by Lyle Enright
Issue 11: Governance | 1,706 words
Anger, © pronoia/Adobe Stock
Whenever I think I’m losing it, I imagine my daughter’s head exploding. That tends to calm me down.
We were part of the first wave based on all the charts they released. That was a bad day. I sat in the backseat during Kate’s driver’s-ed exam. An ambulance blew past in the oncoming lane, blared its siren, and the instructor told her she failed moments later. Kate was livid. She screamed back that the ambulance hadn’t turned its siren on until it was right in front of her. The instructor didn’t particularly care about the circumstances, only that she hadn’t pulled over for an ambulance with its flashers on.
The argument continued up to a red light. The instructor turned to me, implying he blamed me for bringing this turbulent brand of sixteen-year-old into the world. I was about to show the asshole just where she got her temper when the car lurched—hard. Three cars in front of us followed suit, and our airbags opened with a crack.
My daughter screamed into the bag, high and muffled. The instructor—glasses broken and nose bleeding—turned and shouted some vile things at her that I don’t remember.
Because in the next instant his head went pop. Easy, like pinching a raspberry.
Kate stopped screaming. She couldn’t make a sound. Neither of us could. We sat in stunned, brain-spattered silence, staring at a spurting neck-stump. Sounds like the snaps of BBs through water balloons went off through the cars in front of us.
She hasn’t liked driving since. I’m taking us down Lakeshore, which has been narrowed from four lanes to two in the last few months. Our little sedan is low to the ground, with tinted windows. There’s no evidence that such things help, but nobody’s above superstition these days. We only have the one car, anyway, and she has to get to school somehow. She either rides with me or trusts a bus of thirty kids to one fragile-meloned driver. One of the yellow monsters waits at the on-ramp as we drive past, and she draws a sharp breath.
Another car blows past the bus and into our lane. I stomp the brakes harder than I need to. Kate grabs my leg as I bite into my lip and whistle my way out to a “Fffff-fine! Fine then!”
We have learned that profanity is a trigger.
“Leave him be, Dad,” Kate says. “He probably didn’t see you.”
She’s right. Don’t take it personally. I look in the rearview, catching a glimpse of the bus driver bouncing in his seat. The schools are screening their drivers real good now, I’ll give them that, but it’s hard to predict just how calm a person can stay when they’ve got randy teens bouncing around behind them.
If they slip up even once: blammo.
Kate flips on the radio, though there’s nothing on anymore but meditation programs and calmly voiced updates to the only news anyone talks about anymore: what turns a face into a frag grenade. I don’t have the stomach to follow the investigation, but Kate, young and easily inoculated to bad news, takes it in stride, having learned to go numb. Whatever I know I’ve gotten from her nail-biting reports: it only happens on the road, but it can happen on any road. Your blood pressure can peak so long as you don’t raise your voice or lash out. Whatever is doing this doesn’t care if you’re reckless, only if you’re angry.
It also doesn’t care if you’re on a bike, which I can’t help but find hilarious.
“You think it’s terrorists?” she asks, now hugging her knees and looking at me sideways.
“Do you think it’s terrorists? Is that the theory on social media?”
She rolls her eyes and turns away again, putting her pinky in her mouth. “It is on the forums,” she says. Like that’s supposed to make a difference. She’s always looking for reasons. Me, I’m old enough to believe in absurdities, karma gone wild, or acts of God. Kate, though, she’s a high school junior with survivor’s guilt and can’t bear for anything to be an accident.
“Hell, I’m not sure terrorists need the help,” I say. “You know some folks are hiding needles and even guns in their cars? And for what?”
“Taking someone out before they start a chain reaction? Sounds pretty smart to me.” I can’t see Kate’s face, but I know she’s being smug about it.
“Anyway, you know I think it’s the government. Radio waves or something, tuned to heart rates and shit. To get rid of all the hot-tempered folks. Though I don’t know who else you can count on in an election.”
I can still laugh at my joke, but she’s turned toward the passenger window to bite her nails in peace. Without looking, she taps my leg again, and I manage to take it down a notch before we reach the slow-down flanked by two police cars on the shoulders before the next on-ramp. We stop between them. The officers are already out, leaning on their patrollers in the 6 a.m. sun. One comes and knocks on my window.
