Jennifer Meyer
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Repo Mama

How I came to be a Texan is a mystery to me. One day I’m living a grand life in St. Louis, going to the Met and giving dinner parties. Next thing you know, I’m here in Sugar Land, all my life’s possessions whittled down to what will fit in two rooms. Already my blood is so thin I shiver when it dips into the 60s, and it won’t be long now before I’m talking with a gen-u-wine twa-ang.

It’s not a bad place, Atria. I’ve got my favorite antiques, my grandmother’s paintings on the walls, my soft velvet couch to sink into with plenty of books to read. I can’t smoke inside, but I’m just a few steps away from the courtyard, which is handy for letting Tucker out, too. Thank god for Tucker. There’s not much umph left in that little bat-eared pooch, but he’s still good company, and there’s not a better conversation starter than a funny-looking dog.

I felt relieved at first, to not have to worry about anything anymore: bills, appointments, meals, cleaning, repairs. My every need anticipated. “From here on out,” my daughter told me, “you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Which reminded me… what about my car?

“It’s still in St. Louis,” Beth assured me. “We’ll figure it out.”

It’s not just any car, mind you. A 1991 Lexus, white with gold trim – a retirement present to myself. All those years of selling real estate in a Ford, hoping clients wouldn’t notice the scratches and dings or the funny smell from when the dog threw up on the way to the vet. And here I was with no one left to impress but myself, buying my first luxury car. I’d crossed a major threshold, and it felt great.

The kids promised me they’d get my car down here somehow, but every time I asked, they’d hedge. “The doctor said you shouldn’t drive,” they’d remind me. Who was that doctor, anyway? What does he know about me? “But you don’t know this area, and Houston is huge. You’d get lost.” Well, I wouldn’t go into Houston. I’d stay here in Sugar Land. I just wanted to be able to go to the store once in a while. To have the means of getting somewhere if I needed to.

They have no idea, what it’s like to not have a vehicle. To be completely dependent on others for everything. Why, I can’t even run out for a package of cough drops unless it’s Wednesday and the Atria van is going to Walgreen’s.

I hounded Beth about it until she finally admitted that David had driven it up to Champaign. He was “taking care of it for me.” I know what that means. Candy wrappers and Legos all over the floor. Bulldog drool on the leather seats. I knew then that my Lexus would never be the same again.

I tried to let go of it. I had a new life now. New friends, new routines. And, really, where did I need to go that Beth couldn’t take me?

But it gnawed at my insides. It’s an insult, being stripped of your car like some sort of dishonorable discharge. My Lexus: the beautiful car I’d worked all my grown life to be able to afford. I try not to gripe, but I’d get worked up, just thinking about it.

“I still have a key,” I confided in Gary, my friend across the hall. “The kids went through everything I owned, but they didn’t go through my purse. I always carried an extra key in my coin purse, for when I locked myself out.”

“What good will that do, when the car’s in Illinois?” he asked.

I just smiled and nodded. “I have my ways.”


For months it was a game Gary and I played, coming up with ways to get my car back – the more outrageous the better. Hopping a freight train, hitchhiking, befriending a trucker at a truck stop. Pretty soon all of Atria was in on it – a regular dinner table topic.

Of course, nobody believed I was serious, and that worked to my advantage. While I was joking about hijacking a hot air balloon, my real plan was hatching. I ripped pages out of the Rand McNally Road Atlas in the Atria library and stashed them in my suitcase. Every time Beth took me to the bank, I hid half the money in a book: my Arthur Miller bank, I called it.

It’s not an easy thing to slip away from here. They keep close tabs on the residents. You have to sign in and out whenever you leave. And, of course, Beth is always checking on me. She comes by every other day or so.

Finally, an opportunity presented itself. Beth and Don were taking the kids to Galveston for Veterans Day weekend. They invited me along, and I accepted. But as much as I love beachcombing, I had something else in mind.

The morning we were to leave, I called Beth early. I used the diarrhea excuse. How can anyone argue with that? “Explosive diarrhea,” I said, to drive the point home. When she fretted, I assured her it was just as well. “I was feeling torn anyway. Gary’s a veteran, you know, and he’s giving a talk on Korea. You go have fun. I’ll be fine as soon as this episode passes. You know how I am.”
I had my travel bag, with some extra clothes, a box of peanut butter crackers in case I got hungry, $500 in cash, the one Visa card the kids had left me, and my torn-out atlas pages. I got Tucker settled in with Gary. I felt bad about missing Gary’s talk, and even worse about not letting him in on my secret plans, but Gary’s a military man and plays by the rules. I couldn’t risk confiding in a possible whistleblower.

