by Erin Lyndal Martin
Your hands aren't on the car's hood, which is not even cold, your ass is not in the air, doggy-style, your back does not form the perfect plane of a table, you wish this otherwise.It occurs to you that you would like to lie down. The interstate is cold. It is not tidy.
This little purgatory is full of light. Blue light, blue light, the officer's flashlight moving through your car like he's lost something of yours. You watch it like a cat's tail through a window, so slow, he is teaching you a lesson about how to be slow.
If your mouth were not full of your tongue which is now a tourniquet you might contemplate other ways of slowness: vineyards, fishing, an ice cube drawn along a body so every step of the melting shows.
An ice cube is one way X never touched you, though there were other implements, most of which were soft or parts of his very own body.
The interstate is cold, so too is the sky which is not sky but dark around you, shiver shiver, in a blouse and skirt bought for a job interview. You might tell the officer you are very excited about the potential opportunities here. You might say you are eager to choke on your tongue.
You might say nothing. You might be a girl by the interstate, too close to the white lines, always too close, and the traffic swerving too close as they zoom into the hairpin turn where the police officer has chosen to take apart your car. Then the traffic swerves, too far, over-correcting they call it, though now it looks like hypochondria. They don't want what you have, you in your job interview suit, white collar crime, drugs affect us all, addiction is class-blind, etc.
X, I'm in town for a job interview and I can't afford a hotel. Can I stay with you?
Start the car. Deep breath, then hit the gas. You know your own driveway. You don't need the rearview.
How the officer looked at you through glassy windows, glassy speed-limit darkness, how your window rolled down, hand-crank, then suddenly a Mag-Lite intercepting your vision.
Your pupils are dilated, he says, like he can't keep it in any longer that he has those thoughts about you. Then he asks if you know why he pulled you over. Then he asks what you know about the company. Then he asks if you brought your own towel. Then he says it's okay and shows you where he keeps the guest towels. Then he asks if you're on anything.
Then you're standing in the shoulder which is not even a breakdown lane, then you're shaking hands, then you're rolling around in X's sheets, all alone, while X is sleeping on the sofa. You want the sheets to smell like you. You want him to swaddle in what was changed by you.
Proxy is key. Sex. Desired or forced (the flashlight right now is hitting a lipstick a teabag that looks like a shriveled rat a pretty blue crystal bead). Your hands have nowhere to go but at your sides.
You don't know, epistemologically, why he pulled you over. The gauche, trafficky reason must have something to do with speed, speeding, leaving X's neighborhood this morning there was a church marquee that said GIVE SIN A BRAKE AND LIVE. God is this officer who is such a boy his skin is like an apple's and he does not even need a styptic pencil. You cannot tell if there is hair underneath his hat.
Do you know why he pulled you over? You twist your mouth. Plausible phrases garble like latex babies. X was not as beautiful as you remembered. You are driving badly because he's unbeautified. You are in trouble because you did not beautify him so much as you spat our your toothpaste in his bathtub just because it was there, just because his other lovers had probably used the sink. Is that it, are you right, do you win? Perhaps it is very simple. God told him to. Yes. Soon they will dress you in white and dip you in a pool of water, and it will be unlike any other kind of water. The highway! The MagLite! The rapture!
He has pulled you over because the only place to put your arms is by your sides, and the only place to stand is the side of the road. How he wanted to roll his little light around in the pockets of your car! You promise to think of him when you see a flashlight again. It is as permanent as if he had placed it inside of you to illuminate your various mucus membranes.
You have been pulled over because when this is all over, your hands will be shaking, and you will call your lover with your phone on the dashboard, shouting into it so he can't hear your hands tremble. He will ask if you got the job and you will say you do not know. He will start to say he misses you and ask when you will be home and then the signal will go dead. You are driving through coal-mining country, which means big mountains, often with their nipples sliced off or with stripes running around them like a half-peeled orange. And you watch the phone on your dashboard and wait for the bars to appear and line up like soldiers, only there keep being more mountains instead of the state line. When you cross the state line, surely the signal will return, and if your lover asks any questions, surely you will not slip up. You will focus on the interview, make up some story about a sleazy motel, do a bit about slow interstate drivers.
