In the Death Seat

by Marty Carlock

Highway nightThe Audi is beetle-black and shiny as a dancing slipper. Under her hand the door latch opens with a heavy snick. She slides into the passenger seat, knowing the danger. The door closes with that weighty authoritative sound automotive designers have determined indicates quality.

The leather is babyskin soft; the seat embraces her body cushily but firmly. Over her shoulder she locates the seat belt strap and snaps it into the chrome buckle at her left hip. She has made up her mind the ride will not stress her. Years of meditation, of yoga and tai chi, plus two belts of scotch this evening will make it possible.

Her husband has slid into the rear seat and wordlessly buckled himself in. Their son Andrew hits the driver’s seat heavily, carelessly, in one motion snaps his seat belt closed and puts the car in reverse. The dashboard and console of the Audi remind her of pictures she has seen of the cockpit of an airliner. All the controls are outlined in red light, like inflamed eyes. The Audi has started automatically on sensing the key in her son’s jeans pocket. Once in the street, he shifts into drive and accelerates hard, although the stop sign at the corner is only half a block away. He turns north, for the airport.

He is the driver every other driver hates. The sonofabitch the turkey the fucker the damned idiot the tailgater the aggressive dolt who slides into the least space you give him, who rides your rear bumper until there’s a space in the next lane and takes it, who indicates by his vehicle’s posture his time is much more valuable than yours and he cannot consider remaining behind you or the landscaper’s truck or the old man in a hat or even the liberated leadfoot chick who drives the same way he does. The road is his, and he takes it.

She leans back in her seat that feels very much like the new seats at the Cinemaplex. She realizes the ride is thrilling. People pay money for excitement like this. At first she imagines she is riding beside a driver on the Indianapolis speedway, only without a helmet or burnproof coveralls. There is a certain unreality to the view out the windshield, as if she were watching a video game. Or like being on one of those programmed stationary bikes, with a screen before you that unrolls a virtual landscape with virtual riders, whom you can pass if you pedal hard but who pass you if you slack off.

Nobody passes Andrew. She begins to take some glee in the experience; she sees he is daring rather than truly reckless. He makes the same decisions she might make if she were driving with this urgency. She finds herself admiring his skill. Suddenly she realizes that their speed appears in red analog numbers two inches high in the middle of the speedometer dial: 86, 87. She waits for 90, but Andrew has to slow, boxed in between two trucks going no more than 80. A tiny window appears in the stream of cars on the right and he veers into it. He has the reflexes of a skilled athlete, the kind who can see the whole court, the whole field, and take advantage of the least opening. His eyes protrude slightly, not unattractively, giving him exceptional peripheral vision.

She could enjoy it more if he would keep both hands on the wheel. He scratches under his left armpit. She doesn’t dare speak to him, break his concentration, but she glimpses four bursting lights in the sky far off on the right and murmurs, “Whoa, did I see fireworks?” He doesn’t answer until they negotiate a curve; he gestures left, “There.” On that horizon a white-and-green starburst rises along with three yellow rockets, soundless.

Her husband’s silence in the back seat rolls forward with palpable weight. She knows he’s angry, and also terrified. He insisted on coming to meet their grandson; they have not seen him for six months, after all. He knew it would be like this. She almost congratulates herself on not being terrified. Not quite.

Yesterday she asked her son whether he had ever gotten any speeding tickets. He nodded without taking his eyes off the road. “How many?” “Maybe – six.” He paused. “Only paid about two, though.” “How did you manage that?” “Cops don’t show up in court. Got lawyers.” “They must have cost more than the fine.” “Except for the insurance.” Right, she thought. The fine can be ten dollars, and your insurance socks you for a premium of three hundred a year for years. She had rather hoped he had gotten fined enough to slow him down. She and his father have told him they worry about him, have asked him to drive more responsibly. He says nothing. His innate competitiveness won’t permit it. Once she said, “Your son will be driving in a few years. You have to set an example.” The grandson let him off the hook, looking at him and laughing, chiming in, “I’m much more conservative than he is.”

Her equanimity almost falters when she sees a rectangle of light in his right hand, his iPhone. He’s glancing between it and the road.  Of course. He has a text from Sam. He slows just enough to ramp off the freeway onto the access road. On this stretch there’s some traffic, some of it slow; he can’t get the numbers beyond 68.

It’s a holiday and the arrivals curb is almost deserted. He stops in the right-hand lane, pulls the handbrake and starts to get out. She knows it’s illegal to park here. “What’s happening, what are we doing?”

“Going to get him.” He shuts the door with that satisfying thud. She hopes it won’t take long; she is more nervous about a cop appearing than she has been about his driving.

In the back seat her husband says, “What an idiot.”

She smiles a little. “He didn’t go over 89.” Their son and grandson appear silhouetted in the terminal’s exit door, almost of a height. She get out, hugs Sam. “You can sit in the death seat provided your father drives more responsibly,” she says. “You’re more valuable.”

“True,” says her son.

She buckles herself into the right rear seat. From here she finds she can still see the big red numbers on the speedometer dial. He tries at first to exercise patience, but his habits betray him. Still, most of the way home, he keeps their speed under 85.


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing