This story is by Dawn Van Beck and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
I was minding my own business, paying attention to the road. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t paying too close attention–my mind does love to wander. In fact, I was quite preoccupied planning my grocery list. Should I make a rump roast or a big pot of chili when the kids come over for Sunday dinner?
Driving down the road, I checked off a list of ingredients in my mind. Had I not checked my lipstick in the rear-view mirror, I would’ve missed it. It appeared out of nowhere. Now, it was smack dab behind me . . . just following.
Oh dear, what do I do now? I shimmied in my seat to sit up straight, planting both hands firmly on the steering wheel. Abandoning my grocery list, now I was watching the road ahead of me like a hawk. Keeping my head perfectly still, I shifted my eyes to the side mirror on my left. It was still there. The white cruiser with a long bar of red, blue, and clear lights planted on the roof. Thank goodness, they weren’t flashing. Was it a man or a woman? A man. A young man with dark glasses. Well, young to me. Was he laughing?
The top button popped open as I tugged at my shirt, fanning myself with my collar. It sure was gettin’ warm in my car. Rubbing the back of my neck, I stole a quick glance in the rear-view mirror. Was it my imagination, or was he getting closer? Perhaps he was just traveling on the same road as me. Turning right at the next street I flashed a confident smile, assuming he was gone. He wasn’t. My right hand scraped through my hair as I cleared my throat.
A sigh escaped my parched mouth as a party of butterflies landed in my stomach. Swallowing hard, I attempted to slow my heart rate. Think, Betty, think! What sort of trouble had I brought on myself? I instantly recalled that “California Roll” I made last week on the corner of 3rd Street and Elm. It was a four-way stop and I thought no one else was around. Hmmm. Oooh—I think I did have an encounter with a curb in a parking lot the other day. If I don’t cover my right eye with my hand, I don’t always see straight. That curb was in the wrong place anyway.
What else? Last month I did happen to run a little red light, but it wasn’t my fault—that green light should’ve lasted longer. Now, let me see. There’s also the matter of those expired parking tickets. I don’t recall how many of ‘em had piled up, but those payment due dates were hard to keep track of.
My stomach lurched as I heaved a sigh. I guess I’ve really done it now—got myself into a heap of trouble. I snuck another peek in the mirror as I bit my lip. My Lord, now he’s right up on my bumper! Just as I was about to slam on the brakes to teach him a lesson, bright, red, circling lights glared behind me. My heart skipped its beat as the sirens’ loud bellows thundered in my ears.
Woop! Woop! Woop! Lord, have mercy, I gotta stop.
Slowing the car, I put my hand over my right eye and pulled over, taking extra care not to hit the curb. With a tug of my shirt, I sat up, relieving the bubbles in my tummy with a burp. Watching through the side mirror, I saw him get out of his car, wearing a smug grin. He flipped open his little notepad with the finesse of a chef tossing a knife at a Japanese restaurant. Each oncoming, increasingly loud clomp of his shoes sent my mind spinning. Can a person go to jail for not paying parking fines?
If I could’ve become one with the dashboard, I would have. I reckoned it might’ve been an excellent moment to rattle off a prayer. At the push of a button, my window steadily lowered. My lunch tried to approach my throat as he stopped beside my car door.
“Good afternoon there. Can I see your license and registration, please?”
Shaky hands fumbled through my quilted purse in search of the zippered pouch that housed my license. Lowering my gaze, I handed it out the window to him, avoiding eye contact. He could forget about the registration—I had no clue where that was. I figured he must’ve been writing a book about my license ‘cuz he sure studied it long enough.
“Ma’am,” he spoke in a firm tone. “Do you suppose you might have an idea of why I pulled you over?”
Think Betty, think!
“Why, no sir, Mr. Officer.” I lifted my head and stared forward. “I really have no earthly idea why you would possibly wish to pull me over, but I’m sure you must have a good reason.”
