Once There Was a Woman in a Car, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan
November 4th, 2010
Gray freeways swoop and spiral above her, with blue sky sometimes peeking through. The roadway loops below her, with green grass and parking lots sometimes visible. She drives in arcs, down and around and up and around. Her rental car accelerates powerfully, smoothly, and smells of upholstery cleaner and stale cigarette smoke.
She started someplace. She remembers driving the car out of a vast flat parking lot with rows and rows of cars. She remembers it was an airport parking lot. As she journeys up, over, through, down, around, she tries to remember which airport, and why she has flown there, and where she has come from.
A sign looms ahead: a clue. As she drives closer, the sign becomes a billboard, and then a giant TV screen, expanding to fill the sky. On the screen Judge Judy’s righteous blond head is berating someone for something. “You need to listen,” Judge Judy scolds. Then the car flashes past the screen.
The woman listens. The car hums. The roadway drones. Other cars, with other people inside, circle ahead, and above, and below her. She glances at the rear-view mirror. An even line of cars follows behind her.
Another sign ahead, this one yellow. It reads: “This Lane Only Exit.” She flicks on blinkers and guides the car into the exit lane. She’ll get off. Then she’ll be somewhere, and she’ll know.
The lane veers away from the tangle of freeways, and ahead she can see that the road ends in a T. She depresses the brake. The car slows. She’ll stop, park, get out, and enjoy the view, whatever it turns out to be, and then she’ll remember where she is, where she came from, where she is headed.
When she expects the T, the roadway curves left instead, a ribbon of gray pavement extending from under her wheels, a carpet unfurling to welcome her. She takes her shoe off the brake, turns and looks over her shoulder. She feels the car accelerate on its own, the seat pressing comfortably against her back. She must have forgotten that she’d turned on the cruise control.
She fixes her gaze ahead, both hands on the steering wheel. The roadway widens and merges. She’s speeding into the spiral again. Up ahead are the reassuring features of Judge Judy, growing larger and larger until the head blots out the sun. Judge Judy raises her index finger and opens her mouth.
The woman listens. She so wants to know. She searches for the brake. Judge Judy speaks. “You have got to–”
The woman’s shoe slips over slick carpeting, and the car drives on.
This story was inspired by a recent trip to Dallas, Texas.
My short stories have appeared in: American Literary Review, Bellowing Ark, Catamaran, Colere, Concisely, Green Hills Literary Lantern, India Currents, Iron Horse Literary Review, Nassau Review, Phantasmagoria, Tampa Review, and Tiferet.
One of my stories has been anthologized in Living in America: South Asian American Writers. Another story is included in Mamas and Papas, a new parenting anthology published by Sunbelt Publications of San Diego.
I am also the author of books and stories for children, as well as two reference books: Utopias in American History, and Poverty and the Government in America, both published by ABC-CLIO. I have received two grants from the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.