In a few short days, at the end of one particular summer, our world ended…
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
The commercial babble on the radio gave way to the traffic jingle, and Tina Ball turned the volume back up. “Atlanta traffic’s lookin’ good on all major routes out there,” the traffic reporter chirped. “No accidents or slowdowns. The clouds have come in, and that’s certainly helping out you westbound commuters, but no matter which way you’re heading home, you’re in great shape. Just a little slowdown through Spaghetti Junction, but nothing serious. For Sky-Eye Traffic, I’m Jeanie Scott.” They cut to commercials again and Tina switched the radio off.
“And now the weather: cloudy with a chance of white pickup trucks,” Tina tried to imitate the chirpy traffic woman. “Brought to you by Generic Motors.” She merged onto I-85, which was moving better than usual. “At least I don’t have a car that looks like everyone else’s.” She gassed her bronze Impreza, new as of April 8th, and slipped into a gap between a white pickup and a worn-looking Tahoe.
“Who ta-ho’?” she chanted, glancing in her rearview mirror at the behemoth behind her. “You ta-ho’!” She turned her attention to the truck in front of her; it had sped up a little to give her some room. It was small, clean, and devoid of all markings, badges, or stickers. The lines were all rounded; Tina could usually guess the make of a vehicle by looking at it, but this truck defied her. The windows were tinted — the laws about how dark they could be were often ignored, and Tina had no idea how the cops enforced it or whether they even bothered — but then another white pickup slid past her on the left. Even the front windows were dark, and that was certainly illegal; she glanced over but could only see the outline of the driver. It was a twin to — or even a clone of — the one in front of her, no markings and immaculately clean. It continued on, passing the truck in front of her and moving over.
Tina checked her mirror; her brown hair (page-boy cut for convenience, highlighted to match her hazel eyes) was still in place, but the Tahoe had crept up and was getting pretty close. “Jeez, idiot, the passing lane’s open! Why not go around me and get it over with?” Double-checking confirmed it; Tina slid over and sped up. To her left was the HOV lane, the only one that didn’t have a white truck in it. Maybe they finally have enough lanes on I-85, she thought, at least for now. The digits on her speedometer crept toward 75, and she eased off the throttle to maintain her speed. The Tahoe zoomed by on her right, trailing a little blue smoke; it swerved around one of the white pickups and cut back across two lanes, disappearing behind a moving van.
With no sudden slowdowns or stops to contend with, she watched the rest of the traffic as the miles slid by. There seemed to be a lot of the white pickups around: passing, being passed, and another one just ahead of her on the off-ramp. The things you notice on a Wednesday afternoon, she thought.
Tina’s house was in Laurel Hills, a development between Duluth and Lawrenceville. After the divorce, back in 2006, she bought the house for its arm’s length from the freeway, the quality of the high school for Kelly, and its appreciation potential — the financial fiasco a couple years ago had set her back on that front, but that had bottomed out and things were starting to pick up again. Kelly would be in college in a few years, and Tina’s plan was to sell the house for a tidy profit and get a small condo close to work. But even at the worst, Tina’s mortgage had never gone upside-down, and there was plenty of time to make up lost ground before she had to even start thinking about listing the place. She thumbed the garage door remote, sighed when she saw Kelly’s Civic in its usual spot, then wondered why she was relieved.
Kelly pushed away from the dining room table as Tina came in. “Hi Mom,” she said. “Just trying to finish up this homework. Supper’s ready whenever you are.” Kelly was mostly a younger version of her mom: hair darker and shoulder length, trim figure that didn’t need nearly as much attention as Tina’s to stay that way (yet), dressed more casually in pre-faded jeans with a strategic rip above one knee and a Falcons t-shirt. Her blue eyes and long nose came from her dad.
“Go ahead and finish it. I have my usual first stop to make,” Tina grinned and ducked into the guest bathroom. “Was school OK today?” she called through the door, open a couple inches.
“Yeah. Mr. Spencer didn’t come in, though. And there were quite a few kids out, too. Is something going around?”
Tina flushed, washed up, and stepped out. “I hadn’t heard of anything, honey. But now that you mention it, we had some no-shows at the office too. Maybe you should take the bus to school tomorrow? If you feel bad in the afternoon, you won’t have to drive home sick.”
Kelly sighed. “I guess. I just hate getting up so early. But I’m not working until Saturday anyway, so I can do that.”
“Good. Anything in the mail?”
“Mostly junk. Some bullsh— crap flyer from the HOA about the walk-off houses. Bills. The usual.”
“Sure. Well, let’s get supper on the table.”