I signed myself out at the front desk, but this time, instead of waiting on the porch, I asked for a cab. “Beth and Don are running late,” I explained. “I’ll just get myself over there and save them a trip.”

Zelda gave me a funny look. I’d never taken a cab before. But I’d never run away before either. I kept smiling ‘til she shrugged and said, “All right, then, Miss Nancy.”
“Train station, please,” I told the driver. Then I leaned back in the seat and let out a deep breath. I was on my way.


The train station in Houston is a lot like the old Union Station in St. Louis before it was renovated. Cavernous, curved ceilings. Dirty marble floors. Thick wooden benches with the arms worn slick. Announcements echoed over loudspeakers. There’s a sense of earnestness about train stations, no matter how run down. It’s a pure, righteous kind of traveling. So much more dignified than planes.
There weren’t any trains to Champaign/Urbana, but there was one to St. Louis in 30 minutes. Once in St. Louis, I was sure I could lasso my old friend, Barbara, into driving me the extra distance. She still had a car and a license to boot.

I’d be on the train all day and night, so I paid extra for a sleeping room. I used cash, saving the Visa card for emergencies, because I know Beth keeps tabs on it. Why, I can splurge on a few sundry items, and the very next day Beth will call me. “Mom, how did you manage to spend $200 at the Cracker Barrel?”

Well, it’s not just a restaurant, you know. They have all sorts of interesting items for sale. Things you never know you’re missing till you see them. Like a baseball hat that says, “I’m confused.” And then in smaller letters, “Wait, maybe I’m not.” Now if that doesn’t capture my frame of mind most of these days, I don’t know what does. And then there were these cute little glass bluebirds you can hang in a window. They were only $3, so I bought 20 of them. Now whenever someone at Atria is having a bad day, I can give them a bluebird of happiness.

There was a gift shop there in the train station that had lots of interesting things to buy, too. Salt and pepper shakers shaped like cowboy boots. “Don’t Mess with Texas” shot glasses. Even some gummy armadillos.

I was tempted to buy souvenirs for all my friends in St. Louis, but I reminded myself that I was on a mission. There’d be plenty of time for shopping on the drive back. Besides, if I let myself get distracted, I could miss my train. So I settled for an egg salad sandwich and a paperback called Strange Facts of Texas. If I’m going to be a Texan, I might as well be a knowledgeable one.
When I heard the train whistle, I bustled outside with the crowd and waited on the platform. I felt the vibrations coming up through my feet, and when the brakes screeched, I clapped my hands over my ears. I’m sure I was grinning like a giddy fool, but I couldn’t help it. Here I was, out in the real world at last. All these people around me, full of purpose and expectation, and I was one of them. For the first time in ages, I had an objective. I was going to get my car.


The conductor showed me to my “roomette,” he called it, and assured me I had it all to myself. “That’s good,” I said. “I’m too old and too tired for an unexpected tête-à-tête.”
He offered me bottled water and a Houston newspaper. Cracked the window for me and said he’d be back around 8:00 to convert the seats to a comfortable bed.

I got out the little spiral notebook I carry in my purse and took notes. The bathroom was at the front of the car. The dining room was three cars forward, and all my meals were included. I reserved 6:30 for dinner, and 6:30 tomorrow for breakfast. We’d be arriving in St. Louis at 7:39 a.m.

“What about smoking? Can I smoke in here?”

He said no, but there was a smoking room in the lounge car, and he drew a map in my steno pad.
“Well, if you see me wandering around looking lost, point me in the right direction, okay?” He promised he would, but just in case, I wrote my initials on a sticky note and placed it on my door. Then I slipped off my shoes, tucked my feet up under me, and settled in for a long watch at the picture window.

It’s an interesting thing, traveling in a train. It’s like you’re slicing through the back side of life. You see backyards, vacant lots, trash bins behind buildings. And everywhere, people doing whatever it is they do in their lives. It’s a constant stream of freeze frames: two Mexican men arguing in an alley, a woman and child holding hands and waving, a couple kissing in a car idling at the train crossing. Like an absurdist movie without a plot. As I sat there watching, I felt every one of those people slip into my heart for a moment, then slip out again, but always leaving something of them behind till my heart was so full it could burst.

