93. Day Times

He read in the morning and at night. It was everything else in between that was difficult or strange. After the dawn and as dusk was beginning or just at the edges of these times or deeper into the day, such ambiguity, so much strangeness.

Marleena sipped her wine. It was dark out, a wall of black at the dining room windows, the city lights slowly going out or coming on or coming on and going out. He brought the food to the table and opened the lid and found the contents not quite cooked enough or over cooked, burned to the center or raw in the center and burned at the edges. He sat back and said, “I swear I followed the directions.”

Marleena sniffed the food and squeezed her lips, narrowed her eyes. She said, “You should’ve let me cook.”

He struggled through dense days, days thick with mystery. Abner strolled through the office with a stack of papers in his arms. He said, “Someone told me to bring these here. Where do I put them?”

“I don’t know,” he said. He never knew where Abner was supposed to deposit the papers and it was most often the case that when Abner appeared, he had papers, papers he didn’t know what to do with and they never knew who to call about it and ask. There was a table in the office with stacks and stacks of papers.

He told Marleena about it. She cut into her chicken breast and smiled at her plate and made motions of disapproval with her head. She said, “It’s Abner who never asks. You don’t know because you think he should know. But he doesn’t know. But someone obviously gives him the papers but he never asks them what he’s supposed to do with them once he gets them up to your floor.”

“He says he asks and they never tell him. They just tell him to take the papers up to my floor,” he said.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Marleena said. “Let’s go out to eat. I know a place downtown where they make good chicken.”

At the restaurant he told her about his drive to work, how at a particular intersection he always saw a red car waiting for the light, a small red car with a small man at the wheel and this small man had a small head so that it looked like a child was driving.

He ordered the chicken. Marleena had a salad with cherry tomatoes and crumbled cheese that smelled of long traditions of dinners and expert cooks. When the waiter brought Marleena the salad he regretted ordering the chicken and not ordering the salad. But the wine was good.

“You always see the red car?” she asked.

“Yes, always,” he said. “Every morning when I come to the light there’s the little red car with the little driver at the wheel. I stop at the light and the little car crosses in front of me. That’s what’s mysterious about it. I might be five minutes late or five minutes early. I’m always caught at the light and when I’m caught at the light, I see the red car. Everyday except weekends. That’s the way my days are. Everyday I see pretty much the same things and I have no idea what they mean. And then I go home, follow the directions, and the chicken is either raw or dried up. I don’t know what to think about it.”

Marleena told him her salad was “very very good.” The chicken they brought him was “very very nice.”

The next day was a work day so he dressed, put a coffee into the holder in the car, and drove into the city. At the same intersection at the same light and on the road running perpendicular to his own, he stopped and, as it happened every day, he saw the red car. It was that kind of intersection where right and left turning cars had a light all to themselves so the cars going into the city waited and the cars going south waited also.

This day, however, he decided to try something new. He turned off the ignition, got out and watched for an opening and ran to the passenger side of the little red car, opened the door and got in. Quickly, he saw that it wasn’t a small man who looked like a child at the wheel. Rather, it was a small woman, a small old woman with wire rimmed glasses, small teeth, and earrings that looked like rain falling.

“Don’t be frightened,” he said. “But I see you here everyday. Everyday at this same intersection I see you and I just wanted to come and say hi or stop you and ask who you are and where you’re going.”

The small old woman said, in a long-pitched voice that sounded like a boy’s, a boy who might sing for a church choir, “Me too. I also see you everyday, in your little blue car. I’ve always thought it was a little odd.”

The light changed for her. She put the car into gear and gave the car some gas, passing through the intersection. He looked passed the old woman’s head and saw that two men had gotten out of their cars and were watching him and the old woman drive away.

The old woman said, “Yes, everyday I see you in your little blue car, a big young man or young woman in a little blue car, maybe going to work, of course going to work.”

“And what about you?” he said. “Where do you go everyday? Where are you going when I see you every morning at that intersection?”

“Like you,” she said, “to work. Everyday when I see you I’m going to work. But not this day. Yesterday was my last day at work and now I’m driving out of the city for good and I’m not coming back.” She smiled at the road ahead. She had hands that reminded him of the hands of mice. Printed on her dress were small red flowers.

“Me too,” he said. “Yesterday was my last day at work, too. Just like you, today’s my last day in the city. I can’t make sense of these things anyway.”

The small woman nodded at the wind shield. She said, “Good. That means I won’t need to turn around.”

“No,” he said, “no need to turn around.”

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