There’s a girl. In the scratched-up Impala next to me. I don’t know her name. I probably never will. I’m pretty sure I’m in love with her all the same.
She’s a brunette – wild waves of it – pretty, brown-eyed, probably about my age. She drinks a lot of coffee and likes to dance in her seat when she’s stuck in traffic. She’s Russian, I think, a disgraced cosmonaut teaching trigonometry at a community college. Or maybe Colombian, fleeing from a shitty situation and a shittier ex-husband. She’s Romanian. Italian. Egyptian-American. From Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, New York, right here in the heart of Jersey. She’s a ballerina, a firefighter, a pharmacist and a drug dealer. She’s got two kids and six cats. A tattoo on her hip. A scar.
She’s the girl of my dreams, depending on the night before.
The game started when she caught me staring. Months ago. I’d noticed her a couple times before that, casual glances when we were stopped bumper-to-bumper on 78. But that day. That day I was trying to get into work a little earlier, beat the traffic, only I ended up stuck in the worst of the morning slog. I was bleary-eyed, half-awake, blinking the early hours away. I leaned my head on the steering wheel and started flipping through the radio, trying to find something other than talk, and then there she was, pulling up next to me, wet hair and a smile that had no place on a weekday commute. She was too damn brilliant. For that hour of the morning, for this life. I couldn’t take my eyes away. I didn’t want to.
The girl saw me and blushed a little, smiled even brighter somehow. She waved. Said hello, I think, but the windows were up. And her name. She said her name. I watched those lips, tried to piece it together. But then the traffic shifted and she was gone.
I can still see those lips, sometimes, dreamt about them once or twice. I still have no idea what she said.
The next morning the girl was there again. Idling next to me on the interstate, the two of us side-by-side in a metal sea of undercaffeinated businessmen and sales associates. We locked eyes, looked at one another in disbelief. And then she smiled again.
It was warmer, her window was down. I leaned across the passenger seat and rolled down mine.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m Chris. And you’re…”
There was a mischievous smirk, her lips parted, waiting. I thought back to the day before.
And she was gone again.
But she’s here now. The girl’s looking at me from that dinged-up Chevy, awaiting today’s fantasy. Her hair’s sopping into her striped blouse, a late start, but she’s glorious all the same, eyes twinkling and that devil’s grin on her face. I roll down the window.
“Wendy. Back-up singer for the E Street Band.”
“Not quite, killer.” She narrows her eyes. “I’m Gretchen. World War I fighter ace.”
She’s been Debbie, Karen, Laura, Bernadette, Scarlett and Roxanne. She’s shouted names as she inched past, held up lipstick-scrawled index cards from across two lanes of traffic, dragged her fingertips across clouded glass. Yesterday she was in front of me, waving a legal pad by her rearview mirror. Amelia, inventory auditor, twice divorced. Before that, Annie, spinning imaginary six-guns. I swear to God I could see the Stetson atop her wild brown locks. She’s been rocket scientists and writers, waiting on promotions and begging for change. She’s been reckless and ruthless and calculating and naïve, lost, hungover, bewildering, and beautiful. She’s Scheherazade, saving herself from a thousand and one mornings.
“What’s your kill count?” I ask.
“High thirties. The Kaiser hates me.”
“He’s obviously never met you.”
She laughs. Blushes.
“Neither have you.”
“You’ve got a point.”
There are sirens, and then a blur of red and blue on either side of the highway. I can hear a helicopter overhead. I lean forward, staring up through the windshield.
“We’re going to be here a while,” she says.
“Looks like,” I say.
I turn and this time she’s the one caught staring. A small laugh and then there’s that smile again, everything else in the world melting away. She’s an angel. I can hear trumpets.
The helicopter flies low, loud. Our eyes are fixed on each other despite the downdraft, the dirt and plastic lids swirling in the gap between us. My hand is on the door handle.
“I’m Chris,” I say across my empty passenger seat.
“Monica,” she says. “My name is Monica.”
We open our doors.
This is a reprint of work originally published in Storybook Romance.
Eirik Gumeny lives in New Mexico with his wife. His website is http://www.egumeny.com.