat back in the driver’s seat.
“Sean,” she said, looking directly out of the windshield. “Have you ever had a fling with a married woman?”
“I don’t know if you’d call it a fling.”
“Have you had sex with a married woman?”
“Did you feel badly about it later?”
“The way things were going, I would have regretted it more if we didn’t.”
“And the woman? What happened to her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think she felt badly about how she behaved?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to have made a promise and live by it, do you?’
“I’ve broken lots of promises, Mrs. Angrywall.”
She crossed her arms and twisted away from me.
“I don’t know what I’m feeling anymore. Perhaps I’m unable to feel. He comes and goes as he likes now, but it wasn’t always this way. At first, I thought I could grow to fit with him, maybe even love him. Perhaps if we had a measure of financial success, things would have been different. They definitely would have been different. Better!”
She turned her head and stared me in the face.
“I’m so terribly bored, Sean. I sit there all day behind that desk and wait for him to come home at night and he says so very little. It’s a shame for me to be sitting there, unappreciated and unwanted. That’s the main reason why I wear these saris even though I never go out. It’s a shame to leave nice things where they’ll never be seen. It takes away their purpose.”
I dug my hands into my armpits and stared at the dark void under the glove compartment. Things weren’t looking good but I could turn it all around right now if I wanted to. I knew I could. Think of something, dammit!
“You can’t ever kiss me again,” she said.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Angrywall.”
“That’s the end of it, Sean.”
I turned on the radio and found a boring news station with a guy who spoke in soft, short bursts of words like he was talking in his sleep. After a while she started the car. When we got back to local streets, I showed her how to get back to my place and then I think we said good night.
I had just gotten into bed when I realized that I didn’t have my cell phone. I must have left it in Mrs. Angrywall’s car. I sat up and weighed the consequences. I thought about O’Keefe’s foot on my neck. I got up.
I walked briskly to the hotel. I was hoping that I wouldn’t find Mrs. Angrywall still in the car, sobbing over the wheel. But when I got to the parking lot, the Jetta was empty. Luckily the door was unlocked, too. I opened the passenger door and found my phone under the seat. No calls had been received.
Just then, a pair of headlights hit me. A Taurus came in and parked crooked next to the Jetta, although there were a lot of other spaces open.
Mr. Angrywall came out, stumbling slightly. He came up to me, leaned on my shoulder and said, “Pakistan is a nation of terrorists, founded in terrorism and must be destroyed for the sake of world peace.”
“Yes, you’re right,” I said. He was spraying me with globs of saliva. Some got in my eyes.
“India will stop at nothing to protect itself and its citizens!” he declared, grabbing my shirt close to the collar.
“Yes,” I said.
“If there is a World War III, it will be in Kashmir and it will see Pakistan brought to heel!”
“Okay,” I said. I had almost gotten away when his grip on my shirt tightened.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “You’re one of the good ones.” Then he let me go.
(Part 15 next week.)