KC, a teacher whom Mark hated so much that he never said her name without the words "that damned pervert dyke" appended to it, was the passer-by ready and willing to slide down a muddy bank and haul someone to safety. Emily had seen the feat with her own eyes; there had not been a moment's hesitation. How many people would have stood at the top of the bank and called out first, hoping that they wouldn't have to make any effort? Maybe extended a hand to me as I crawled up the slope -- maybe just stood there and watched while the car fell over with me in it. Talk about your Samaritan stories! She could only imagine Mark's reaction to finding out about this accident. He'd angrily demand to know what she was doing at his office; he'd go nuts over the insurance deductible; he'd rage at the thought that Emily was grateful to a lesbian.
Headlights appeared on the road, and a truck headed toward the university slowed down. The driver's window rolled down and a man shouted, "You okay there?"
KC stood up straight and waved at him. The man waved back, taking her gesture for a dismissal, and sped up. "Damn him!" KC sputtered. "I was going to ask him to wait with us until we could get help."
If I didn't know how much Mark hates this woman, how would I act? Don't I owe it to her to forget my husband's bias and think for myself? "Doctor Carson!" Emily said. "I didn't recognize you at first."
The woman bent again and peered at Emily. "Do I know you?"
Tears leaped into Emily's eyes. This woman had not rescued her because she was the wife of a department head, the wife of a university professor. She'd flung herself into the dark and cold just because she thought someone was in trouble. KC's tailored wool suit was slathered with mud, her hair had mud in it, her face was smeared with bits of sandy gravel and reddish mud. The side of the left knee of the suit was torn open raggedly. That suit cost a bundle. KC's thrown away a lot of money just to be kind to a stranger. Emily put her hand to her face and stifled a sudden sob.
KC was staring at her. "Mrs. Fatzer?"
Emily nodded and held out her muddy right hand. "Emily, please. Thank you again."
KC took her hand and smiled tentatively. "Call me KC. People call me 'Doctor Carson' and I can't figure out who they're talking to. Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes, I've got the number in here somewhere for the roadside assistance of my insurance. They're supposed to respond any time of day or night." She poked around in her purse and found the wallet. The insurance card was there, and the number to call. Emily's shaking hands fumbled the card and it fell out of her fingers, bounced off her lap and out the door of the car into the mud.
KC picked it up and wiped it clean on the side of her pants. "Do you want me to dial it for you?" She didn't wait for an answer, just read the phone number off the card and punched it in with her right thumb. She handed the phone to Emily.
"What do I say?" Emily hissed at her. "I've never been in an accident before!" She rather wanted KC to take charge, take the phone back, and tell the insurance people everything they needed to know.
"Make them tell you what they need to know. They know more about accidents than you do and what information their company requires for claims," said KC, wincing as the rain became heavier and more sleet-like. She shut the door on Emily's side of the car and walked around to the driver's seat. She brushed mud and flakes of ice from her jacket before she got in.
There was a click, and a woman's voice said, "Guardian Automotive Insurance, how may I direct your call?" She sounded bored and irritable, and Emily was immediately intimidated.
"I've had an accident and my car is in a ditch," Emily told her.
She didn't even ask me if I was all right! Doesn't that matter? "Five-five-three-dash-one-one-zero-dash-seven-two-five-two-one-one."
"Will you be needing towing service?"
Well, yes, that's why I told you my car was in a ditch. "Yes, please."
"Closest city?" the nasal voice asked.
"Your policy has a fifty-dollar deductible towing fee. What is your location?"
"No, I'm sure we have free towing on the policy. I'm on the road to Port Laughton University."
"Ma'am, what is the route number of the road on which you have had the accident?"
"Why, I don't know, it's just the road to -- "
"Ma'am, we can't help you if we don't know the location and the road number."
Emily turned to KC. "Do you know the road number here?"
"County Road 52."
"Okay." This woman must be Agent Twit McKenzie of the FBI's sister. Probably hates her job, takes it out on anyone she can. Emily took a couple of quiet breaths. "May I have your name again, please?" she asked, although the voice at the other end had not identified herself. "Arlene Smith? Thank you, Arlene, please don't interrupt my sentences again, can you do that? The road is County Road 52." She looked at KC and saw her grinning as she wrote down Arlene's name on a tiny notepad she'd pulled from the side pocket of her suit. "No, Arlene, I don't know what the car model year is. It's the Lexus covered under our policy, so that should be part of your records."
"And where is the car located on County 52?"
"About two -- no, three miles from the university campus," Emily told the bored voice, amending the distance after watching KC's fingers indicate a number three. "Thank you very much." She handed the phone to KC. "I don't know how to hang this one up."