Here was the world I’d forgotten about. Going on, all this time without me. I hadn’t even realized that I missed it.

As we traveled north, the air grew colder and I had to close my window. The sky was grayer, the grass brown, not green. It wasn’t until I saw my first crimson maple tree that I remembered it was fall. In Houston, it was still warm and steamy. I hadn’t even brought a coat.

The rocking of the train, the click-clack of the rails, it’s like a sedative, and in between the cities, I lay back in my chair and closed my eyes. I thought about my Lexus and what it would feel like to be behind the wheel again. The way the soft, leather seats cradled my body. I wondered if my Pavarotti CD was still in the player. How I loved to glide through traffic in a bubble of opera.
I don’t know how long I dozed, but I woke in the dark and panicked. It was several long minutes before I could piece it all together. The cab to the station, the train to St. Louis, the plan to get my car. I reviewed my notes: arrival time 7:39, dining room three cars forward, dinner 6:30. By my watch, it was almost 7:00.

They still had a table for me, and I ordered braised pork chops from a very nice young man with an earring in one ear. “When I was a girl, the dining car had white tablecloths, silver, and china,” I told him. “I had my first turtle soup traveling to visit my grandmother.” When he asked about drinks, I said, “Oooh, can you make a Manhattan?” I hadn’t had a Manhattan in years. They say alcohol doesn’t go well with my medication, but whatever those pills are, they were back in Sugar Land, so I figured it must be okay. I ordered a second drink when the pork chops came, and by the time I was done with dinner, I was feeling as good as it gets. It was clever of me, too, to leave a trail of Post-It’s back to my room, because I found it right away.

The bed was made up, the covers turned down, and it was all I could do to slip into my PJ’s before climbing into those starchy sheets and closing my eyes. I wondered how Tucker was doing without me, but the thrum of the train leeched all the worries out of me. Just before I fell asleep I thought, What a great invention for insomniacs: a train bunk simulator. Rocking bed with click-clack audio. I was too tired to reach for my notepad, so I visualized locking that thought in my brain’s Remember This box so I could tell Gary when I got back. He’d know how to patent it. We’d make a million dollars.


I slept hard and didn’t wake ‘til we were pulling into St. Louis, that gorgeous silver arch looming overhead. I didn’t even care about missing breakfast, I was so excited to be back on my home turf. Once in the station, I went straight to a bank of pay phones and fished coins from my purse. My mind may be failing me in some ways, but I’ll never forget Barbara Birge’s phone number. I’ve been dialing it for 50 years. I wish I’d been able to see the look on her face, though, when I asked her to come pick me up at the train station.

She’d meet me out front in 30 minutes, she said. “Do you have your cell phone? In case I don’t see you?”

“That thing stopped working ages ago,” I told her. I keep asking Beth to get me a new one, but it doesn’t happen. I hate having to rely on other people for every mundane errand. When I get my car, I’ll drive my own self to the cell phone store.

I didn’t tell Barbara right away about the car plot. I was afraid she’d think I was being rash, like when we were 15 and I started smoking and skipping school. But over the farmer’s breakfast plate at Steak ‘n Shake, she asked why I’d come, and I gave it to her straight.

“The kids took my car away and they won’t give it back. I’ve come to get my Lexus, whether they like it or not. I’ve got a key, and I’m going to take it back.”

She froze, fork midway to her mouth, yolk dripping onto her plate. Then she let out a shriek that nearly rattled the window. “Look out kids, it’s Repo Mama!”

“I need you to drive me to Champaign,” I told her. “Tonight.”

She frowned, then put down her fork and reached across the table for my hand. Her face broke into the same grin she’d had when we met in kindergarten. “Like Thelma and Louise,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, before I remembered the end. “But we won’t kill anybody.”

“Or die. No driving off cliffs together.”

“If we run out of money, maybe we can rob a store. Just a little one.” And she looked at me sharply to make sure I was kidding, which probably I was.


I was grabbing a quick puff in the parking lot when Barbara gasped, “You’re smoking?”

“I know, I know. Not in the car.” Back in the good days, smokers lit up wherever they wanted, and nonsmokers endured in silence. Now people look at you like you’re a criminal if you reach for a cigarette, and I can’t even smoke in my own home.

“But you quit. On your 60th birthday, we flushed your last pack of Salems down the toilet and smashed all your ashtrays on the patio. That’s been, what? Seventeen years. I can’t believe you started up again after all that time.”

