Short story -A day without news- by Peter Minten
(translated by Derek van Dassen)
The morning rush hour into the city has started early today. In the beginning of the week there’s always traffic, but not on a Friday? Can’t begin to figure it out. Thankfully the work week is almost over. Tilt the rearview mirror. Put on some lipstick, drag my fingers through my hair and yawn. It feels good in the mornings to sit in my car half asleep, hands on the wheel and my head still in bed. I was awakened this morning by the insistent buzzing of the alarm clock. I poked Mark. We stayed in bed another fifteen minutes, not speaking or moving. When we finally did decide to get up, I washed myself with half-closed eyes and applied to my face, for the first time, an anti-aging cream while Mark shaved. I sprayed some perfume behind my ears, quickly pulled on a pleated skirt and blouse and gave Mark an airy kiss on the cheek. Skyler and Cody were already sitting watching TV. Without trying to engage them in conversation I made up their lunch boxes, gave them each a piece of toast and a nuzzle, and slipped out the front door. A single word could cut the threads to my warm bed. I snuggle into the seat as the VW’s heater breathes out hot air. My right hand rests in the warm valley between my legs. To my right a delivery van edges by. I pull my hand back quickly. The driver in one of those high vehicles can see everything. Last week one of them honked at me. With one hand I reach for the plaid blanket on the back seat. A thinnish man is draped over the steering wheel of his Mercedes reading his newspaper. He lifts his head and throws a sullen look over at me. The window on my passenger side is completely open. The man’s gaze has wafted in with no resistance. Fortunately, the traffic on that side moves on. The morning sky is a soft red today. I pull the checked blanket over my thighs. Years ago when I was still a child, I’d always sit under a blanket in my father’s car. It was wonderful, when we went on vacation, to look out the car window. The whole world would be reflected in the glass. The vibration of my cell. Mark. Immediately I’m awake; my husband never calls me in the mornings when I’m driving to work. “Hey, Marty.” “Mark, is there something wrong with Skyler or Cody?” “Nope, I brought them to school, everything’s fine.” “So why are you calling, then?” “Just because,” he says. “What do you mean, ‘just because.’” “I want to hear your voice.” “You want to hear my voice? I left home barely half an hour ago.” “I just want to know how you’re doing.” “Why do you want to know that?” “It was a strange morning,” he says. “What do you mean, Mark?” “You and I in that bed, how this morning neither of us could decide to get up.” “It happens.” “Even so, this morning seemed different than usual,” he says. “What are you talking about?” “Nothing. My imagination, probably. I’m really tired these days.” “You shouldn’t let yourself get so worked up, dear.” “Easier said than done,” he mumbles. “It’ll be alright. I’ll see you tonight. OK?” “Don’t forget to book our holidays when you’re at work, Marty. Till later.” Today I’m going to block off our vacation days. Camping at Myrtle Beach. For years Mark and the boys and I have gone camping in July at the Myrtle Beach campgrounds in South Carolina. We used to use a three-person tent, but over the last few years I haven’t felt safe anymore at night under only a piece of canvas. Last year we bought a trailer. A trailer has a hard body that keeps the world out. A hard body, like a car. The brake lights of the Nissan in front of me light up. Always braking; by what convention does everyone constantly brake in traffic jams? Should I have taken the train instead? When Mark’s car has to go in for service, I sometimes take the train into the city. It’s awful having my breasts pressed up against the bodies of people I don’t know while standing in the aisle. And when I do find a place to sit, I hate it when a strange knee bumps up against mine. I always carry a newspaper with me on the train, to shield myself from the stares of other passengers. Once I forgot to buy a paper and the trip seemed endless. A bald man sitting opposite me was trying to make eye contact. To avoid his gawking, I looked out the window. It was dark outside, the glass shone like a mirror. But constantly there were his searching eyes. After a while I couldn’t do it anymore and went and sat in the washroom, until the train stopped. Away with those unpleasant memories. I scratch my nose with my finger. Ah, the wonderful smell of daffodils. This morning was the first time that I tried that perfume. A seductive fragrance, according to the ads. A careful stretch. High in the sky an airplane leaves a drawn-out trail. I would love to disappear into that rose-colored heaven. Traffic has come to a complete standstill. No sirens. So no accident, one would presume. What’s happening today? The car in front of me starts moving again. The red sun puts me in mind of the ocean. I would now so love to be walking on Myrtle Beach