Of course Henry was driving. He had looked tired, even sleepy, but would he ask her to take the wheel? She laughed at the thought. After all she was a woman, and women don't understand cars. In an emergency, they get rattled and they panic. In the month of driving cross-country and, at this point, not far from home, he had let her drive once, for about an hour.
Now, the emergency happened-and he panicked. It was her strong, unflappable, all-knowing husband, standing there beside the trooper, gazing into space, unable to answer the man's questions. She realized that she was enjoying Henry's distress.
"Officer, I can tell you about it," Sylvia said. "We were driving, and suddenly I saw a deer leap from behind a hedge. It crashed into our windshield. I don't think Henry saw it. Somehow, he got to the shoulder of the road and stopped the car."
"I'll ask my questions later," the trooper said. "I better get your husband to the hospital."
"No!" Henry tried to shout out the word, but his voice was barely above a whisper. "I'm all right. I don't want to go to a hospital."
Sylvia urged him to let doctors look him over, but he refused. The officer said that he would drive them to a nearby motel, arrange for a Ford agency to pick up the car, and talk to them later at the motel.
The officer and the insurance man came later that evening. Henry insisted on answering their questions. He began stuttering with each response, but his wife did not try to help. She marveled at the patience of their visitors; they gave Henry all the time he needed with his painfully slow answers. The insurance man also offered to have a rental firm bring them a car the next day, and said their policy covered the cost. She decided to write letters to the police and to the insurance office, to tell them how grateful she and her husband were for the help they were given.
When the car arrived the next morning, they agreed to explore the downtown part of the city. Henry automatically took the driver's seat. At first he drove hesitantly, then with confidence. They were on a busy street downtown when the door of a parked car suddenly opened and Henry barely missed the emerging driver. She could sense her husband's agitation as he sought a place to pull over to the side. She asked if he wanted her to drive. He moved to the passenger seat without saying a word.
After she parked the car, they found a bookstore. That had always been Henry's favorite destination when he visited a new town. They were there for only a few minutes, when he told her that he was tired and wanted to go back to the motel. Waiting for the car to be repaired the next two days, Henry refused to leave the motel, and sat watching TV, day and night. She gave up trying to persuade him to come with her, and went off by herself each day.
When their car was ready, she asked him if he wanted to drive. He refused; he would help her navigate. It would be almost a full day's drive to get home. About noon, she saw a Holiday Inn sign near an exit, and they stopped for lunch. When they finished eating, she asked if he could take the wheel. He shook his head. Sylvia said she would sit in the motel lounge and nap.
Exhausted and angry, she finally reached home. She opened the door of the car, told him to take in the bags. She showered and went to bed. At some point, she was dimly aware that he had joined her in bed.
Sylvia did not sleep well. There were too many unresolved issues on her mind. She arose at first daylight, washed up, and fixed her breakfast. She then sat down in the living room and read the newspaper.
It was almost an hour later when he appeared at the breakfast table. She walked into the kitchen and said, "When you finish eating, come into the living room. We need to talk."
He got up from the table and walked to the living room. "I'm sorry about the accident, and I feel bad that you are all shook up about it," she said. "Lots of people have accidents with their cars, sometimes even killing a human being. You have to snap out of it. There are things we have to do, and it's better to do them together."
"Every minute of the day, I see a smashed windshield and a dead deer," he began, breaking his silence. "I fantasize that if I got behind the wheel, I would turn it madly every which way to avoid that deer; and I, and whoever was with me in the car, would be as dead as the deer."
"It was unfair for you to make me drive all day yesterday," Sylvia said. "You'll have to get over your hangups. Anyhow, I have errands to do in the city. I'll take my car, so yours is available to you if you want to go anywhere. I'll be home for supper."
He finished his breakfast, and pondered his choices. He could go back to bed and sleep some more- or take the bull by the horns. There really wasn't any choice, so he washed, dressed and took his car keys. His hand trembled as he inserted the key into the ignition. A dense cloud appeared suddenly when he shifted to 'drive.' It was the dead deer. He fought to clear it away from his horizon, and gradually daylight appeared. He inched the car forward out of the driveway and rode the car, slowly, around the block. At one point, the cloud emerged again, and he moved quickly to the side of the road. His vision cleared in a few moments and he moved the car until he came back to his own driveway and parked. By the time he got home, he was drenched with sweat.
Morning and afternoon passed quickly. He worked at his desk for several hours, planning the first two lectures for each of the three courses he would be teaching when classes started in a few weeks. After a sandwich lunch, he took a long walk to the distant public library where he read a journal and borrowed a novel.
Feeling pleasantly tired, he made a cup of tea, planted himself in the deep chair, turned on the radio, and was suddenly awakened when the front door slammed shut and his wife stood glaring down at him.
"I suppose I should be thankful that you got out of your pajamas," she said. "Are you going to be sleeping all day from now on?" She continued, "I did some shopping. Get the packages out of the car and put them in the kitchen."
Henry's face reddened, but he did not respond. Sylvia did not ask for his help in preparing dinner. At one point, he decided to make himself a drink and asked her if she wanted one. She took her time to answer, but finally voiced a curt "no." They ate in silence, and when the meal was finished, she told him to wash the dishes. She moved into the living room, settled in the deep chair, picked up a magazine, and started reading.