“Oh. Well.” I stubbed it out and climbed inside her Saturn. “I guess old habits die hard.” To tell you the truth, I don’t remember ever deciding to start smoking again. In fact, until she mentioned it, I’d forgotten there was a time when I hadn’t smoked.

On our way out to Barbara’s, I asked to stop by my old house. I wanted to see for myself what had become of it. It was in pretty bad shape when I left. Every year I’d gotten further behind in the upkeep until even changing a light bulb stymied me.

As soon as Barbara pulled off the highway into Webster Groves, my whole body flushed with recognition. Yes, this was it. This was my home. Maples and oaks towered over the narrow streets. Victorian houses sat back proper on trimmed lawns. Time slowed.

“It’s so huge,” I said when she pulled up in front of the 100-year-old colonial. The stucco had been repainted, the shutters repaired. The lawn was green and mowed, with fresh flower beds. A For Sale sign with a Sold sticker stood in front. I recognized the realtor as one of my old colleagues.

“Whoever bought it didn’t stay long.”

“Actually, your kids just sold it. They hired a contractor to fix it up first.”

“It only sold just now? How long has it been?”

“Eight months since you left.”

“Oh,” I said, and let this thought settle. “It feels like I’ve been gone for years.” I stared at this beautiful house on this beautiful street, and I tried to remember living in it. “I had a life here,” I said.

“A good life, too,” Barbara nodded.

“How many years?”

“I’m not sure. Twenty? Twenty-five?”

“My bird feeder.” I pointed to a wooden feeder hanging from the lower branches of the dogwood. “And there, a cardinal. Oh, I miss cardinals. Texas doesn’t have any good birds. Actually, there’s only one kind of bird in Texas: the mockingbird. And they don’t even sing. They bicker. Like bored kids in summer. They fight all day over who owns the tree. I have to go outside and try to talk some sense into them.”

“I never understood why you had to leave so quickly.” Barbara’s eyes clouded over. “It was all so sudden, I barely had time to say goodbye.”

I tried to sift through what had happened. “The kids didn’t think I should be living alone. Beth wanted me near her. I guess— I guess I wasn’t taking care of business very well.” A lump swelled in my throat. “Honestly, it’s all such a blur. I don’t even remember.”

There was a machine, I remember that much. They slid me inside and I had to be still, but they hadn’t warned me about the clanking and the whirring and the grinding. I couldn’t figure out what that machine was trying to do: pull information out of my brain or put some in it.

The technician told Beth it was a panic attack. Lots of people have them, he said, because of claustrophobia. But I don’t mind cramped spaces. No, it wasn’t panic. It was rage. And I let it out like I haven’t done since I was seven. I screamed so loud, I thought surely Beth would hear in the waiting room. “Take me now,” I yelled to God. “Just take me now and be done with it.” I knew they would get in trouble if I died in that machine, and that was the only thing that gave me any satisfaction. I smashed my fists against the curved inside, kicked my feet ‘til the whole machine rocked, and I thought I just might break it. They must have thought so, too, because they pulled me out of there.

When it was over, and I’d put my clothes back on, I sat in the dressing room. And when they said I could go, I wouldn’t look at them. Pretended to be deaf. They brought Beth in to me and left us there. Beth lowered her face to mine and asked what happened. I stared at a crack in a floor tile. Finally, I whispered, “I feel like a happy calf, that’s been roped and slammed to the ground.” I didn’t belong to myself anymore.

“As my grandson say, ‘It blows,’” Barbara was saying. I realized she’d been talking a while. “Did you ever think you’d get to this place?”

I looked then at my friend of 70 years, and I thought, there’s not a soul on this earth who knows me better than her. I’m not normally one for sentiment or affection, but I reached over and gave the freckles on her forearm a little rub. “Let’s go. Get out of here. Let’s go steal a car.”

After we’d driven awhile, I cleared my throat. “How much do you think my house went for anyway?”

“It was listed at $510,000,” she said.

“Half a million. Boy.” I tilted my head with a sideways smile. “I guess that makes me rich,” I said, which brought back Barbara’s smile. “After I get my car, we’ll have to see if we can lay hands on some of that money. That would buy an awful lot of bluebirds.”