KC pressed a button near the top, and then dialed another number. "Good job, Emily." She cradled the phone in her shoulder against her ear, and checked her watch, cleaning mud from its face. "Susannah! I'm going to be late. Someone I know had a spin out on the university road -- I'm going to wait for the tow truck with her. Well, we'll just have to make it a later time or forget it. Do you want me to call? No problem. Bye, Soos."
"Oh, you had plans! I'm so sorry!" Emily glanced out the dark window, unable to see anything of her car but the headlights' beams though the slushy rain on the windshield.
"Sorry you didn't kill something and drive on?" KC asked rhetorically. "Not a problem. We all should take the time for dinner before we go out partying, anyway." She punched in another number, and at some response said, "This is KC. We're not going to be at Bobby Lee's until a lot later. I'll give you a call when we're on our way."
Emily looked at her muddy clothing, ashamed of needing help, ashamed of having to accept the help of someone to whom her husband had always been rude. She leaned her head back against the head rest of the seat, shut her eyes, and exhaled in exhaustion.
"Are you all right?" KC asked her. "Your car just skidded on the ice -- I'll bet your insurance takes care of everything."
Emily looked at her, seeing a stranger, someone she had never before met, not in real life. The KC Carson she'd seen before had been a character in her husband's imagination, a pervert on the make, an enemy under cover to take down the righteous. The woman beside her was just a courageous person who took being mud-spattered and schedule-skewed in stride. How many years had KC put up with Mark's hatred? Did she even know the depths of his animosity?
To Emily's surprise, KC cleared her throat and put the phone on the dashboard. "Listen, I can wait outside the car if you want."
Oh, yes, she knew Mark hated her. Emily put her hand on KC's arm. "No. That would be foolish. That's not weather out there, that's shit from the skies." Her father used to call sleety weather that, back when they still lived in the Sierra foothills.
KC laughed. "Okay, deal. I'm going to turn on the heat for a little bit, though. I'm freezing." She turned her key in the ignition and the engine purred. KC adjusted the temperature and directional controls for the heater, clicked on the four-way blinkers.
"My feet feel like ice," Emily agreed. "I never would have ventured out if I had known how cold it was going to get."
"The goddamn weather service can't decide if it's going to snow tonight or just freeze when the rain hits the ground. Who pays those jerks, anyway? We all look at the weatherman as an authority -- what if the weather forecaster has all along been paid to be an entertainer? Then what do we believe?" KC picked tiny cakes of mud from her face and flung them to the floor of the car.
"My father used to say that anyone who had to listen to the TV to tell what the weather was going to be needed to live out of doors in a tent for three years. He said that if the weathermen had to do that, their predictions would be a lot more accurate." If I had looked at the sky today, would I have known how awful the weather would get?
"Susannah's always saying I should do something like that. She says I'm too attuned to Nordstrom's to know what life's really about. Maybe I will, some day. Just pack it all in and take a sabbatical and live out of a tent for a season. But then I immediately start thinking of a climate in which I could actually tolerate tent life. The Mid-west? No, too many tornadoes. The East coast? Have you ever heard someone from there talk about gnats and mosquitoes? Unbelievable! And when people from the Southwest tell about their insects, it's not like the quantity people deal with in the East, it's the size. When it comes to cockroaches, Size Matters. I don't ever want to deal with fucking tarantulas or giant cockroaches. Oops, sorry, Emily. I didn't mean to sound so vulgar."
"When I was three, according to my mother, I found an earthworm under a loose brick and announced that it was a 'goddamn fucking snake.' I suspect I learned that from Dad's pronouncements, so don't worry about me."
Emily leaned forward again and massaged her temples, which were not yet throbbing with pain, but were threatening to do so. My husband was fired, but he didn't tell me.
KC chuckled at the snake comment and then asked, "Are you really okay? You seem kind of out of it, if I may make an observation."
"It's been a less-than-happy New Year," Emily offered. "And I just learned my husband's dirty little secret."
The other woman looked at Emily and picked a piece of mud out of her eyebrow. "How do you feel about that? Or are you still in a place where you feel nothing?"
How do I feel? "Do you really want to know? I feel like a complete dunce, how about that? I had no idea he was losing his job, no inkling that he was looking for work in Michigan until just a few days ago. I feel really stupid that I wasn't able to find out this information until recently, and I feel like an incompetent that I wasn't allowed to share in the decision-making process."
"Wait. If you weren't given information, you might be ignorant about circumstances, but it doesn't make you stupid."
