Donna needed coffee. Black coffee, and a lot of it. She felt groggy, could barely stand. The morning sun poked through the trees in sharp bursts of gold. In other circumstances, it would be beautiful.
Her Toyota Avalon–the car she loved, had driven for over a decade–jutted awkwardly out of the ditch, its left rear tire not touching the ground. The airbags hung used and deflated in the windshield. She could smell the airbag powder still; that acrid, burning stench had driven her out of the car and wouldn’t leave her nose. Her face hurt from the quick smack of fabric blasting out of her steering column. She wanted to throw up.
She hoped her son Frank would get here before the police. He could take her home and maybe this would be no big deal. She could get that coffee, eat some greasy food. Take a cold shower. Sober up.
She had only had a few, honestly. Enough to make her hangover go away. A little Absolut poured into her breakfast orange juice because she liked the way the alcohol fumes burned her nostrils when she exhaled. It made the morning news easier to take, muted her fear that the world around her was disintegrating.
Dwayne didn’t talk to her much these days. He got out of bed without a good morning, put on jeans and a t-shirt, and went to Frank’s Diner to sit and talk to the other old men about cars and politics and how colored men couldn’t keep their hands off white women. Then he sat at the antique shop until dinner, which he ate with her in silence before going back to Frank’s for a piece of pie. When he finally came home, he watched ESPN at a volume so high you couldn’t speak over it and went to sleep on the couch. She spent her day alone, watching television judges yell at small-claims plaintiffs. Of course she had a drink or two.
When she was sixteen and Dwayne was twenty-two, he talked to her about everything. They would climb into his ’62 Impala and race down dirt roads as he told her stories about how the Indian chief Nemacolin cut a trail through these very same woods 200 years ago, or how the man who shot General Braddock during the French and Indian War lived on that very farm. They would park back in the woods and get naked and use every inch of the Impala’s back seat. When she found out she was pregnant with Frank, she quit high school and married Dwayne. Not long after that, he stopped telling her stories, and their bed–much more comfortable than a Chevy seat–didn’t see nearly as much use.
She tried a few odd jobs–cutting hair, running a cash register–but Dwayne wanted a clean home and a hot dinner, so none of them lasted. His job at the mine paid well enough. He put in thirty-four years before retiring on his fifty-fifth birthday, and they had enough money saved by then–the college fund Frank never used–to buy the antique shop. For fifty years now, she had been a supporting character in his life, the trusted sidekick who handled the food and the money while he had adventures.
This morning, she decided to drive into Maryland to the Amish market. Fresh vegetables for dinner. Maybe even some fresh beef for a roast. The road to the market curved wildly, so much so that her parents’ generation had named it after Mae West, although this joke was lost on most current travelers. She’d driven it hundreds of times, maybe even thousands.
And today she’d misjudged. Hadn’t turned the wheel hard enough and had plowed into a ditch. Her body was sore. An airbag rugburn smoldered on her right cheek. Where was Frank? She needed a coffee.
Before Donna made it out of the car, a woman had been there to ask if she was okay. Long stretches of Mae West Road were strictly forest or fields, but she had managed to crash her car in front of someone’s house.
“I called for help,” the woman said. “Are you okay?”
“Coffee. Get me coffee.”
“Come sit down on my porch. I’ll get you coffee.” The woman frowned in concern. Donna staggered to the porch but refused to sit. The woman went inside, presumably to brew a pot of joe.
The police arrived before her coffee did. She watched them pull up, lights flashing. Maryland State Troopers. And then she knew she was in trouble. The emergency dispatchers would not send Frank or his fire crew to an accident in Maryland.
The field sobriety test was easy, she thought. Say the alphabet backwards, stand on one leg while touching your nose, walk in a straight line. Simple. Nailed it. But she found herself with her hands on the police cruiser, the policeman’s hands on her. Then he helped her into the back seat and closed the door.
She never did get that coffee.