Backseat Driver

The car’s headlights pierced the darkness and the wide beams illuminated my driveway. Leaves captured in a swirling vortex of late autumn wind raced across the hood and circled the vehicle. Winter was almost upon us and the only escape I could think of at the moment was to go out in the crisp fall air and get ice cream. It was literally the first thing that popped into my mind.

Ice cream? Really?

I hate ice cream.

Nancy enjoys the frozen treat and perhaps I was thinking only of her at the time. She’s partial to vanilla, caramel toppings, and peanuts. I, on the other hand, prefer a piping hot, thick chocolate brownie, fresh from the oven; or homemade cookies. I’ve had a sundae or two in my past, but an early childhood incident in which I indulged in too much ice cream at a birthday party, turned me right off from the dessert. Now it makes me sick to even think about it.

Once I snapped on the car lights and looked in the rear view mirror, I pondered what type of ice cream Joe preferred.

I could feel his disembodied breath on my neck. The old bastard was already in the backseat, buckled in, ready to leave. Goosebumps rose and fell along my skin from the top of my scalp to the bottoms of my ankles, I shivered in my seat and was finally in a place where I couldn’t distinguish reality from fantasy any longer.

For a moment, albeit brief, I questioned if I needed therapy.

It didn’t work before. It won’t work this time either. Been there, done that. Waste of time. Just remember…

It’s all in your head. He’s a figment of your overactive imagination.

Nancy reached down to the radio and turned up the music. I reached down and turned it up louder.

Joe pitched forward, pressed against his restraining belt, and he dropped both elbows on the seat beside each of our head rests. That won’t help!! He screamed in my ear.

I looked in the mirror and he leaned back, shaking his head in disappointment.

Taking advantage of the brief silence, I had a second to answer her question. “Are you happy?” She asked me.

I managed a smile, reached down to her hand and gave it a squeeze. “The happiest I’ve ever been. The past few weeks have been magical.”

Joe stuck his tongue out, rolled his eyes and slammed the back of his head into the seat cushion. My reply striking an obvious nerve.

You fool. You have no idea about magic. Magical my ass. 

I released her hand and wiped my clammy palm across my forehead.

Will you shut up?! I can’t think straight over here. You don’t belong, Joseph, and I demand you leave right now!

Tough shit. You need me now more than ever. We still have unfinished business, you and I. What to do about that? What to do…

You keep saying that, but I’m not seeing it. You belong in the refuge, Joe. There’s a time and a place for everything.

The time is now.

My heart thumped and my foot slowly came off the accelerator. Joe was right about one thing. Perfection may feel perfect, but rarely ever is. While I felt as though everything was now pristine in my world, my children safe and happy, a wonderful person at my side, great employment, my dog had a place to rest her head, I could finally be me… something was still missing and I couldn’t figure it out.

A time is coming, real soon. A time where you’ll be forced to make a decision. It’ll hit you like a ton of bricks at the most unexpected of moments. You’ll never see it coming. Or… maybe you will. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. I’m nothing if not patient.

What the hell are you babbling on about?

He looked out the window and ignored my stare. You’ll know it when it happens. A light bulb will go off and everything will finally become crystal clear.

It’s already crystal clear. I don’t need anything else.

You only say that, because your blind. You’ve been following that dim light in the darkness for so long, it’s all you know now. But once it appears, it will all make sense.

You’re full of shit. Get out of my car.


“Is everything OK?” She asked.

“Yeah. Everything’s fine. Sorry. It’s been a long day.”

“You look like someone walked over your grave.”

“I’m starting to feel that way too.”

She placed her hand on my head. “You’re burning up! Are you getting sick?”

“I hope not. Too much to do. Can’t afford to get sick.”

“Do you want me to drive?”

“No. Thanks, but I got this.”

She’s real pretty, Jere. What did you do to deserve this?

I didn’t do anything. I was just being myself. Life happens, right? Your words, not mine.

You don’t deserve her. 

I could absentmindedly feel us veering into the opposite lane, head on, in the path of a pick up truck, while Nancy was rooting around through the glove box for a CD. The headlights from the oncoming vehicle filled my window and when the horn started blaring, I jerked the car back to my side.

“Nancy, I’m going to pull over and you’re going to drive. Is that OK?”

“Of course.”

I stopped the car in the breakdown lane and we switched places. Joe remained in the backseat and his eyes followed me around to the passenger-side. I opened the door and slumped into the seat, buckled my belt, exhaled deeply, and he laughed out loud.

You think that’s going to make it better? He reached forward and massaged my shoulders with a hearty squeeze. Now that she’s behind the wheel, we can really chat. He gave me a gentle shake and clapped his meaty palm twice on my upper arm.

Now we can really chat.

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