“What?” Marie, lost in her Kindle, wasn’t paying attention to traffic and had no idea what I was talking about.
“Nothing. This idiot. Go back to your book.”
“Hmmm.” She turned back to whatever she was reading. She was always so damned agreeable. She rested the Kindle on her belly, a reminder of our soon-to-be-born first child. The doctor said another month, give or take.
I let the car drop back, allowing some space to grow between us and the SUV, but I could sense a car to our right wanting to slip into the gap I’d created and my anxiety increased. We’d been traveling in the fast lane, caught behind a vehicle going the same speed as the 18-wheeler in the center lane. Sometimes he’d slowed so much the semi pulled ahead and I thought he might be exiting the interstate, intending to drop behind the large truck, but no such luck. And the gap in front of him grew.
I edged my car over to the left, trying to see past the SUV. At the sound of our tires thumping over the rumble strips that guarded the left shoulder, Marie looked up again. I forced a smile as I glanced at her, steering back into my lane. I’d seen enough to know that at least a half mile of open road spanned between the SUV and the next car up.
I couldn’t tell if the driver ahead of me was a man or a woman. I could see only the top of a head, slighted tilted, silhouetted above the seat-back in the telltale posture of a cell phone conversation.
“Get off the freakin’ phone and drive,” I said, mostly to myself.
Marie looked up again. I lifted my foot off the gas, letting the car slow enough to increase the gap again, without creating enough space for the car next to me to cut in. She glanced at me, but I kept my eyes on the road ahead, not wanting to return her gaze. I tried to act less annoyed than I felt, but just then the SUV’s driver, apparently sensing the distance behind him, began to slow down again.
“Oh, no. No, no, no. Come on, fella, please. The speed limit is 70. What is the matter with you?”
“I don’t know why you let people like that ruin your day,” Marie said.
“My day’s not ruined; but this is ridiculous. He’s not paying any attention to the world around him. Can’t he see the mile of open road ahead?” To confirm my point, I pulled to the left again; the car in front of the SUV was at least a mile ahead of us. A groan escaped from my chest, ending in a sigh.
“What are you afraid of?”
“Me? What do you mean? I’m not afraid. I just want to get to where we’re going.”
“We’re talking…what? A difference of maybe five minutes, max? If you get in front of this guy, you’ll catch up with the next guy and he’s really only about a minute ahead of us. What’s the deal?”
“Nevermind. You don’t understand.”
“I’d like to. But you’re right, I don’t.”
“It’s all about missed opportunities. This guy’s holding me back. When he gets out of the way, I’ll be liberated.”
“Mmmm.” Marie looked back down at her Kindle.
“What? You don’t think so?”
“No. You have opportunities right where you are. You can listen to the radio. Or daydream. Think about our baby. But all you can think about is this guy and how he’s in your way. I don’t get it. You’re letting him control you.”
“Don’t turn this into another conversation about ‘control issues.’ I’m not in the mood for your psychoanalysis.”
“Fine.” Marie closed the cover on her Kindle and looked out the window, with nothing in her line of sight but the wide expanse of the semi’s generic white siding.
After a minute, she said, “Do you remember the time you tailgated some guy, all the way to the parking lot on your way to an interview? Remember how that jerk turned out to be the hiring manager that you were supposed to talk to about a job? Remember how you left as soon as he recognized you as the jerk he’d been watching in his rear-view mirror?”
Her voice quivered; I couldn’t tell if she was angry or on the verge of tears. I didn’t welcome either response.
“I love you, John Michael, but I wish you would just lighten up a little bit.” I could tell she wanted to say more, but she bit down on her lower lip.
We drove in silence for a few miles, the seconds ticking by as I focused on my pulse and my breathing. I willed my outrage into submission. My opportunities were here, in this car, in this now. There was no opportunity hiding in the space blocked by the SUV. And Marie was right, when (or if) that opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t enjoy it or fully appreciate the grace of that moment. More likely, I’d press the gas pedal to the floor and close the gap, quickly eliminating the distance between myself and the car ahead of me.
Another breath, air drawn fully into my lungs, my gut pressing against my belt. Opportunity drawn in, and exhaled again. That’s all those gaps ever were, just passing breaths.
“You’re right,” I said, but by then she was sleeping, her head resting against the window.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Niqui challenged me with “What’s your biggest pet peeve? Why does it bother you?” and I challenged Shauntelle with “Write a response that fills the reader with an abiding peace and tranquility.”
*EDIT: changed “their” to “our” (referencing unborn child). Thanks, Jessie!