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Donald McMann


In that brief space between “Oh” and “shit,” Amy knew her morning was ruined. She had glanced into the rearview mirror of her brand-new Kia—she had taken delivery of the car only days earlier—and there she saw advancing with the destructive force of a tornado the big grill of a Ram truck. The Ram showed no sign of slowing, let alone stopping for the traffic light at which Amy sat waiting. The truck was true to its name. It rammed her car, her first new car. The car she loved. The moment of impact was loud, frightening. There were two collisions. Ram into Kia. Kia into aging Pontiac, the car stopped just ahead of Amy’s. And of course there was the explosion of the airbag.

Gingerly, she tried the door. It worked. She stepped out and onto the pavement. There was a hissing sound coming from the front of her car. The trunk lid was bent and open. People were gathering around. She felt light-headed and put out her hand to steady herself against the car.

“Are you all right, dear?” It was a stout, older woman dressed in a very tight blazer. She was carrying an enormous vinyl handbag that she rooted through while approaching Amy.

“I saw the whole thing. Must have been texting or playing video games or whatever they do these days. And speeding. Definitely speeding. Honestly, you’re taking your life in your hands on these streets.”

She found a business card in the bag and thrust the card at Amy.

“Here. You give this to the police. Tell them I saw it all. Every awful moment of it. Well, except the actual collision. I had to close my eyes. I just had to. You look after yourself now. Have a nice day.”

No sooner had the woman rushed off than she was replaced by several other witnesses, all wishing to offer help, testimony, or, in one case, a romantic opportunity.

And then there was the driver of the Pontiac. He was a middle-aged man with a modest grasp of the traffic rules and an equally modest grasp of English. He kept gesticulating toward the crumpled rear fascia of his car and repeating, “You must pay. Was perfect condition. You pay.”

It suddenly occurred to Amy that the one person she wanted to talk to was the one person who remained elusive, hidden, actually, by the blacked-out glass of his Ram truck. The driver had not appeared. Between the tinted windows and the reflections off the glass, she couldn’t be sure who was in the truck or how many there might be. Was it some elderly man who’d suffered a heart attack at the wheel? Was it some gang member taking stock of the several firearms on the seat beside him and trying to decide which of them to use in gunning her down? Should she walk over and knock on his window? Should she call the police? Just then, the door opened, and he stepped out.

Young. Very young. Eleven, she thought. OK, maybe fourteen. He was slim, fair-skinned. He had short light-brown hair. Streaks. Product. He wore a tight, horizontally striped T-shirt. The stripes were blue, like the jeans below. Not much taller than Amy—perhaps 5' 8'. Something about him seemed familiar, but Amy couldn’t recall ever seeing him before this attack on her innocent new car.

He walked up to her, his eyebrows raised in a look both sympathetic and surprised. Now that they were closer, she could see some faint lines around his eyes and, fainter still, a little dark hair on his upper lip. She had mistaken his slight build for youth. He could be her age. Maybe the kid was not a kid.

“I’m so sorry about that. I don’t know what happened.” His voice was light and sincere. There was a cadence to his speech, something familiar. Amy caught him taking a quick glance at his largely undamaged truck.

“You didn’t stop. You ran into my car. You turned it into sandwich filling. My brand-new car.” She turned away from him only to find herself face-to-face with the driver of the Pontiac.

“You pay. Was perfect before. Now shit. You pay.”

“No, I pay.” It was the kid. Amy turned to face him again, and he tried to hand her something. A cell phone.

“I’ve got a phone. What I really want to see is your registration. Oh, and a driver’s license, if someone who drives like you even has one.”

“No. Wait. It’s my lawyer. My father’s lawyer. On the phone. He wants to talk to you. Mr. Angellini.”

Grudgingly, she took the phone. The driver of the Pontiac and the driver of the Ram stood side by side and watched as Amy talked with the lawyer.

“I don’t care how inexperienced he is,” she said, “he must have heard of that glass part in the front of the cab. It’s called a windshield, and they make it out of glass so you can see out through it. You know—and spot cars stopped at red lights. Hell, and spot red lights. Oh, and speaking of his lack of experience, I’ll bet even he’s heard of this other technical marvel. It’s called brakes. You activate them by using your foot to push down on a pedal—now feel free to interrupt me if this is getting too technical—and the vehicle slows down. Or stops. Stop would have been especially useful here today.”

The kid was blushing. He looked grim. The driver of the Pontiac was grinning. After a pause, Amy continued.

“Yes, I’m sure you can repair the car. And I’m sure we can come up with a number”—Mr. Pontiac suddenly became even more attentive—“but the number I have in mind is 378. Yes, 378. You’re right. It’s not a big number. It’s a small number, and that’s the whole point. You see it happens to be the number of kilometers I’ve put on my new car since I took delivery of it last Tuesday. And it can be repaired, but it’s never going to be a new car again.”

There was another pause. Longer this time. Amy listened.

“Yes,” she said, “a replacement. You mean a new car? Well. Umm. Sure. That would be fine. Really? OK, then.”

She stood listening again. “Sure,” she said finally, and walking over to a nearly vibrating Mr. Pontiac, she handed him the cell.

“He wants to talk to you now.”

While Mr. Pontiac yelled into the cell phone, apparently in the belief that volume would overcome his broken English, Amy and the kid struck up a conversation.

