Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: In and Out (04/30/09)
TITLE: The World Came Calling
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My tailgating made Reina nervous. I knew it and didn’t much care. I wanted, though, to drown out her clucks and gasps. I tried humming—something that irritated her, but no music came. “If you’d been ready at seven, I wouldn’t need to drive like a maniac.” More accusations between us.
In the glow of the console, I saw the corner of Reina’s mouth recoil into its worn groove. People often remarked how we resembled one another. Thirty-five years of marriage will do that to you, we’d laugh. But it wasn’t funny, and I didn’t take it as a compliment.
“You’re not scaring me,” said Reina. “You want to kill us, go ahead. Me and God are like this.” She crossed her middle finger over her index finger. I could never win with her. She was an indomitable wall that stretched with no end as it was continually being added to.
The drizzle, which had been steady for several hours, became heavier now. It didn’t hit our windshield as much as it beaded up from the glass itself. “Speed up the wipers,” said Reina, just as a semi-truck flew past on the right, spraying accumulated water from dips on the pavement. She brought the white linen album up against her body.
“It wasn’t for my sake.” I said. “Why couldn’t you be on time for Claudia?”
“Why did you tell me to be ready an hour before I needed to be?”
“Like I can tell you anything.”
“The exit’s close—try not to blow by it.”
“Do you have one—just one—single ounce of respect for me?” I made my tone as caustic as possible, but it was a pathetic question, and I wished I hadn’t asked it.
“I have as much respect for you, as you have love for me.”
She switched on the overhead light, and turned to the second page of our wedding album, silk papers rustled. Our daughter had asked us to bring it to her engagement dinner. What a joke. That our marriage could be an inspiration to anyone.
Reina tapped her rounded fingernail on the page. “Right here in our vows, you promised to love me like Christ loved the Church.” She held it on end for me to see. Up ahead, red lights splintered dimly in the filmy mist. A memory surfaced. Her hopeful face through the sheer netting of tulle as we read in Ephesians together.
“Turn off that light—I can’t see,” I said.
“Then slow down.”
Love and respect. Reading Ephesians five had been my idea. Back when she allowed me ideas. Before we’d become competitors.
Reina held the page with the photo of our hands resting upon the open Bible. Smooth hands, gleaming rings. The promises beneath penned with a flourish.
We began as one with God.
But the world pressed in. Relentlessly. If only we could have put our marriage on a Do Not Call list.
“Close it,” I said. “Let’s concentrate on the road.”
“I know; it’s painful.” She brought the album back down to her lap. “We deserved better.”
“We got out of this marriage exactly what we put into it, Reina. Garbage in-garbage out.”
I should have loved her more.
A white SUV—completely stopped—appeared suddenly within the veil. I pumped the brakes and jagged the wheel left, but it wasn’t enough. I could never do enough. We hydroplaned off the road and flipped into the culvert dividing the interstate.
The sound of the rain, gentle.
The overhead light, steady.
We hung there, suspended.
“Oh, dear God,” moaned Reina, “Oh, dear God—Lance?”
“I’m here.” The sound of my own voice felt suctioned directly into my ear, making for a hollow, tinny echo. “Are you okay?” Lord, please let her be okay.
“I think so.”
“Hold on—I’ll help you out.” I flattened one hand on the headliner and unclasped the seatbelt with the other. By the time I got around to her side, she was crouched beside the car, hair beginning to drip.
She handed me our album. She’d been trying to protect it.
I cradled it under my sport coat, close to my chest, surprised by the warmth I found there.
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