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Drive Jessica Treat

He stepped out of nowhere. You hadn’t seen him walking, hadn’t seen him at all, but suddenly he was there, running across the road. You hit the brakes hard. You’ve hit him, you think, see his body bumping up onto your hood, his face shattering the windshield—your secret terror: to kill someone while driving. But the windshield does not shatter. You’ve only bumped him.

You roll down the window to yell at him or apologize; you don’t know which—you’re flustered and flabbergasted, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Could you give me a lift to Bainbridge?” he says in his scruffy British accent. He wants a ride. It’s his technique, you realize, for getting one. Stopping a car in midstream—and because he’s caught you off guard, “Go ahead, get in.”

You can’t say anything, still shaking some—you almost killed him—how about it then? Was it your fault? And you know it wasn’t, but know also that if he’d died, you’d have lived with the guilt for years—regardless. But he interrupts. You hadn’t wanted to be reminded: someone else is in the car with you. You like your solitude and besides you know your car smells: sour milk from spilled coffee, perspiration mixed with something like soy sauce—it’s your private space and whatever made you let someone in? But you almost killed him. That’s enough, isn’t it, to shake off habit, that covering you always wear—that’s enough isn’t it?

“You aren’t from here, are you?” he says.

You avoid answering him, counter with a question, “What about you?” but realize it sounds like tacit consent, no I’m not, what about you? Well, it’s none of his business--why should you tell him that you summer here and have for years? You owe him nothing since his life was spared. But he’s still sitting there, expectant. You realize he hasn’t answered your question. Did you even ask it? You begin to wonder.

“Mind if I smoke?”

“Go ahead,” you say for the second time, wonder what’s made you so compliant, realize it must be his accent, scruffy British and charming.

When he offers you one of his hand-rolled cigarettes you take one, start to believe it must have been fated, your bumping into this stranger from out of nowhere and that sort of thinking, “magical thinking,” a shrink would tell you, is only the second of many mistakes you’ll make that evening.