Emily thought back over the days since New Year's Eve. "No, I feel dumb because I never thought to question Mark or what was going on around us. Apparently I was living in a fantasy world of happy home-making."
"Fantasies about home-making are valid. I think most people find satisfaction in fulfilling healthy fantasies."
"Well, no, homemaking wasn't my fantasies, those were about living in Paris or -- I just meant I thought ... taking care of the house and bills was enough."
"Maybe it was enough," KC shrugged. "Or did you really want to go to Paris?"
"Well, I'd like to visit France -- but I'd be happy with a tour bus. I don't have the nerve to actually live there. I was just content with playing house and imagining Paris, I suppose. But I was pretty dull-witted, not noticing problems and thinking that everything around me was fine." KC is pretty smooth with the psychologist questions. Good thing I wrecked just as a shrink was coming along.
"Michelangelo thought everything was fine while he held a hammer and chisel. He was always really upset when he found out that the rest of the world wasn't content while he sculpted. That didn't mean he was dumb. He was just engrossed in what he felt he had to do." As a car slowed to acknowledge KC's blinking car lights, she rolled down the window. "Waiting for the tow-truck, thanks!"
"If it wasn't for my fish I'd be ready to move to Paris tonight," Emily said. "I enjoyed being a homemaker, but not a stooge. I never wanted to be a stooge."
"Well, it's possible he didn't tell you what happened because he was ashamed of his failure to keep his job," KC said. "Pride is a funny thing."
"KC, there was nothing about pride in his sneaky little photo he kept of Marcella Henderson in his office. That's not pride. That's plain old bullshit."
KC shook her head and leaned against the driver's side door. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you knew about that."
"So what?" Emily flared. "Everyone should cover Mark's ass to keep his wife from knowing what he was up to? How many other people knew about her and him and didn't bother to tell me, let me go on making my chirpy little happy housewife noises and gracious welcomes while they looked at me and saw that I was a dolt?"
"Emily, no one wants to come between a husband and wife, not if they can help it."
Emily leaned forward, rubbing her face and the sides of her head. "More bullshit. No one wanted to be the bearer of bad news, that's all. And no one in the university community wanted to accuse Marcella of being a slut, because she's the wife of the president of the university. And if Phil thought his cute little wifey was putting out for his professors, whose job would be jeopardized? Mark Fatzer? Marl Bloch? Any faculty member who accused her?"
"Marl Bloch?" said KC in astonishment. "You're kidding."
"No, Ma'am, I'm not. I saw them going at it with my own eyes, a sight that I shall never be able to erase from my brain."
"Heh," voiced KC, but then clamped a muddy hand over her mouth.
"It wasn't funny," Emily said, full of heat, and then her memory full of Marl's jiggling hairy butt, she giggled and reiterated, "It wasn't funny." There was total silence in the car as both women held their breath.
Both of them exploded into laughter at the same time, loudly and insensitively. "He had the ugliest hairy ass I've ever imagined in my lifetime!" Emily roared between hee-haws of hilarity.
"How did you tell his face from his ass?" screeched KC, covering her eyes, howling uncontrollably.
"His face wasn't doing this --" and she violently nodded her face forward and back.
KC clung to the steering wheel, shrieking with laughter. She looked like she would slide to the floor of the car at any moment.
Emily laughed harder, delighted that she was able to make the other woman laugh so much. I'm having more fun with a car wreck than I've had at any party I've thrown for years. The cards have been thrown onto the table, and KC didn't mind if I was afraid, or hurt, or angry, or wanted to laugh at the hand I've been dealt. I feel like a real person. Like I've suddenly really become visible for the first time in years.
And what was more, she realized that she had just been completely, freely, don't-give-a-crap honest with KC, like she hadn't been with maybe any other human being before. No need for decorum, no need for discretion, no need to pretend this or that, no need to dodge some primed fuse ready to blow, no need to act like she was something that someone else expected her to be. Not Mark, not her father, not anybody she met on the streets of Port Laughton, not even her late mother in nighttime prayers.
Just Spoon, and KC. Her car and her life were both crumpled and in ruins, scuffed and bashed and in stormy weather, but at this moment, Emily felt that she could leap out of KC's car, grin at the sleet pelting her, and twist whatever tomorrow would bring deftly into anything she needed it to be.
"Oh, lordy, Marl Bloch, can you imagine?" she said to KC, making her bray with laughter again.
She pulled a wad of tissues from her muddy purse and began to wipe her eyes. The headlights of the tow-truck as they came over the hill were just about the most unwelcome sight Emily had seen in days.
Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-07-31
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.