“How much?” Anna asked, opening the passenger door of the Jeep. She stuck a leg up, stopped, then swiped bagel crumbs off the seat onto the ground and climbed in.

“Not as much as I thought,” I said.

She squinted at me with her soft brown eyes. Like when I said I’d be going out with the guys for a few beers last Saturday night and rolled in after three a.m., tripping up the stairs and waking up Haley, who spent the rest of the night wedged between us until Anna got up and slept on the couch.

“Can’t go crazy,” I said, “ this isn’t Holmes on Holmes where we replace the hinges on the cabinets and next thing you know the entire house is redone.”

“Getting kind of close.”

Needs too many updates became our realtor’s mantra every time we had a showing with no offers the first six months. So we pulled the house off the market, waited a year, and tried again. Now Haley’s in first grade.

“Well, you’re the one who bought new tires for your car when we’re trying to get a house on the market,” she said, looking out at the neighborhood that had been planned forty years ago, back when neighbors liked to live so close to each other that they could pass a bag of sugar or half-gallon of milk without leaving their front door.

“The tires were bald. You remember last winter when I slid off the road and did a doughnut in that yard?”

My heart started pounding thinking about the asshole who tried to do a center-lane pull-out in a snowstorm. Missed two trees and a house by feet. Then pulled out of a front yard as I were leaving church.

We took the back roads to Home Depot, and the tires stuck to the pavement like cleats in mud. Something about new tires that made me rev the rpms at the next stop sign.

“Cut it out,” Anna said.

“Just testing,” I said. I felt the tires slip, so I engaged the four-wheel drive and cruised for a couple hundred feet before dropping back to two.

“What’s wrong now?” she asked.

“Nothing, Sometimes the four-wheel gets stuck after service.”

She sighed and held onto the door handle as I took the next turn too fast and crossed the center line because I was fiddling with the controls.

“Hope you didn’t break it.”

“I didn’t–break it.” I gripped the wheel, clenched my jaw.

“Okay.”

“What’s your problem?”

“That we’re wasting our time going to the store for the hundredth time when we could have hired someone to do it.”

“I can do it.”

“Um-hm.”

What started as new hinges turned into re-finishing doors, which led to replacing cabinets, a new countertop, then new tiles, and because I didn’t have the tools or materials, I spent the last eight weeks every Sunday morning driving to Home Depot, searching aisles for contraptions that I’d seen Holmes use.

“Okay. I screwed up. But next time, I’ll get it right now that I know how to do it.”

“Next time, I’m hiring a contractor.”

I spun the wheels again at the next stop sign. Pushed fifty in the thirty-five, then almost caught air over the two=lane bridge so our insides felt weightlessness for a split-second. A car up ahead in our lane came faster than I thought. Like it was driving backwards. I checked to make sure there wasn’t anyone coming, then jerked the wheel into the opposite lane for a quick pass.

I heard a knock below my feet, then again, and the front left side dipped and the weight of the Jeep dropped. Anna screamed. I slammed the brakes, swerving, holding the wheel to one side with all my strength to allow the other car to keep going. Then I pulled the Jeep back into our lane and onto the shoulder.

When we stopped, I pressed the clutch, shifted into neutral, and yanked the emergency brake. Anna was staring out the window as tiny flakes of snow began to fall and settle into the grass.

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Ben Saff

    “Pushed fifty in the thirty-five, then almost caught air over the two=lane bridge so our insides felt weightlessness for a split-second” – that feeling is universal and you did a great job capturing it. A pure moment.

    “She squinted at me with her soft brown eyes. Like when I said I’d be going out with the guys for a few beers last Saturday night and rolled in after three a.m., tripping up the stairs and waking up Haley, who spent the rest of the night wedged between us until Anna got up and slept on the couch.” – Also really liked this intimate moment as a way to set-up the tension between the two.

    I really like how you zoomed in on this car ride and the negative vibes that arise when life throws frustrating complications at us. The pace was good too, no moment dragged. Dialogue was believable and zipped along.

    I did get a little confused at the end. Did the suspension give out? That was my conclusion after a second read. Maybe more experienced car-owners would get it though. A single sentence explaining what happened would help though: “I heard a knock below my feet, and then the suspension gave out, dropping the weight of the Jeep. Anna screamed. I slammed on the brakes”

    Also consider combing through and axing anything that a reader doesn’t need to know

    When we stopped, (I pressed the clutch, shifted into neutral, and yanked the emergency brake). Anna was staring out the window as tiny flakes of snow began to fall and settle into the grass.

