Three hours south of Baltimore. Six p.m. or so. June third.
Two young women stand by the side of a rural two-lane highway. They are not sure what the road is or where it goes. In a frenzy, they left the interstate at a random exit, took one turn and then another. They are heading south, not intentionally.
They are pretty enough to stop traffic, although there isn’t any to stop. Lana is wearing ripped jeans, a T-shirt, and those flat plastic shoes called jellies. Tracee is in a wedding dress and veil. She has been crying for several hours and has run out of tears. Now she is simply sniffling and her nose is red. Her dress and shoes don’t match but no one can see that because her strapless gown is floor- length, a gorgeous swath of satin, beading, and lace. Even though she keeps the hem off the ground— clutching and hoisting the sides to bunch it around her hips—her copious ruffled underskirt hides black platform sandals.
Their car, an old Mustang, has a flat.
Lana slips off a jellie and smacks it against her thigh to get the gravel out. She wants to swear— she wants to let loose with a stream of expletives, this tire situation is such a calamity, potentially a nightmare, but she can’t swear because she has given up swearing as a result of … Well, it turned out that giving up one thing led to giving up others. Giving up is becoming addictive. In addition to being five months and two days sober, she is twenty-one days without a Pepsi and six days without so much as a “damn.” She feels cleaner as a result, as if fresh from a bath. But even more frustrated. And edgy. She bites hard on her pinkie nail while eyeing the flat.
“I was thinking,” says Tracee, “do you think that maybe J.C.—”
“I don’t want to hear about him anymore. He’s a jerk. An asshole.” Lana wonders if “asshole” is a swear word. Probably. Sort of. Close. “I’m swearing again.”
“But you’re not drinking.”
“That guy is a shit.” Now it’s official. She is swearing again. “I mean it. My ears are falling off. Please, I am begging you. Forget him. God, the way he talks.”
“‘Kiss my ass’ is one thing. Everyone says it, fine, it’s cool, but ‘How’s your ass?’ is not hello and ‘Watch your ass’ is not good-bye, but that is not the point. That is merely personally offensive to me. For your birthday he gave you a lottery ticket that was already scratched.”
Tracee remembers, how could she ever forget J. C. dancing around the room, grinning, teasing her to guess what was in his shirt pocket. “It’s the thought.”
“What thought? It was a losing ticket and it was scratched. What is the thinking here?”
The thinking? There was thinking, Tracee’s sure. How had he explained it? Somehow. It’s a tick away, but with Lana ranting at her, she only sighs.
“You were practically his maid,” says Lana.
“I like the Laundromat. I like the smell.”
“Do you like the smell of the grocery store and the vacuum cleaner?”
“Sorry,” says Tracee.
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Sorry,” she says, apologizing for apologizing. She wiggles, trying to keep her dress from slipping. The strapless part is threatening to fall, but if she lets go of the bottom to adjust the top, the bottom will brush the ground and get dirty. “Would you pull up my front?” she asks Lana.
“Sure.” Lana gives the fabric between Tracee’s breasts a tug and then returns to the problem of the tire, taking a few steps back to see if a bit of distance might be enlightening. “I didn’t realize that flats were so flat. The bottom looks melted.” She walks around to the trunk and pops it.
“What are you doing?”
“Changing the tire.”
“I don’t know. I’ve seen people change tires.” Lana pulls out the jack and nearly drops it. It’s steel, not that she couldn’t have told you that but she wasn’t prepared for the weight. She lets it rest on the ground while she tries to figure out how it works.
“Suppose someone sees us?”
“Who’s going to see us?” Lana pumps the handle, trying to make the jack rise.
“Everyone. The world.” Tracee is close to hysterics again.
Hovering in the vicinity. She sounds like a mouse with someone’s foot on its tail.
“Get in the car and scrunch. They’re looking for two women, not one.”
“They’re looking for me.”
“Not as much as me.”
Lana hefts the spare out of the trunk. She hops back as it thuds to the ground, barely missing her toes.