The highway is rickety here so you must be getting close. The highway sounds indecisive as if it sometimes swells to hold your car in place and sometimes shrinks away from it. This wavering you know, the ambivalence of tarmac is your bread crumb trail. Just yesterday (was it just yesterday) it meant you had so far left to go. Three unceremonious state lines to X's house, the whole time with hands adjusting nylons time and again. Taut on the fabric so no wrinkles form. Gentle with your fingernails so nothing rips.
The officer does not promise to take care of your things while he searches your car. If he had, it would have felt more like a visit by a curious friend raiding your drawers for funny-shocking things like assless pants. The officer does not promise to take care of your things while he searches your car. After all, he is only using light, look, no hands, only the Mag-Lite which sometimes shuffles papers out of the way and sometimes just stares at them, unblinking at a high wattage.
You are inclined to think Cyclops and you look for a sheep, and then you remember the flashlight is attached to the officer's two natural eyes, and he is not sleeping. He is keeping watch over the streets all night so nobody dangerous crosses his stretch of highway. If they do, he will pull them over and keep everybody safe after all.
I left my last job because there were not enough opportunities for me to contribute my skills. Is this a good answer or a bad answer? There are always opportunities for growth and advancement here, the Supervisor says as if the office is magical. Eat me, drink me. X hugged you for no reason. Your arrival and your departure, yes, but there was another time, out of nowhere. I am happy you are here. How simple your relationship with him is, and how foolish of you to have spent these years complicating it. Be sorry, be humble, thank him for his hospitality, be excited for the opportunities here.
Be slow. Take one corner of the topsheet in your mouth. Try not to touch it with your teeth, only your tongue and the other mushy parts of your mouth. Then suck on it. Soft, then hard, and clamp your jaw but don't leave tooth marks. Saturate the linen, and then gently place your fist inside of the soggy fabric as if you were burying a dead bird in a silk dresser scarf. Use your free hand to shape the wet sheet perfectly, undercooked mummy fist. Try to fall asleep this way. You've always wanted to see how long you could sleep with your fist clenched.
Is there anything I should know about? The officer asks. This is a strange question, and the first thing that occurs to you is the phrase "useless knowledge." Does he want to know that? Is this word association? Think harder. Yes. He should know the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune thought she was haunted by the spirits of people who had been killed by the rifle. He should know that Saint Walburga's corpse is said to leak a curative oil. He should know that totem poles are usually carved from cedar and are sometimes funerary vessels.
Then, hands at your sides while your body deflects traffic, it hits you. The right answer. Is there anything I should know about? With emphasis on I so it's not just an echo. You could pull the officer from your car and ask if you could start over. Take your identification off his clipboard, put your hands on the wheel and begin again. Offer to swallow your driver's license. Give him carte blanche when it comes to selecting a traffic offense. You're not going to get off, and you don't want to.
Or swerve. Do something dangerous. The officer is gone, X is gone, you are safe, you are on your way home. Don't worry about running into any raccoons, don't worry at all, your knuckles are still white as blisters.
My weakness? I can't say no. I agree to take on too much. Sure I get it all done, but boy, does my family life suffer! By the time X sees you, you're unsexed, neuter in your job interview outfit. If he'd been thinking about fucking you, now he's having some fantasy usually reserved for math teachers with topknots, one that involves finding a secret hussy inside of you and pulling the elastic out of your hair. At the job interview, that image goes through your mind, and the phrase "the company's offerings" makes you want to giggle and throw up at the same time.
By the time X sees you, he's lost all his context and you are so ready to get home that you don't know that you're speeding. Ninety-one in a sixty-five zone.
