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FICTION / Inching Forward / Tai Farnsworth / Writer of the Month

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The cars around Dawn were honking incessantly. Pulling her jacket closer, she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Traffic was miserable. To her left a woman picked a zit on her chin in the uninhibited manner of someone attending to their personal hygiene from the safety of their cars. Dawn often watched people when they couldn’t see her. She liked the feeling of seeing peoples’ lives. She gave them names and stories, allowed their worlds to be big in a way she would never attempt for herself. This woman, with her unbound curls and offensively dirty car, looked like a Jane. Dawn stared brazenly ‘til the insistent picking caused a spurt of blood to taint Jane’s rearview mirror. As she reached for a tissue from her glove compartment, she looked to her neighbors in traffic, self-conscious, the spell apparently broken. Dawn avoided eye contact.

Across the intersection where they were trapped, in the courtyard of a big office complex, a couple was engaging in a dance battle. It must have been for a student project of some sort, as a slack-jeaned, backwards-capped young adult with an iPhone was following them in a crouch, occasionally raising his hand in an ‘OK’ sign. Dawn assumed there was music playing, but decided she’d rather not risk streaking her freshly washed windows to find out. Besides, they kept time oddly well with her Mozart and she hesitated to disturb this surprising coincidence.

She looked back at Jane. She was texting. In general, Dawn didn’t go in for such recklessness, but they really were at a dead stop. There must be an accident. Jane typed very deliberately with the pad of both thumbs, her too long, dark-purple acrylics punctuating each letter with a light click on the phone’s glass, or so Dawn imagined. Tacky and impractical, thought Dawn. Still, somewhere in the back of her mind, where she kept her longing, she wondered how the nails would feel running across her back after a long day, raking the loneliness from every inch of her skin.  

Everyone moved forward one tire length in a slow wave through the congestion. Traffic was always miserable at this time of day, accident or not, and Dawn usually neutralized the boredom with a balance of classical piano music and audiobooks from the PEN/Faulkner award lists. One time, on the recommendation of her salt crystal-loving coworker, she tried a guided meditation. The soporific drone of the recording unsettled her. Normally Dawn wasn’t so suggestible, especially not to such witchcraft as meditation or salt crystals, but the monotony of traffic brought out her wild side. When she’d returned the disks the following week, her coworker had been horrified to hear Dawn had listened while driving, but when else would she need to be calmed down?

Her gaze drifted back to Jane. She was bobbing her head a little while rummaging around in her purse. What’s she listening to? Based on the way her ponytail flounced around her shoulders, it was nothing like the peaceful ponderings of Dawn’s piano music. It was certainly loud and crass. Yet Jane seemed happy, in tune with the energy of her music, unable to stay still. Dawn couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to sit next to her, to feel the calling of an unfettered life, to move with desire and heat instead of cold precision.

In front of her the light changed from red to green to yellow to red, nobody moved. She’d never seen Olympic backed up this much. A few people were exiting their cars, sitting on their roofs, commiserating with their neighbors.  Someone threw an orange from behind her and a heavily tattooed man caught it one-handed, ruffians coming out of the cracks to party while whatever disaster holding them up was handled. It struck Dawn as crude to enjoy oneself when the source of the opportunity was likely some kind of tragedy. Though, she was quite hungry.

On a normal evening she would be home safe in the studio apartment she shared with her betta fish, Henry Cavenfish – after the 19th century scientist. On a normal evening she would have already picked up her dinner from Spinners, the salad-centric cousin to Subway. On a normal evening she’d be in front of her television eating her lightly dressed greens while watching a food or science documentary. After she cleaned up, fed Henry Cavenfish, and washed her face, Dawn watched folding videos ‘til she fell asleep. Paper, clothes, sheets, napkins – she had no preference so long as it was being neatly folded in complete silence. She wasn’t sure exactly what drew her to it, but suspected it had to do with the economy of their actions, everything done with intention and flawless execution. She always slept well. Yet, somehow her routine left her wanting.

Dawn closed her eyes and envisioned herself putting her car in park, opening the door, and knocking on Jane’s passenger window. She would let Dawn join her, of course, Jane lived on the unpredictable; she thrived on chaos. Dawn would tell her she loved the song and shimmy her shoulders right out of her grey pantsuit. She would lie because she wanted very much for the girl with the tacky nails to like her. She wanted very much to leave her car here, to leave her suit here, to leave everything here. She wanted very much for the whole of her life to change, to do something different, to lose herself in someone else. And for one brief moment Dawn saw her entire existence spread before her. Empty, unknown, and waiting.

She stayed that way, eyes closed, lost in an improbable future until a long horn blared from behind her. Dawn looked to the woman, hoping to catch her eye and maybe share a bashful smile. But Jane was gone. Traffic had dispersed, the interruption cleared, and with it, the residue of her dreams. The cars around Dawn were honking incessantly. Pulling her jacket closer, she tightened her grip on the steering wheel.


Tai Farnsworth is a mixed-race, queer writer based in Los Angeles who earned her MFA in writing from Antioch University. Her work can be found in 'The Quotable,' 'CutBank Literary,' 'The Evansville Review,' 'Homology Lit,' and 'Sinister Wisdom.' She's presently shopping around her young adult book about a girl discovering her bisexuality in the wake of her boyfriend's death. She was also a 2018 YA Mentee through We Need Diverse Books.