There was a faint tap-tap-tap on the window and Madison awoke, gasping shocked breaths of air. Her eyes had been watery and she didn’t know why. Cold sunlight washed across her eyes and made her feel sick. Somebody was being merciful and blocking some of the cold light and she wished they’d block a little bit more. She put her hands in front of eyes and Madison could see an old black man in a brown overcoat and fedora. He had tapped against the window with a gold ring on his left hand.
Madison wasn’t sure, but she didn’t think that the old man was a cop. She knew that they came in the street cloths variety, but she didn’t think that he stood like a cop. He had a subtle hump in his back and his arms hung slack at his sides. The old detectives that she had encountered looked like someone had ran a pole up their ass. They were all grim faces and hands resting on hips. They also had mustaches like mustaches were standard-issue. Even though she didn’t think the old man was a cop, she didn’t want to open the door for him. She rolled down the window, but only a crack.
“What?” She said, losing the edge she wanted to put in her voice. It had been undercut by a quaver in her throat that would soon lead hoarse coughing.
“You okay, darling?” The old man said. He had a sooth, deep voice like a late night radio man. She could smell sweet tobacco on his breath like he had just finished a cigarillo before noticing the girl sleeping in the car.
“I’m fine. I was just sleeping.” She told him.
“Too cold to be sleeping out here. Wouldn’t you think?” He said, offering up a faint smile.
“I’m fine. Got a cigarette?” She asked without thinking about it. If he had a cigarette, she would have to roll down the window for him to hand it to her. She didn’t want to do that. The old man dropped his hand in his breast pocket and Madison got of a gun. She thought of the old mobsters snaking their hands into their breast pockets and pulling out guns. A cold chill washed down her spine and him producing a pack of mentholated Double Diamond mini cigarillos didn’t alleviate her fear. She wanted to tell him that she didn’t smoke menthols, but instead she rolled down the window. He took one from the pack and handed it over.
“Thanks.” She said. She didn’t’ smoke cigarillos and she really didn’t smoke menthols, but she popped it in her mouth anyway. The old man reached in his pocket and produced a silver lighter. He flicked up the top and the flame was blue. She lit the edge off the flame and breathed in.
“Little girl, you’ve been traveling. Miles and miles.”
“Yeah.” She said. She had been traveling and she wondered how he knew. She figured that it might have been the way she smelt. There was little opportunity to shower on the road with the exception of hotels and motels, which she didn’t have money for. Her old Ford had been comfortable enough, but living in a car sometimes meant stewing in filth. It had meant that for her. All of her clothes had been packed into her trunk without suitcases and dozens of bags of old fast food wrappers rested in the backseat.
“Where you off to?” The old man asked, taking a cigarillo from the pack for himself. Madison wanted to tell him that where she was going wasn’t his business. Instead she told him she didn’t know.
“Just needed to get away.” The old man said, tacking a chuckle to the edge of his statement.
“Exactly.” She said. She didn’t know what was wrong with her. No matter what, she couldn’t lie to this man. She wished she hadn’t rolled down the window, but she thought that she wouldn’t have had any other option if she didn’t have the option of lying to the man.
“What are you running from, darling?” The old man asked.
None of your damn business! Her mind said.
“My husband. He beats me.” She said.
“Where you from?”
None of your business. Her mind said.
“Dallas, Texas.” She said.
“Long way.” He stretched out the words in his sooth, deep voice. He put a soft chuckle on the end of it and smiled broadly.
“You wanna seat down?” She asked. Why had she done that? Before she could stop herself, she unlocked the passenger side door. The old man walked around the car and Madison kept telling herself she should lock the door again and drive on. The old man opened the passenger side door and seat down. She hadn’t noticed the old man’s cologne out in the fresh air. It was something sweet, but that might have been the cigarillo.
“It’s good to rest your bones for a bit.” The old man said through a smile. Madison didn’t say anything.
“So, tell me something. Why are you still running. Massachusetts is a long way from Texas.”
“I don’t’ know.” He laughed and she felt like he might be laughing at her. Who else would he be laughing at?
“Seems to me, you’re running from something more than a man beating on you.”
“Oh, yeah? What would it seem that I’d be running from?”
“ Now, that I don’t know. You look like you might be a mama, although a young one. Are you?”
“No.” She felt sick. She still hadn’t lied, but she was able to stop herself from saying that she wasn’t one anymore. Her eyes had been watery when she had woken up and she was afraid that she would start crying. She didn’t want to cry in front of this man. She wanted to tell him to get out of her car. She didn’t. The old man reached a hand over and pulled it on hers. She knew that somehow he knew. She didn’t want to cry, but she did. Her cheeks went hot and red and the tears burned their way down her cheeks. The old man, she didn’t know, pulled her in close and hugged her. She wanted to fight against him, to bat against his flabby, old man chest and smack the cigarillo out of his mouth. Instead, she cried into his overcoat.