    What could you sub in here that is critical? Right now we are left with a moment where Anna is disappointed and cold. Where is the driver’s mind at this moment? What kind of person is he right now? Is he smelling his new tires buring and worried about them? Is he weirdly and inexplicably remembering the first time he met his wife?

  2. Saxon Baird

    The interactions between wife and husband feel spot on here, especially a couple whose relationship and solidified into that era of property-owner and kids and the question of whats next?

    Also, I love this: “back when neighbors liked to live so close to each other that they could pass a bag of sugar or half-gallon of milk without leaving their front door.”

    I think we can get into the story a little more quick about a disagreement around how to fix the house and the problems with putting it on the market. Also, echoed by Ben, I’m not totally sure what happens at the end. Something to do with the tires? Unsure.

    One idea to possibly try is to expand the story into the sort of surreal, where the house just becomes a total money pit. Or maybe theres some aspect of it that is slightly surreal but representative of the situation here….I’m thinking the small house that is always kind of on fire in film Synecdoche NY.

    Or maybe this conversation can happen in the house, or just sitting out front in the Jeep. I feel like the issue at the heart here is money and the problem of the house…but then we kind of move away from the house. Maybe stay put and comment on the various issues during the convo.

    “Anna set her coffee cup down on a loose tile. ”

    “I poured myself a glass of water and wiped up the faucet leak that let loose across the counter.” Etc.

  3. Jack O'Connell

    The house changes made me think of the ship of theseus. How many changes before it’s a new house, a new car? how many fights between a couple before it’s a new relationship? The action again like your last story is really clear and exciting and well-paced. You are really good with movement. Is there a connection between the car action and the relationship and the house changes? would more thematic connection make the car action drive the relationship action more?

  4. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Whoa! This reads like a speeding car. Great movement and I felt like I needed a seatbelt. The dialogue is great, and I love the idea of trying to work on something you learned from a show (or, from my own experience, a YouTube tutorial). My brain expected it to end with a bad crash, but ending it with an emergency brake and snowflakes is great. Although I assume it’ll only be seconds before she starts screaming, ‘Are you out of your mind?!?!’ Well done.

  5. Bud Smith

    Haha, this was great. The guy is acting like he knows everything, posturing and being a jerk and then he fucks up and almost wrecks the car. That was one of the most real things I’ve ever read and people don’t usually bother with that kind of thing … you know what I mean? The universe spoke up and gave a little slap and nobody got hurt and maybe a lesson will be learned from it but probably not. We’ll just blame the other car for going slow (out of nowhere). I feel the rage and the desperation in this story and I recognize real people from the real world in it. Have you ever read Frederick Barthelme? I think you would really get something from his writing. Chroma might be the place to start. Just want to add too, your dialogue is super tight and reads like living breathing married people.

    This is so good:

    “What’s your problem?”
    “That we’re wasting our time going to the store for the hundredth time when we could have hired someone to do it.”
    “I can do it.”
    “Um-hm.”
    What started as new hinges turned into re-finishing doors, which led to replacing cabinets, a new countertop, then new tiles, and because I didn’t have the tools or materials, I spent the last eight weeks every Sunday morning driving to Home Depot, searching aisles for contraptions that I’d seen Holmes use.
    “Okay. I screwed up. But next time, I’ll get it right now that I know how to do it.”
    “Next time, I’m hiring a contractor.”

  6. Kara Vernor

    Great motion to this. I think you’ve really taken something mundane here (a common domestic dispute) and infused it with action, tension, and life. I loved the ending, though I didn’t see it coming. It’s as if the snow settling mirrors the the judgements likely setting in Anna about her husband after this most recent fuck up. I like how the story ends with even more tension. We know the fight that’s coming is worse than the fight we’ve seen so far.

    I was a little lost at the beginning of the story in terms of what they were discussing, who they were to each other, etc. so maybe relooking at the sequence of how the home improvement, their relationship, the tires are introduced might be something to play with. Nice work!

  7. Bill Merklee

    The back-and-forth between this couple rings very true. The husband seems more fleshed out here than his wife. Tending to the Jeep before finishing the house speaks volumes about where his head is at in the relationship, as does his chomping at the bit to race away at the end, only to be pulled back to earth. Would love to see more like this that illustrates the wife’s thinking.

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