“Oh, my land,” I said after a little gasp. The St. Louis skyline can do that to a person, especially when you haven’t seen it in a very long time. Coming over the crest of a hill on Highway 44, the city laid out like an unexpected present. The late afternoon sun caught the arch in a way that made it glow and sparkle both. There’s no other city that lays claim to a spectacle like that. I realized then just how much I had missed living here.

We’d spent a good part of the day at Barbara’s in Clayton, one of the suburbs near Webster Groves. She had insisted we nap, being far too old to go a whole night without sleep. But I had only managed a short doze. I kept thinking about our escapade. Of getting behind the wheel of my Lexus. Of driving down the highway all by myself. A free spirit once again.

I twisted in my seat as we crossed the bridge into Illinois to soak in every last glimpse. There was the wide, muddy Mississippi, stretching lazily between the states. I could see Shea stadium, where the Cardinals played. Steamboats at the dock. “The Robert E. Lee,” I pointed out. “David was only in high school when he took me to dinner on that boat. I’d been feeling blue, struggling so hard to make a living after the divorce. One day in particular, it was getting to me. He came downstairs in a tie and his only suit jacket, the sleeves too short. ‘Get dressed,’ he said, ‘I’m taking you out. Beth, too.’”

“He was always such a sweet kid,” Barbara said.

“It’s one of my fondest memories. I had shrimp Louie and bananas foster for dessert. The Jazz Kings were playing, and we danced to “Up a Lazy River.” He was such a gentleman. I hadn’t danced in years. Dick wasn’t a dancer, you know.” I’d felt clumsy and awkward, but oh-so-proud. Dancing on the Robert E. Lee with my handsome 16-year-old son. Then he and Beth danced together. Beth had picked up the Jitterbug, and she was teaching him steps. I sat there drinking coffee, my eyes on them, and I was amazed at how I could feel so much in despair one moment and so full of love and gratitude the next. Look what you have, I told myself. Dick got the trophy wife, but I got this. I felt rich then. Penniless and rich.

“It’s a casino now,” Barbara said. “Being on the water, state gambling laws don’t apply. It doesn’t even go out anymore. Permanently docked.”

“That’s a shame. A true shame.”

After we’d crossed into East St. Louis (which is a blight on a good name, if you ask me), I pulled out the paperback I’d bought at the train station: Strange Facts of Texas. I read a few of the best aloud. A house made entirely of beer cans. A potato the size of a watermelon. A 65-foot Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, Texas.

“Listen here,” I said. “There’s a man in Abilene, Texas who makes glass paperweights out of dead people’s ashes. ‘When the ashes mix with molten glass, they release a translucent pigment. Every set of ashes has its own distinct colors.’ Hmmm.” I closed the book with a snap and leaned back in my seat. “Too bad you have to die to reveal your own true colors.”

Barbara laughed long and loud for that one, and I wasn’t even trying. She gave me that out-of-the-mouths-of-babes look I get a lot these days. There was a time when people weren’t surprised I could be clever. “I may not always have my wits about me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be witty.”

“No,” Barbara smiled at me and shook her head. “You’ve still got your wits and your wit, thank god, and I hope you never lose them.”

I reclined my seat a little and closed my eyes. The sleepiness that had eluded me that afternoon came over me now, and the next thing I knew, we were coming into Champaign-Urbana.
I knew Dave and Amy’s house was near the campus, where they both teach law, so we followed signs to the University. I had the address in my spiral pad, but without a city map, we had to let our instincts lead us. We must have driven around for an hour before we found Delaware Street, but when we finally came upon the house, I recognized it immediately. The dark brick exterior. Arched doorway. Lead pane glass windows. Gables in a steep-pitched roof. A beautiful, classic 1920’s house.

It’s on a corner, with a small garage in back that is used exclusively for storage. It was on the side street that I found my Lexus. It sat there, innocent and helpless, sorely in need of a bath, but as far as I could tell, intact. I was relieved to see they still had both of their other cars. The bright red Astrovan they called The Jellybean was parked in the driveway. And in front of my Lexus was Dave’s old Nissan. Good, they wouldn’t even miss my Lexus.

We parked across the street to wait until they’d gone to sleep. Barbara slid her seat back and reached for the picnic basket she’d packed. We had tuna salad sandwiches, potato chips and sliced dill pickles. She poured us two mugs of black coffee from her old plaid Thermos. As I ate, I kept my eye on the house, waiting for a glimpse of the family inside. All the windows were aglow with warm, yellow light.

“Look at us,” I marveled. “A regular stakeout.”

“Remember when we used to play Nancy Drew, spying on the neighbors?” Barbara bit into a juicy pickle.

“You were convinced they were German spies, as I remember.”

We laughed, and then she asked, “How long has it been since you’ve seen them?”

And the stange thing is, I couldn’t remember. “A long time,” I said. “Too long.”

Just then I saw a child come into the dining room. “I think that’s Michael.” But maybe it was Matthew. How old are they now? Six and eight? Eight and ten? Barbara handed me the opera glasses she’d brought, and I rolled down my window to take a closer look. “Blonde. That’s Michael, all right. He’s eating ice cream and reading. Always reading, that one.” He actually didn’t look any older than I remembered him. Maybe it hadn’t been that long after all.

I heard the sound of a cello and I knew that was Matthew. He’d taken it up this year and played me a concert once over the phone. I could see just the top of his head in his bedroom upstairs.
“It’s a shame to come all this way and not see your grandkids,” Barbara said. “You must miss them.”

“Yes. But mostly it’s David I miss. I should feel closer to his boys, but I don’t. When Beth’s kids were little, they lived in St. Louis and I saw them all the time. Kept a high chair in the kitchen and a basket of toys in the sunroom. I took them to the science center and the zoo. I was a real grandma then. But with David out of town, I saw so little of them. It’s only three or four hours away. I should have come here more often. They should have come home more. But everyone’s always so busy. When I see them now, they’re little well-behaved strangers.”

I picked up the opera glasses and scanned the house again. That’s when I noticed the fixture over the table. “Take a look at that hanging lamp.” I handed Barbara the glasses. “Recognize it?” It was a large brass oil lamp with a hand-blown globe. From a fancy hotel at the turn of the century. Dick and I found it in a junk shop years and years ago. We had it re-brassed and wired for electricity.
“It’s the one that was over your dining table.”

“Speaking of dining tables, isn’t that mine?”

“Maybe. But there are lots of old oak dining tables around.”

“With captain’s chairs? No, that’s my dining set, all right. Including the buffet against the wall.”

“Well, it’s good they’ve kept these things. You had so many wonderful antiques and heirlooms. They should stay in the family.”

“They shouldn’t have been stolen in the first place.” I surprised both of us with the harshness of my words, but I couldn’t help it. I felt like my life had been appropriated by my children. I held out my hand for the glasses and searched the lit windows for other evidence. “It should have been my decision, is all,” I said.

After a while, I lowered the glasses. Dabbed the corner of my eye with my sleeve. “I wasn’t ready.”
“Why did you let them?”

I hate it when I start to cry. I’ll bite my lip and hold my breath till I turn blue before I let other people see me cry. But I’ve known Barbara longer than anyone still on this earth, so it was okay to let two drops trickle down my face. “I was scared.”

“Of them?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Scared of me. Things weren’t right, and they hadn’t been for some time. I couldn’t seem to manage all the details of my life like I always had. Maybe I was just depressed, I don’t know. But it felt like my life was tumbling down around me. I knew I needed help. When Beth insisted that I move near her, I argued at first. I didn’t want to leave St. Louis. All my friends and everything familiar. But I was so tired. So overwhelmed, I thought, All right, then, you want to take over this mess, have at it.”

“So maybe you were ready?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know. You’re never ready. Even when you’re ready.”

“And driving? Are you really okay to drive?”

“Absolutely. I’ve never had a problem with driving.”

“Maybe we should talk to them first. Tell them you’re taking your car back. I’d hate to see you get hauled off for car theft.”

“You’re not getting cold feet, are you? Besides, they can’t arrest you for stealing your own car. I’m still on the registration, and my Missouri driver’s license is still valid. We won’t get arrested; I promise.”

“But what if Beth’s called Atria to check on you and they told her you’re not there? What if they’re all frantically looking for you?”

I thought about that a moment, then shrugged. “No, she’d just call my room and get my answering machine, which I don’t listen to half the time anyway. She’d just figure I was playing Bingo or something. They won’t be back home for two more days. Besides, does that look like a family that’s frantically worried to you?”

David had come into the dining room with two more bowls. When he lifted his head and called out, the cello stopped. I watched through the opera glasses as Matthew came in. David ruffled his hair, and they all sat at the table. David tipped back in his chair (an old habit I never could break) and talked with the boys. Probably asking about their days at school, teasing Michael about his latest crush, tilting his head to listen to one of Matthew’s jokes. When Michael didn’t lift his eyes from his book, David reached across the table and dabbed a bit of ice cream on his nose.