“It wasn’t your fault.” The old man said, rubbing his hands along the side of her arm. She might not have been able to lie to him, but she thought he was lying to him. He kept shushing her while caressing her arm. It was an unfamiliar feeling being held like that. Her father hadn’t held her like that. He had been long gone before she was born. Her mother hadn’t either. She stayed too deep in the bottle to hold Madison like that. She thought that her husband might, but her husband had gotten her pregnant and figured he had gotten trapped. He started with bitter looks, then harsh words and lastly, he popped her across the face. She had thought that she would hold her baby like the old man was holding her, but her baby had died one summer morning. She had fallen asleep on the couch and when she awoke, her bouncing baby boy was laying still on the floor and would never bouncing again. It had been so stupid and unexpected. Her child had swallowed a bottle cap from one of her husband’s beers and then choked to death. She had known how to perform CPR on infants and struck on the child’s back while wailing psychotically. She thought that she had lost her mind and her neighbor must have agreed because the police had come knocking at the door. They had let themselves in and found her still attempting to revive the baby.
Madison clung to the old man’s coat and sobbing into it like a child into her father’s chest. She had just woken up but crying has a way of exhausting a person. She wanted to go back to sleep, but she didn’t want to sleep with this man in her car.
Get out of my car. Her mind said. She didn’t say anything. She just fell back asleep.
Her dreams were like popping soap bubbles, floating up and fleeting away to be replaced by another. Madison dreamt of her child wearing the old man’s brown overcoat and fedora. Her child reached up to her with a big smile on his face and then he was gone. She dreamt of her father who she had never met. She dreamt that he was sitting on a dock at dusk with a fishing pole in his hands. He, too, was wearing a brown overcoat and fedora. He stared out toward the still waters with a mentholated Double Diamond cigarillo in his mouth. He looked over to Madison and smiled at her. Then he was gone. She dreamt of her husband sitting in his old easy chair, with a beer in his hand and a fedora on his head. He looked to her and raised his beer to her. He then took a drink and then he was gone. They were all gone.
Then there was the old man, puffing on his mentholated cigarillo. He was sitting where she had been, driving her car. She thought that she had just woken up, but then she looked out the window. The world ran by like it did in the old movies. It was generic Paris outside the window, rumbling around while the car remained stationary. The old man was jerking the steering wheel left and right which would have caused them to crash in real life.
“Who are you?” She said, watching the EfilleTower pass by for the third time.
“I’m no one important. That’s why they sent me.” The old man said.
“But, who are you?”
“A man. That’s all.”
“What’s your name? Why would I let you into my car? Why am I letting you drive my car?”
“Curtis. You can call me Curtis. As for the car, that was a nasty trick and I’m sorry for it.” He pulled a pen out from his inner pocket, but it wasn’t a pen. It was a six inch silver cylinder with two buttons on the top. One read ‘On.’ The other read ‘Off.’ She didn’t whether it was on or off.
“This did it. Made you trust me. It made it so you couldn’t lie. Without my hat, I couldn’t lie either.”
“That is nasty.” Madison agreed. “What are you trying to do? What are you going to do with me?”
“I’m fixing things. Things happen in two ways. They do and they don’t. If something doesn’t happen, then they don’t happen.”
“Sometimes, things don’t happen that are supposed to. Sometimes, things that aren’t supposed to happen end up happening. Sometimes when tragedy strikes, people stay that. It wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Curtis chuckled softly.
“It will.” The end of Paris came and it was a black block of nothingness. Curtis kept driving on and on through the darkness. The dark bled into the old Ford and then Curtis was gone. Madison thought that she had awoke, but she knew she wasn’t because she was on a couch and a baby boy was playing on the floor. The baby was crawling, hand over hand, toward the trashcan. Someone had thrown a bottle cap and missed the trashcan. This was somehow familiar. She got up off the couch and went over to the baby. Her mobility was greater than the baby, but the baby made it to the bottle cap before she got to him. He had it in his hand when she picked him up off the floor. Madison plucked it from his fingers and then tossed the cap into the trash. The baby’s eyes were big and wide, as if he was trying to understand something far greater than himself. Soon, the baby was gone and the couch was gone. Soon after, she was gone too.
She woke up in her car and she really was wake this time. She believed so. The old man was gone and she thought that he might not have existed at all. Instead of an old man, there was a little boy wrapped up tightly in a puffy, blue coat. He was curled up in the passenger seat with a stuffed animal locked in his arms. Her child wasn’t a baby anymore. She turned the key in the ignition and then realized that a cigarillo was burning in the ashtray. Has she been smoking that? She didn’t know. She plucked the cigarillo up and threw it out the window. Madison and her son rolled off down the road.
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