Henry sat at the table, head bowed and teeth clenched, as he listened to her command to wash the dishes. He followed her into the living room and said, "It's my turn to ask that we have a talk."
Still looking at the magazine, she responded, "So talk!"
"All right, I didn't handle myself well after the accident," he began. "I did try to do things today. After you left, I took the car for a drive around the block. It was hard, I tell you."
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself," she interrupted, disdain in her voice. "You've been acting like a child. Grow up!" Visibly angry, he rose from his seat. "Since you don't want to talk about this, to hell with it." Something drove him to continue. "Just remember that I am not your father. However you feel about him, don't take that out on me." As he walked out of the room, she shouted after him, "Leave my father out of this, you bastard." He went to the den and slammed the door shut. For the first time in their ten years of marriage, they slept apart that night. He came into their bedroom at one point to get his pajamas and robe, but neither said a word. She tried to read in bed, but her thoughts revisited the events of the evening. Why had she been so rude and unforgiving to him? She had not planned it that way. It was a spontaneous reaction. She resented the role he wanted to carve out for her- the dependent, incapable wife- and she could not resist reminding him that the tables had turned
Still angry over what he said about her father, Sylvia knew there was more than a modicum of truth in the analogy. Even in her childhood, she hated her mother's surrender of independence to her take-charge father. When she graduated from high school, she urged her mother to assert herself. "Look, darling, so I let your father decide," her mother said. "Are things bad for you? Are things bad for your brothers? Dad makes a good living for all of us. Why should I complain and upset him?" Sylvia had no regrets for what she was now doing. She did not know how the quarrel would end. There had never been any intense disagreement before in their marriage. Maybe this was different. Anyhow, she would not be the one to initiate a peace effort.
A week went by with the new de facto arrangement: not talking to one another, eating together, and sleeping in separate rooms. One evening, he broke the silence.
"The Dean is giving a party for the faculty next Saturday night. There will be drinks, and a buffet dinner. Want to come?"
She answered without hesitation, "Okay."
As they left the house on party night, he opened the passenger side door for her and took his place at the wheel. She wasn't sure how she felt about that. He could have asked her if she would like to drive. She did not want to fight though; there had been too much conflict the past few weeks.
The Dean was at the door when they arrived at the party, and Henry greeted him with a hearty, "Hi, Joe. It's great to see you." Joe replied with a routine handshake, but his welcome for Sylvia startled her. He kissed her cheek, hugged her heartily, and then took her arm and led her to a corner of the room. He wanted to know all about her summer, and he had heard that she was promoted to a high level position at the cable firm where she worked.
"A university needs good executives and managers. How would you like to come to work here? There's a rule against husbands and wives working at the same school, but I could talk to some of the other deans. How about it?" She declined his offer, but it struck her that the Dean had been a widower for several years, and maybe there was more to this than her job skills. He held her arm while he talked. As soon as someone came along and engaged him in conversation, she wriggled out of his grasp and walked over to a circle of faculty wives.
She looked around the room and could see Henry staring at her. She made no move to join him. When the buffet dinner was announced, she went along with the others to get her food. Some of the women looked for their escorts in order to eat with them, but Sylvia made no effort to seek out her husband.
Shortly after she finished her meal, she felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Let's go, Sylvia." She looked up at him. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was unsteady on his feet.
"Got to go, ladies," she said, rising from her chair. "Henry isn't feeling well. Hope to see y'all soon." She walked over to the Dean who grasped her arm when she approached.
"Sorry, Henry wants to leave," she announced, as she tried to move away from him. "Thanks for a lovely party." The Dean, still holding her arm, started walking her to the door. Henry was standing there. Joe waved at him, tapped Sylvia on her back, and released her.
"I think I had better drive, " Sylvia said, as they approached the car. "Please let me have the keys."
"Are you still trying to emasculate me?" Henry asked. "I'll drive."
"You're drunk, and for your sake as well as mine, it's better for me to drive!"
"No," his voice was almost a shout. "I've had enough of your bullying. If you want to ride in this car, then I'm driving."
She stared at him with a mixture of anger and contempt, and then she said, "Henry, I want you to listen to what I say. If you don't give me the keys to this car, I will walk into that house and ask someone to drive me home."
In the moonlight, she could see the glistening tears in his eyes. He threw the keys on the ground and walked away. He strode down the street, his head high. She started the car, drove alongside the walk, and spoke through the open window.
"I'm sorry, Henry. Please get in the car." She persisted for a few minutes, without any response from him. Then she drove away. She sat in the living room at home waiting for his arrival. When he came, he went directly to the den and shut the door. She thought of calling out and urging him to talk, but she resisted the impulse.
The next morning, before leaving for work, she wanted to go into the den and make him listen to her. She decided that she could do that when she came back from work; maybe the passage of time would lessen the tension.
His car was not in the garage when she returned. There was a brief note on the kitchen table without a signature.
I have rented an apartment and taken
some of my things. I will come back for
the rest later.
It's all yours now, which is what you
wanted. Maybe you'll enjoy it, and maybe
She collapsed into a chair, and she cried. She had never been sure what she wanted the outcome to be, but this wasn't it. After all, had things been so bad for her? Did she have to drive him out of the house?
Puffin Foundation has provided a small grant for the authorís project of
writing stories that put an human face on social issues.
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