Given the poor example of fathering he’d had, it’s a miracle that David is such a good father. But he really is. Exceptional. When the boys were little, it was mesmerizing to watch. David crawling on the floor playing “kitty.” Building forts with sheets and chairs. Setting up science projects in the kitchen. I much preferred watching David with the kids than interacting with them myself.
I missed them horribly just then, and I struggled with an impulse to run up to the door and surprise them. I could have ice cream, too. And Matthew would tell me his long, complicated jokes that usually invoke more puzzlement than laughter. David would hug me and say “Why don’t you stay for a week or two? We’ve missed you.”

But that’s not how it would go, and I’m still smart enough to know it. It wouldn’t be happy, and I wouldn’t get my car. Dave and Beth would use my escape as a reason to restrict my freedom even further. I needed to finish the mission and prove to them that I’m more capable than they think.
Just then Barbara croaked, “Duck!” Her hand pushed down on my head. Crouched below the window, she hissed, “He was looking out the window at us.”

“Really? Do you think he saw us?” I raised my head for a peek, but she grabbed the collar of my sweater and pulled me down again. My heart was pounding, like a scared kid. But when I saw Barb’s glasses scrunched sideways on her face, her wool hat pulled over one eye, I had to laugh.
“Shhhh!” she hissed at me, which only made me laugh harder. As girls in school, sometimes we’d laugh so hard in class we’d had to go sit in the principal’s office to calm down. We’ve always had that affect on each other.

Barbara sat upright and straightened her glasses and hat. “If you really want to go through with this, I think we should do it soon. We’re making far too much of a spectacle of ourselves out here. Two little old ladies out past our bedtimes, giggling in a car like teenagers drinking beer.”

“Okay, okay. As soon as they leave the dining room. They can’t see the side street from the family or living rooms.

I hunkered down low and put on a dignified face. I knew if I looked at Barb, the giggles would come back, so I kept my hands in my lap and my eyes on my hands, just like I used to do in class.
It wasn’t long before all three took their bowls to the kitchen, then both the kitchen and dining room lights went out. I got the key out of my coin purse and let myself into the Lexus. Just as I suspected, that wonderful smell of leather was gone, replaced by oduer dog. Trampled Happy Meal boxes littered the floor. Still, the car started right up, purring like a sleepy tiger.


I was far too nervous to find my way back to the highway, so Barbara took the lead. How strange to be driving again, after all this time. I wasn’t used to having to pay attention to so many things at once, and I’ve never liked driving in the dark. Thank goodness she pulled into the first rest stop we saw.

“Nance, you are driving like an old lady! What happened to Thelma and Louise?” Barbara whipped opened the passenger door before I had a chance to unbuckle.

“And what are you trying to do – get us pulled over for speeding? I could barely keep up with you.”

“I was going the speed limit the whole way.”

“You went through that yellow light. I thought I was going to lose you.”

“I pulled over, didn’t I? Hey, what are you doing?”

“I’m trying to roll down the window.” I fumbled with controls on the arm rest. “I need to adjust the mirror. It’s all off-whack.”

“You’re rolling the back window down. Press the other one. No, the other other one, in front of that one.”

I hate it when she uses that tone with me. I’m not an imbecile. I rolled down the window and worked on getting the mirror right.

“Isn’t there a control for that?”

“Well, it’s not working. Nothing’s working in this car. Not the radio or the CD player. I can’t even get the heater fan to come on. How could they let my Lexus go like this?” I growled at the mirror to keep myself from crying, and for a minute I thought maybe I was in over my head. Maybe all this really was more than I could handle.

Barbara slid onto the passenger seat and patted my arm. “There, there, old girl. Let’s see.” She started playing with the radio controls and within a few minutes, she had the heater on, the mirror adjusted, and the stereo going. She even found an old Pavarotti CD of mine in the glove box.
I gave her a grateful smile. “Maybe I really am demented.”

“Just a little discombobbulated,” she offered. “You’ll be fine.”

This time I took the lead. Heartened by a Styrofoam cup of instant black coffee and an emptied bladder, I felt more confident. I picked up the speed a bit and leaned back into the plush leather seat. Adjusted now, it fit my body like a mold. Warm and cozy, reverberating with opera, the car was mine again. All mine.

© Jennifer Meyer. To reprint, please for permission.

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