“How’re you two feeling this fine day?” he asks as I roll down the window. A cheerful kid, pure white teeth, nothing like the officers I grew up around. It’s not an unwelcome change. Many a smokey lost his gourd enforcing the new infrastructure. Everyone left is pretty nice.
“Peachy! Just peachy, right Kate?” I give the center console a whack, and she jolts. Then she looks up, her mouth a line.
“Made it so far,” she says to the trooper while staring at me. “Just living takes courage these days.”
He nods. “You been listenin’ to Seneca on the radio? You’d do him proud, Kate.”
He waves us through, and I try not to squeal the tires as I pull out of the checkpoint.
Then a fucking sports car almost takes my fender off as it shrieks down the ramp. I can barely hear myself over his engine as I slam the wheel. “God damn it! You cuck!”
Kate’s gripping my wrist, almost as hard as I’m gripping the wheel. In my rearview, I see the trooper take a deep breath and jump into his cruiser, flipping on the lights. The siren sings a low note, determined to be less distressing to people’s moods than the old wee-oo-wee-oo.
Like that shit matters. Like this kid couldn’t stand to get his temper up a little and get his ass in gear; like a half-dozen less stable people might not’ve blown their gaskets in the time it took him to “find his center” and do his job.
My wrist hurts. Kate’s white-knuckling it with a sneer on her face that I’ve seen in the mirror. I take a deep breath, imagine her head splitting like a melon. I don’t want that. I know I don’t want that.
But knowing isn’t feeling, and if you’re gonna act on one or the other—
Another car blows by, horn blaring. I’m clenching my teeth so hard my head is shaking. Why do people do this? Why is the world so full of assholes who refuse to give up acting like a piece a shit even if it means blowing their own head off? Why—even when the whole of the law is to just calm the hell down—am I dealing with this horseshit?
I grab the radio knob and twist. Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” comes fuzzing through and I punch the dash.
“Dad!” Kate’s still got my arm, yanking on it and seething. “Are you an idiot?”
“I’m just mad, Kate!”
“You can’t get mad.”
“Why fucking not? The least they can do is let Metallica do it for me!”
“Everyone in Metallica is dead.”
I know she’s right. I read the same story about my favorite band and their last-ever trip on a tour bus. I know what’ll happen. It’s happening everywhere—but can’t I just, for a couple seconds, get so goddamn mad?
What the hell happens to a person who’s not allowed to get mad?
I try. I try to swallow away the ringing in my head. Then I hear the horns.
No beep-beeps anymore. It’s all low, like fog sirens, but they mean the same thing coming from the line of cars building behind me. The one remaining cop is scrambling with his arms out, and then I see a bloom of red in the rearview. Someone screams, the cop pales. Scraping metal fills the air as bumper crunches bumper, and I realize it’s a daisy chain.
“Good riddance, you fucks!” I shout on a raw throat. I feel the blood pumping up and into my head and clench my teeth, pushing it back. Not today, Uncle Sam—no one’s taking away my right to lose my shit.
I jolt at a pinch in my wrist and feel a warm trickle where Kate has me.
Something feels different about her grip. It’s firm, but not trembling. She’s staring me down, glassy-eyed, and where I expect to see hot-blooded cheeks, the only color framing her face is her hot-pink headband.
“This is your fault.”
“You’re killing people, Dad. You’re dangerous.”
Oh, she’ll fucking remember that I’m dangerous.
I lunge, and the next moments are an adrenaline blur. I feel the pressure in my head again, vow to tough it out, but Kate—eyes dilated and dead set on mine—reaches for the console, flicks it open, and reaches inside faster than anything I’ve ever seen.
She pulls the handbrake with the other hand, and suddenly there’s a new pressure in my head as the wheels lock and the car spins out toward the shoulder. My hands are so tight around the wheel that I barely feel the pinch in my arm.
The pressure leaves my head as my heart starts to race. What happens to a person who’s not allowed to get mad—to someone who has choked it all down, who may snap from keeping too much cool?
She fills my sight as she reaches for the keys, and a cold hand closes my eyes.
Lyle Enright is a Cleveland-based writer, usually publishing essays on religion and art. His creative writing has appeared in The Cresset, Fathom, Short Édition, and many other publications, and he is also a contributing editor at TL;DR Press. He battles for writing time while he and his wife corral three middle-aged chinchillas and one infant human.