with the sun on my bare body. Yawning, I close my eyes. When the spots in front of my eyes finally disappear, I see them. Two eyes are looking at me in the rearview mirror of the Nissan driving ahead of me. I grab the steering wheel with both hands. I never knew that you could see the rearview mirror of the car in front of you so clearly. They’re the eyes of a man. He’s looking straight in through my windshield. How long has he been doing this? What am I supposed to do now? If I look away, then he’ll know for sure that I’ve noticed him. I’ll just act normal. But what is normal? I stare. My eyes automatically direct themselves to the rearview mirror. He’s still looking. When the traffic finally begins to move again, I let the engine idle without giving any gas. Slowly, the Nissan pulls away from me. I pull the blanket from my legs and shove it under the passenger seat. For a moment there, it was just as if the man was looking through the window of my bedroom. Ughh. In my head I hum songs from my childhood years. The cars behind me honk. A little pressure on the gas pedal. The traffic in front of me has come to a standstill. Inch by inch I move closer to the Nissan again. Concentrate. I have to concentrate on something, build a wall around myself. Eat a sandwich. What if he sees how my lips wrap around the bread. Much too intimate. The morning news will save me; I’ll focus on the voice of some newsreader. But music spills out of the speakers in the car doors. It’s ten past eight, the news is finished. Look for another station. Nowhere the soothing voice of a newsreader. In fact, there is no more news; it’s a day without news. The bumper of the Nissan glides away and then comes close again. Next to me is a huge Navigator. Maybe my next car should be one of those fortresses on wheels. The man’s eyes follow every move I make. If only I had a newspaper. What can I look at? Carefully, I rub my eyes. Can’t ruin the makeup. He’s noticing that I’m reacting to him, that I’m unsettled. His right arm is resting on the back of the passenger seat. He stretches. His eyes are alive. The man turns his head towards me. He’s good-looking, blond, with a short-cropped beard. He’s a foreigner, according to his license plate, from Alberta. Mid-thirties, well-preserved. I pull my own rearview mirror down. Long hair, brown-green eyes, full lips, I’m not doing too badly myself. Since my marriage to Mark my looks haven’t completely deserted me. The man in the Nissan turns around with a piece of cardboard in his hand. Big numbers on it. What’s he doing, what are those numbers? I don’t believe it, it looks like a telephone number. He’s written down his telephone number. Is he nuts? Everyone can see, soon the whole world will know what’s going on here. Thankfully, everyone in the other cars is just staring straight ahead. A voice on the radio announces an upcoming game. You phone in if you recognize the sound they’re playing. But no sound comes, nothing comes. My fingers press desperately on the buttons. Games and music, that’s all there is today. Still no news. My hands are shaking. The phone is lying next to me on the passenger’s seat. I grab the wheel with both hands and try to take deep breaths. This is a daydream, it’s all not real. Close your eyes and breathe. Count to four, in and out, just like in yoga. Eyes open again. He’s still holding up the piece of cardboard. He’s smiling like a Cheshire Cat. I grab my cell. My hands are sweating. Why am I holding this phone? He has beautiful eyes. I hide my face behind my hair. The ringtone is suddenly cut off by a click. Silence, horrible silence. I have to say ‘hello’ now. “Hello,” a deep man’s voice says. *** High in the sky, the sun is burning. When I get into my Volkswagen in the parking lot, rush hour is long over. I slalom the car past the hotel and gas station and zip onto the freeway into the sluggish afternoon traffic. Methodically, I chew on a sandwich. The city center looks deserted. The Volkswagen disappears into the underground parking. The elevator doors open. Jerome looks at me inquisitively. Jerome is my favorite colleague. Our receptionist received my message this morning on the answering machine, he says. All the while smiling at him, I mumble something about my kids being sick and that I have no other news, because today is a day without news. I let myself fall into my desk chair as my computer turns on. The picture of Skyler and Cody appear on the desk top. In fact, I’m quite happy with my life. For the first time since the birth of the boys, I have some time for myself again. They don’t always need me anymore, now that they’ve outgrown their toddler years. And Mark. Ah, my darling Mark. Today I freed him from a huge burden. The weary Mark no longer has to burn himself out for me. He no longer has to be the man of my life. Our family vacation at Myrtle Beach will be a lot of fun this summer. Mark and the boys will play football on the grass. And I, I will sit on a chair and look at my face reflected in the window of our impenetrable trailer.