By Thomas Legendre
Let’s get one thing straight. I tapped the gas pedal once—once—for the air conditioning. After all, it was 110 degrees that day. And the car, a vintage ’62 Buick with automatic transmission, was firmly in park. I checked the gear shift. Before I knew it, though, that old Buick bucked and took off like a bull out of the chute, spilling my Fruitalicious before I could stretch a leg over to the driver’s side for the brake. Did the pedal stick? I don’t know. At any rate, we––that is, the Buick and I––hopped the curb and went smashing through the front window of the Kwik-E-Mart. How much glass do they use to build one of those places, anyway? Jesus, I never saw so much glass in my life. I remember plowing through some shelves with multicolored packages raining everywhere and a bottle of ketchup thwacking against the windshield before we came to a halt. For an instant I thought it was Hank’s head. But fortunately no one was hurt. That’s the crucial issue here. Hank is a valued colleague of mine and I’m truly thankful he managed to get out of the way. He may look scrawny, but let me tell you the guy can dive like a Hollywood stuntman. As you may know, he lives across the street from me though I hardly see him because he writes religiously on his many days off from teaching despite his top-tier salary.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There have been a lot of questions and insinuations about this incident, so let me explain. It all started when I was shooting some hoops in the driveway to work out a few frustrations arising from my heavy courseload and administrative duties. I noticed Hank backing out of his garage in that beautiful vintage navy blue Buick of his. Restored, etc. And I knew he was heading out to get his usual Kwik-E-Koffee. You see, it’s one of his creative rituals that he insists isn’t borderline OCD, so let’s just say he’s dedicated to his writing. And since it seemed only natural to ask for a tiny favor under those circumstances, I waved him down. He stopped and lowered his window.
‘Hell of a day,’ I said, standing with the ball under my arm and feeling pretty well soaked from the heat. ‘Mind if hop in and get a Fruitalicious?’
His expression went all hard, like maybe I’d ruin his leather seats or something, but then he nodded. We’re colleagues, after all. We get along.
It was a smooth ride with the air conditioning humming all the way, but I was still pretty hot under the collar by the time we arrived. I mean I was still sweating. I mention this because it’s relevant to the situation. And once we were inside Hank took his sweet time getting the coffee. Cream, sugar, etc. I guess that’s also part of his creative ritual. Me? I grabbed a Wild Berry Fruitalicious, plain and simple, like my fiction. Get in, get out. It’s not rocket science. I even had the right amount of change in my pocket. Hank had left the car unlocked and the keys in the ignition, so I sat in the passenger seat and tried to cool down. With the midday glare it was hard to see what was going on inside the store, but I waited––patiently, I might add––for Hank to come out so I could get back to shooting hoops. After a while I couldn’t take it any longer. Really, I couldn’t. It was like a convection oven in there. A pressure cooker. That was when I reached over and started the ignition. Like I said, I’m sorry, but it wasn’t my fault.
As I pushed open the passenger door and squeezed out I was relieved to see the clerk, a blond teenager, huddling safely behind the counter. Then I noticed Hank stumbling over a mound of snacks with his hair splayed up and his glasses skewed, bags popping like firecrackers as he stepped on them. Quite a sight. I asked if he was all right, but he just gave me the sort of wide-eyed stare you see in the old monster movies. Totally inarticulate. I guess that “gift for poetic language” deserted him.
So you see, the whole thing was an accident. I should add that a recent police investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing despite some rather aggressive questioning of yours truly. The main question seems to be how the Buick’s transmission shot into motion and left such pronounced tenure tracks if all I did was tap the gas pedal. The only thing I can say is that the tracks must be left over from some other incident. The gas pedal stuck. Fortunately for Hank, he got out of my way.
Thomas Legendre’s previous work includes The Burning (a novel), several short stories, and some critical and creative essays. He has also written Half Life, a play performed as part of NVA’s art installation of the same name in conjunction with The National Theatre of Scotland, and a radio drama entitled ‘Dream Repair’ for BBC 4. Most recently he has completed Living in the Past, a novel involving archaeology, music, and time travel. He is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham.