Wednesday, May 25, 2011

38/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "Extraodinary Machine" by Fionna Apple

Five minutes after getting onto the freeway, red taillights lit up and traffic started to snarl.

"Oh, come on! Not today! Why today?" exclaimed Ava. She pressed down on the brake pedal of her decades old import with peeling paint and rust. She checked her mirrors for upcoming traffic, to see if she could switch to a different lane, but semis and SUVs quickly hemmed her in. Her lane slowed to a crawl, while the neighbor lanes still flowed about thirty miles an hour. Soon she was inching along. The taillight of the truck ahead of her tapped out a staccato, then went a continuous red. The truck bed contained three large doberman pinschers, who stared at her directly, unblinkingly. Ava could only see their shoulders and heads, and the thought briefly crossed her mind that they could be Cerberus. The car behind her honked, as if the slowdown was her fault personally. She flipped the driver via the rear-view mirror. The driver, a red-faced man, honked more, then unrolled his window and tossed a half-full slushy cup at her rear window. The icy red beverage sloshed down onto the trunk, where Ava assumed it would dry into a sticky ant-attracting stain.

"That's lovely," she said. She twisted her grip on the steering wheel. She fiddled with the radio that often cut out. She squirted water onto her windshield, and turned on the wipers. They smeared bug parts in arcs. She sighed. The neighbor lanes were now down to a crawl. Her lane was no longer moving at all, so she put the car in park. Her phone ran.

"Where are you?" it was her boss.

"I'm stuck in traffic, I'll be there as soon as I can," said Ava.

"You need to learn to leave earlier," said her boss. Ava wanted to say that she left at the last possible moment because it meant she wouldn't have to spend anymore time at the office in her miserable job than she was minimally required to do. She refrained.

"Yes Jane," she said.

"You're going to have to take a full sick day if you're not here in ten minutes," said Jane.

"Does that mean I could just take the entire day off?"

"No, of course not. It's your own fault if you're late. You can't just make your own schedule! That's madness!"

"Uh, okay, but I don't think that's fair," said Ava.

"Life's not fair. Deal with it. And get in here ASAP," said Jane. She hung up.

"Screw you too," said Ava before dropping the phone on the passenger seat.

There was the sound of a revving engine behind her car. Ava looked out her side mirror. A motorcyclist was weaving up through traffic. Ava hated it when people did that, without any concern for anyone's safety. She unlocked her door, and slid down slightly in her seat. When the motorcyclist reached the back of her car she flew open the door. The motorcyclist skidded, and swerved into the adjacent car, scraping the paint. She closed her door, and suddenly felt like an idiot. The driver of the other car got out and started screaming at her. The motorcyclist righted his motorcycle and knocked on Ava's window. She slunk into her seat and tried to hide behind her sunglasses. The angry driver walked around the front of her car, trying to get a view of her license plate, but she put the car back in drive and closed the gap between her car and the truck with Cerberus. The car behind her moved up as well. The driver tried to shove himself between her car and the truck, but then the dogs started to snarl and bark. The man walked back to his car, swearing and gesturing towards her. The motorcyclist meanwhile took out a piece of paper and wrote something on it. He slapped it on her windshield and secured it with the wiper blade. It said "BITCH!" in block letters. He got back on his bike and zoomed off.

Her phone rang again. She looked at the caller's name on the display. It was her ex-boyfriend. Ava assumed he probably wanted money. She ignored it. The ringing stopped. Ten seconds later he called again. She turned off the phone.

Ava played with the seat-back adjustment, and tried to ignore the feeling of a rapidly-filling bladder. She opened the glovebox and fished out a pamphlet for camping in Roswell New Mexico, that the previous owner of the car left in there. She folded over one of the corners of the pamphlet diagonally, then tore off a square of paper. She folded it into crane, spread out it's wings, and set it on the dash.