The officer reminds you of this, the officer who is now the subject of your dramatized obedience scripts, sir, yes sir. You know why he pulled you over. He pulled you over because you took the job interview to see X, of course, to see him and not fuck him, but not fuck him in that way where there's no real difference between doing it and not. To not fuck him, to not want to, to see if your own state line makes you feel tragically horny and unkempt when you finally stumble home wrecked and reckless.
This is what will break you, the one-two speedball combination of the blue lights and the disappearing bar graph of signal strength. What does it mean, signal strength? That's something a good policeman should know about. Perhaps you will go back and ask him, what it means, that good little army of pixels on the tiny LCD of your phone. Is each one a word that won't be dropped? A sentence? A story? When you know you've been disconnected and your lover cannot hear anymore you shout into the phone that you went to see X and changed into a plunge bra before you stayed at his house and you wore the plunge bra under your interview suit and were still dressed that way when you were standing around the highway waiting for the policeman to either find something or nothing in your car. To find out your pupils were dilated because you were screaming all of this at a cell phone that is not functioning as a phone at all but a dashboard ornament, stupid wireless hula girl, and you are waiting in the dead stripped-mountain dropped connection for your lover to say you are not allowed to be his lover anymore.
Wash your face in X's sink. You're surprised at how charming you can be. Leave the tap running, touch the medicine cabinet part of the mirror. Realize it might contain really dull things like gauze and waxed dental floss. Avoid opening it. Take down your hair, the ends getting a little damp in the sink. Turn off the tap. You look like a girl again. Your freckles show, your body is more weightless than it was for all those miles.
When you come out of the bathroom, he's reading a magazine. There aren't many words on the page, maybe he was just waiting for you. He doesn't smell like he's showered and his sweat is one of those funny weaknesses you confessed to him one night when he'd played rugby and you told him to wash off the blood but not the sweat. An obligatory joke about tears. A question if grass stains counted as blood. A bite of your lower lip, flounce onto belly, grass stains don't turn me on. It's your man-sweat, you joke, all full of lust and waiting to be spread. He doesn't smell like he's skidded through any turf lately.
Then the question: mind if I take a look in there? Can you say yes? Is refusal allowed, or are your two options acceptance and enthusiasm? You swing your legs together, unfold yourself, perfect chaise longue, perfect little woman-height, walk behind the car. Press your arms to your sides. Pick up a book on the floor by the sofa, flip through it and decide based on a paragraph or two it must be overrated. Thank X again for his hospitality. Take the soda he offers you, put it on a cardboard Guinness coaster. Tell him what you've been up to.
On the phone, your lover says he waited for you to call the previous night. You think, "don't you need probable cause?" but you don't dare ask, because you've already been told you could be arrested and thrown in jail. And he said the word thrown hard, onomatopoetic, and you felt your whole body slam into something dirty and tasting of menstrual blood and Cup O' Noodles.
If he calls for drug dogs, would you be allowed to pet them or are they trained to be mean like fighting dogs? Do they shoot them if they don't find anything? You could ask but he wouldn't tell you the truth if the dogs were nice. It seems late for dogs to be working. He won't use drug dogs. He'll use his hands and the way he sized you up as soon as you cranked your window. That must be why there are screens in confessions. The priest can't decide you're a speed-freak twice over and then be forced to tell you lie that dogs are mean if they are nice in reality. It's just a shame, you think, they make the confessionals so small, and imagine a plush and spacious room that is feng shui pentathol.
Can I get you anything? Cup of coffee, water? You are thirsty but if you say yes, then you'll seem like a troublesome sort of employee, one who's always asking for more, one who asks a lot of questions and can't think for herself. No, thank you, you say, but it doesn't seem nearly polite enough.
By the time your hands stop shaking, the sky's dark and starless as a reservoir. You would take that cup of coffee now. You would take that chance to confess now. What was it, he'd said, getting out of your car after a minute or two? That this could be all over if you just worked with him. Be honest and tell the truth, and I'll be on your side. It was romantic. You will put it in your scrapbook for now, and maybe later you'll write that in a book you give to a loved one. You felt kind of bad that all you could do was shake your head. There was nothing for him to find.
