By Ann Minnett
Here’s an excerpt of my forthcoming novel, Serita’s Shelf Life:
Normally I wouldn’t take the Vespa out on North Central Expressway. Wouldn’t push to its top speed of fifty-nine mph, challenging the drunks and lovers who careen the highways at 2:00 a.m. Normally. Tonight they pass on my left and right, swaying my scooter in their vortexes.
Two sets of headlights approach from behind like my Vespa stands still. One flashes its brights, and the one in my lane signals, changing lanes at the last second. They pass simultaneously, eighteen wheelers racing for the Oklahoma border and a payday. The force of their passing wobbles my lovely Portofino Green Vespa, and my armpits sweat painfully the way my taste buds hurt when I look at pineapple upside down cake. For that second, whatever it is that haunts me poofs, and I breathe deeply with the joy of survival. Then it’s there again. A void.
I’ll take side streets through nice neighborhoods toward home. I’ll smell the lush plants of late summer while they take a breather from the scalding daytime heat.
“Speed and highways and death-by-scooter aren’t what I’m looking for.” The wind sucks the words away. Tears moisten both cheeks, and it all feels right. I tend to cry now–the intensity of emotion, both joy and despair, flies at me hard these days without the meds. Calm greets me only in passing from high to low and back again.
And I don’t sleep. I don’t need to. But I already said that.
Hillcrest Street is deserted at this hour, so Vespa and I cruise, knowing sleep won’t come before work, in what? Four hours? The purring of my powerful scooter soothes me like a baby nodding in her car seat, but I’m not sleepy. If anything, I’m hyper-alert. A rustle of shrubbery or the slinking of a cat across a darkened porch distracts me.
The marvel of no longer taking poison elates me. I’m laughing out loud as the Vespa glides to a stop at Royal Lane where broad oaks canopy two of four lanes on this southbound side. It’s for that sole reason I don’t run the red light on the desolate street. The spreading trees, a pungent fragrance, are so lovely.
A car pulls up beside me.
“Oh, you really should roll down your window to smell this,” I tell the surprised driver. I pantomime rolling down an old fashioned car window. I dazzle a smile.
He runs the red light. Me, too.
Traffic lights must be on timers this late at night because the light turns red as we approach Northaven Road. Another car waits to cross at the intersection. The driver beside me looks over expectantly, cautiously as if I, middle-aged Amazon woman, might carjack him.
I throw my head back and laugh as hard as I’ve laughed in years.
His window is down when we meet up again at Walnut Hill Lane. Country music plays soft and dreamy–a woman’s high voice.
“See?” I say. “Isn’t that better?”
The man nods his five o’clock shadow. “Where are you going at this godforsaken hour?” says his deep voice. Very deep. Radio announcer deep.
“I’m in search of… je ne sait quoi, Hon.” The sky toward Presbyterian Hospital blocks a hint of sunrise. I adjust my leather and Portofino Green helmet which has blown back during my ride. “You?”
Our light turns green. We idle.
He says, “I work the night shift at Jepson. The warehouse. A transformer blew north of Plano, and we went dark. They let us off early, so I guess I’m going home.” His straight right arm rests at the top of the steering wheel, bending at the wrist. I love the manly pose, the voice that rivals my scooter’s thrum.
An SUV stops at the cross street as our light turns yellow.
And I know what I want.
“John,” he says. Receding hairline dips into view.
I clasp his left hand. “John, why don’t I make you breakfast?”
“Okay,” he says thoughtfully.
We wait in silence for the green light. Then he follows at a discrete distance, maybe thinking about turning away.