She started to nod off, but was woken by the smell of barbecue. She sat up straight in her seat, and looked around. A few cars ahead, there was a group of people clustered around the back of a truck, chatting next to a charcoal grill. Smoke wafted up into the air.

"Oh come on!" said Ava. She gently bumped her forehead against the steering wheel several times. "I'm never getting out of here." She wished she was tall enough to just stride over the traffic. She closed her eyes.

The dogs started barking frantically, then they started to yelp. There was a series of crunches, and Ava felt her car buffeted by something, on all sides. She opened her eyes and and sat up. She couldn't see the cars around her, just sky. She sat up straighter and leaned forward. She could see the freeway and the cars ahead, but it didn't look right. The freeway looked narrower. Confused, she rolled down her window (laboriously since it had been defective for some time), and peered out.

"Oh my gosh!" She exclaimed. "What the--" The cars were tiny. Her car now took up the whole width of the freeway. Somehow, her car, with her in it, had grown enormous. She looked out again. Tiny people were running from under her car, screaming in tinny little voices.

Ava rolled up her window, closed her eyes, and wished to be small again. She opened her eyes and looked out again. There was no change. She put her hand to her mouth, hoping she hadn't killed anybody in the expansion. She opened her door, and stepped out on the freeway embankment, being careful not to step on anyone. She grabbed her purse and phone, and turned the car off. She walked along the embankment, looking down at legions of screaming people in tiny vehicles.

"Sorry, sorry," she said, "oh God." In a few steps she could see the cause of the traffic slowdown. The freeway was shutdown, with teensy little orange cones siphoning traffic to an off-ramp. After the closure there were several while trailers, and what looked like a film set. When the people on the set noticed her, the turned their cameras in her direction. Ava, embarrassed, put her hand up to shield her face and identity. Then realizing she was wearing a flowy dress, she bent down and gathered up the fabric. Walking awkwardly, she left the freeway in one step and went on the regular streets, trying not to step on any cars. The width of her feet took up the entire road. Little cars swerved and screeched as they tried to avoid her. One of them crashed into a hydrant, and the spray of water tickled her ankle.

"Oh no! Sorry! Oh jeez," she muttered, not sure if her voice was normal or booming in their ears. After several paces she was at the center of town. She found the office tower she worked in. She counted the floors and crouched down to her boss's floor on the tenth. She cupped her hands against the glass to block out the light and peered in. She could see people running around, papers flying, screaming silently. Suddenly she started to shrink. There was no sensation to it, which Ava thought was odd; she just got smaller and smaller. She quickly wished to end up slightly taller than she was originally.

Finally she was normal-sized again. A crowd of terrified people pointed at her, wordless, afraid to move. Ava forced a smile and waved at the crowd awkwardly. Then she curtsied clumsily, and immediate regretted it. The crowd stared at her, with their mouths agape. Ava cleared her throat and walked to the entrance of her building. She caught the elevator, and rode up alone. When she got out on the tenth floor, her appearance elicited a fresh wave of screams and pointing. She walked to her boss's office, and knocked on the door.

"Come in," said Jane, muffled by the door. Ava opened the door. The room was dark, the vertical blinds were drawn. Jane was seated on a mat on the floor cross-legged. She was putting away headphones. "Since you were late, I took the opportunity to get in some meditation."

"That's nice," said Ava. Jane peered at her sideways.

"You should take up meditation Ava," said Jane. "You get too stressed out."

"Okay," said Ava flatly.

"So what took you so long?"

"I'm not quite sure," said Ava.

"Isn't that the way it always is?" said Jane. "You think there's some horrific accident up ahead, and then it turns out the traffic is slow because it's slow--like a zen feedback loop or something."

"I guess," said Ava. There was suddenly a loud commotion behind door. "Jane, I think I need to leave."


"I just think I need to leave town--" Suddenly the door burst open. Policemen swarmed Ava, knocked her down, and pressed her face into the berber carpet. Jane screamed. Ava wished she was stuck back in traffic.

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