The kid: Hi.

Amy: Hi.

Mr. Pontiac: Car is 1988. Top of line.

The kid: My name’s Martin.

Amy: I’m Amy.

The kid: I know.

Amy: Nice to meet you—well—maybe not so nice to meet you. Sorry, I mean…

The kid: No worries.

Mr. Pontiac: It’s gone 378,052 kilometers, but excellent shape. Until her. Now wrecked.

The kid: You know, Amy, this isn’t the first time we’ve met.

Amy: I’m so sorry. I mean I thought you looked a bit familiar, but I just…

Mr. Pontiac: A thousand dollars? You gave girl new car. You want me to go to police?

The kid: My name’s Martin MacDonald.

Amy: Really. University?

The kid: Nope. Didn’t go. MacDonald Developments—we own the building you live in, and you and I have met at the gym. Atlas. My family owns that too.

Mr. Pontiac: All right. Fifteen hundred. Cash. No checks.

Amy: That explains why I didn’t recognize you. Don’t go often enough.

The kid: I’ve said hi.

Amy: Oh, dear. I am sorry. I’m just in my own world when I’m there.

The kid: It’s OK. It’s just—well—I feel like I know you, is all.

Mr. Pontiac returned the cell phone to Martin, went back to the car, and sped off in a cloud of blue smoke. The only record of his having been there was a section of gray molding lying on the road.

The kid—Martin—offered to stay with Amy until the tow truck arrived. And then, once the wreck had been hauled away, he offered to drive Amy to where Mr. Angellini had arranged a loaner while her replacement car was made ready.

“Here,” said Martin, handing Amy her purse. “I collected it from your car before they towed it. And here are your sunglasses.”

“Thank you. I’m such an idiot. Losing my car and my purse in one morning. Wouldn’t that have been great? Thank you so much.”

Martin looked away. Amy got into his truck, and as she did, Martin picked up a Polaroid camera and some prints from the passenger seat and moved them into the back of the cab.

“Was that an instant camera? I thought they’d gone the way of dinosaurs. And cassette tapes.”

“They’ve come back. The cameras, not the dinosaurs. Cassette tapes too.”

After that, Martin was quiet. He started the truck, put it in gear, and drove off. Never once turned to look at her. Kept his eyes on the road. Amy shifted in her seat. Cleared her throat. Looked out the side window at something or other. Finally, Martin broke the silence: “I’m glad I bumped into you.”

“Yeah, you sure did. Bump into me.”

“Yeah. I did. Sorry—didn’t mean to bring the collision up again.” He paused. “Um. Would you—um—like to, you know, go out, like, for a drink sometime?”

Amy continued to look out the window. She said nothing. Time went by. A pause. An extended pause. Elongated. A pause like a giant, loopy elliptical orbit. She saw a man pushing a stroller down the sidewalk. (She probably watched him for an hour or two.) A sign in the window of a laundry advertised shirts washed and pressed for $1.99. (Was it still Tuesday?) A woman wearing a bright yellow and orange vest was writing a ticket for a parked Volvo. (Someone else’s sense of timing was off, she thought.) Time went by. (Hours. Days. Weeks. She was back at the gym. Martin?)

“I know that this must be really weird for you. I’m sorry. Forget I asked.”

“No. No, it’s not,” Amy said, finally turning to look at Martin. “Well, yes. I guess it is.”

“I asked you out. Forget the money. I’m just a man. Men ask out pretty girls. Not weird. Not weird at all.”

“Thanks. I mean for the ‘pretty’ comment. Shit. After the way this day’s gone so far, I must look like hell.” She ran the fingers of both hands through her hair. He watched. She felt a drop of perspiration run down her back between her shoulder blades.

He was smiling at her now. He was not looking at the road, but something made her look up.

“SHIT. Martin.” He jammed on the brakes and stopped just short of a Fiat waiting for the light to change. “Jesus. You would have crushed that poor little car.”

“It’s a pop can.”


“OK, what?”

“Maybe not drinks with you. Not yet. How ’bout coffee. I know an independent where we can meet.”

He said nothing. He glared at her, turned away, and pounded the steering wheel with his fist. She stared at him. He turned back to her, his face flushed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s been a rough day for me too. Coffee would be good.”

She didn’t answer, and to a symphony of car horns, he accelerated through a yellow light, and at the next corner, he cut across a lane of traffic and into a filling station. More horns.

“Gas,” he said as they slid to a stop beside a pump. He got out.

Amy’s purse had fallen from the center console in the previous panic stop, and now she reached down to the floor to retrieve it. Next to the purse she saw three more of Martin’s instant photos, and she gathered them up. She studied them. One was of the damage he’d done to her new car. She winced. Another was a tight shot of the car before the collision. How? Where? Why? And one was of Doris. Doris, her old car. Old enough to vote. Doris, already old—no, mature—when Amy got her in second year. Doris, some time ago, sitting in what was then her parking stall in the garage of Amy’s apartment. She grabbed her purse, tucked the photos in, and reached around for her cell phone. It was gone.

“There,” said Martin climbing back into the driver’s seat. “Now we can get out of here.”

Don McMann has an MFA from Bennington College and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. He is currently an assistant professor of English at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. He is genuinely fond of Monkeys.