He went back in. You couldn't hear the squeak of his shoes on your floormat (did they squeak) but you watched the flashlight, again, stuttering through the sedan's interior. The driver's seat, the passenger seat, the backseat where three perfect boys could all fit nearly in a row. Tonight there's nothing, only things.
Be honest and tell the truth, and I'll be on your side. You could tell that to X, tenderly, putting the book you were reading down on the rust shag carpet, looking at him through your hair that way that makes people trust you. You don't need solidarity to accomplish seduction, but it might make it better. Is there any truth he'd tell for want of you? Or is that want the only truth, that far-off state line on the wobbly highway that changes everything in indiscernible ways? You don't ask X to tell the truth. You don't promise to be on his side. You sleep in his bed, he sleeps on the couch, and there you are standing with your arms at your sides and later you will remember yourself standing right in the middle of the interstate's traffic like a tragically permeable median. Later you will feel where the metal and the headlight bulbs went right through you without making a sound. Later you will kiss your lover and he will touch you there and not even notice, even when you bite your lip to keep from crying.
Yesterday the thought of X's hair, your fingers. Last night seeing his hair shorter than you thought, and already starting to disappear with age.
The interstate becomes a four-lane where the speed limit goes up and down between areas where nobody lives and almost nobody lives. The speed limit is posted on signs that the law trusts you to obey.
You're lucky I'm letting you go with just a ticket . You're always lucky. You're always let go.
I'll be in touch. From the supervisor to you, from X to you, from you to X, from you to your lover. Only the officer didn't lie. If only you could have stalled him somehow he would not have let you go. Move too fast, and people will let you go too soon. You could have asked him to tell you all about safe speeds. Now you remember you have no idea if your hair was up or down the whole time he was searching you. It would have been however it was when you left X's house, when you passed that church sign, when you couldn't figure out how to get back to the interstate and had to call him twice. If you were in prison now, the last real thing said to you would have been Call me if you get lost. Orremember, 73, not 76. Whichever he said last.
Start the car. There is no limit for speed.
X is making love to you, finally, on the interstate, and passing headlights trace little romances. They form a scatterplot between the broken line and the solid one. There are those lights, dancing like droplets in a hot skillet, and in front of you the Mag-Lite beacon is working your car. The policeman is checking for demons while you make love in traffic. X is on top, and he's cradling your head with both his hands, this is the church, this is the steeple, so the pavement doesn't hurt. You tell him it's okay to make a sound, and the first thing he says is your name. And then he says it again. And the interstate becomes that lovely unstable stretch near the state line, and you are almost home as your bodies rock on asphalt that swings like a rope-bridge. This is the opaque scent of summer you'd forgotten, the part right before the trees turned to carved-out inkblots, the season when nightfall is a thing earned all day. You don't have to be afraid, it's only night, and soon you will close your eyes. The mountains have given up their coal hearts for the likes of you. The policeman, too, has sacrificed for you. In his moment on earth, he incandesced with his own flashlight, up with the flashlight and chose to know your car instead of the whole wide world. He wrote you a ticket and then he went to heaven, satisfied.
Your lover likes to shower together, whether or not you've just had sex. It shows him you make him a part of your daily life, that you care. In the shower you each talk about your lives. At X's house you showered alone. You had the whole tub to yourself, the entire nozzle focused on your body. You chose the spaces that should be clean and then you cleaned them.
Your lover is typing when you get home. Smoking. Headphones on, wearing an old t-shirt from a bar where he used to work the door. You can't see him, but it's a safe bet. You just know. You can tell because you walked in and there was an orangey table lamp on, just that, and the cat waking up to give a sleep-hoarse little cry. Then the cat comes closer to you, just a little bit. All of this happens in a minute, and so you sit right down.
Erin Lyndal Martin received her MFA in Poetry at the University of Alabama. Her work has recently appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Denver Quarterly, and Hotel Amerika.