My history of traffic mishaps and late parking tickets flashed across my mind. For a second, I wondered if he might show me mercy if I feigned some tears. Oh, who was I kidding? I hadn’t cried in years–just a waste of time and energy.
“Well, Mrs. Betty . . .
“Betty Bailey.” I clarified.
“Well, Mrs. Bailey, I do believe you’re in a bit of a pickle, here. You see, I was going to pull you over to let you know you have a brake light out, but then—then I ran your plates, and, well . . . let’s just say you’ve been a bit busy out on the road, now haven’t you?”
Well, if he wasn’t a cocky little son-of-a-gun with his condescending attitude. For a split second, his voice sounded vaguely familiar.
“Well sir,” I said, continuing to look ahead with my hands folded in my lap. “I’ll have you know I’ve been driving for years and I’ve never been in no accident.” Hmmph.
“That’s fine and dandy, Mrs. Bailey,” he sneered. “Unfortunately for you, I think we’re gonna need to do something about those parking fines. Why, I’m thinking maybe it’s time you paid a visit to a Judge so we can let him know what all you’ve been up to.”
“Now, wait just a minute.” My head swung around to meet his gaze. A gasp escaped from my mouth as my hand flew to my chest. “Tommy? Tommy Walker, is that you?”
“Well, Ma’am, that is my name. Um, do I know you?” His face was blank.
“Little Tommy Walker,” I continued. My eyes formed a harsh squint. “You’d better remember who I am.”
Tommy’s face turned a shade of red. “Of course, Ma’am,” he stammered. “Miss Bea. How are you?”
“Well, well, well. I was doing just fine, Tommy, until this afternoon. Now, you may not remember me too well, but I certainly remember you, along with all that trouble you got into with my son.” Tommy turned away, shaking his head.
“Let’s see now,” I continued. “You guys were drinking, tee-peeing houses, spraying graffiti on the school building, and all those practical jokes—tsk, tsk, tsk. If I recall correctly, I do believe you two even had a brush with the law a time or two, right?”
“Miss Bea,” Tommy said, tightening his jaw. “That was a long time ago. I grew up. Changed my ways. Now I’m protecting the community and making sure folks obey the law. Now, let’s address these parking fines, shall we?” He cleared his throat, regaining his composure.
“How’s your mama?” I boldly interrupted. “Is she still around, Tommy?” I flashed him a tentative smile that began to grow as the chips were suddenly turning in my favor.
“Mama’s fine. Can we move this along now?” Tommy deepened his tone, shifting his weight back and forth. I cleared my throat, strictly for emphasis.
“You know Tommy, my son eventually told me what happened to that big ‘ol wooden cross that disappeared from Pastor Brown’s church. Such a mystery for all these years, but I know all about it. I wonder if the folks in your police troop would enjoy that story.”
Tommy froze in place, his nostrils flared. He clamped his lips tight to refrain from speaking.
I pulled down my glasses, looking over the rims at his wide, childish eyes.
“Tommy, . . . I wonder if your mama would like to hear that story.” A bark of laughter escaped my lungs.
Tommy Walker loosened his collar and ran his hands through his hair, his shoulders now slumped forward. I leaned back in my seat, a gleam in my eye, and sighed.
“Oh, dear. I do declare, I guess now we should talk about our little situation here, right Tommy?”
With one hand placed on his hip, he rubbed the back of his neck.
“Now Officer, I believe you had concerns about my driving record. And, did you say you were gonna do something about some parking tickets?”
Tommy stood before me in a solemn stare. He shielded his eyes once again with his sunglasses and slowly closed his notepad.
“No, Ma’am. I have no concerns today, and . . . what parking tickets? I don’t know anything about any parking tickets. Just get your brake light fixed, you hear?”
“You know I will, Officer. Oh, and Tommy, say hello to your sweet mama for me.”
I puffed out my chest and smiled, having reached a decision on my Sunday dinner. A rump roast it is!
Putting the car in gear, I skimmed the curb before driving away.