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Contemporary American Funny

“I have to leave this damn hellhole.” 

The sentiment echoed in the still air of her cathedral-ceiling foyer. It had a chandelier Sally picked out in New York and off to one side was the cream sitting room. The sofas were cream, the walls were cream, the carpet - cream. No one was allowed in there for the fear of dirt. The master bedroom with a king sized bed, some fancy thick wood frame, was off to the right. The master bath had a jacuzzi that had never been used. The humble house had seven bedrooms and nine bathrooms, not counting the pool house which had an additional bathroom and bedroom. 

The home had been without power since she woke up. Last night she’d absent mindedly turned off several dripping faucets a housekeeper had left on. This morning, none of those faucets worked, despite all of the various combinations of the handles she tried. The kitchen had no water at all, so she littered the island with dirty dishes. “This city needs to get some real leadership.” Sally shook her head; she didn’t consider that the pipes might be frozen.  

After fiddling on her phone for thirty minutes to pass the time, she declared: “I don’t work as hard as I do to live like this!” The house temperature had fallen fifteen degrees since she woke up. “I deserve seventy degrees, dammit.”

And that’s when she had her most brilliant idea: she should escape to Cancun.  

Her post-it note had her two step plan:

  1. Pack
  2. Get to Airport

------

Pack

She couldn’t find her favorite swimsuit - “the only one that actually makes my body look as good as it truly is.” After a search of her bedroom, where she spewed clothes from the dresser like a tree shedding leaves, she was left with one place to search: the pool house. The pool house required her to go outside, so full cold-combat gear was required. Sally put on a white JCrew turtleneck, a thick North Face, ski pants, leather boots, a hat, and a scarf. She began to sweat slightly and marched over to the backdoor.

The backyard was modelled after a tropical paradise. Two palms leaned over the hot tub, which had a rock waterfall down to the larger pool. The pool had a space for laps, a shallow end for volleyball, and the required deep end. She hosted many successful parties here. 

The open french doors revealed that the air of tropical paradise was gone. Everything was white: the beach chairs’ blue was obscured in snow, the waterfall had frozen into a ski slope, and the iced-covered palm’s fronds had dipped below the hot tub water, which was a skating rink. She blinked a few times as if to reboot from a bad connection, but the condensing breath showed the cold was real.  

A couple of steps in, her right leg shot forward, slipping on ice and moving further and further away from her body until she was crouched on the ground and the right toes pointed. “Thank God for Yoga with Carol,” she laughed. There was forty feet of ice to go. 

She righted herself and looked over the ground. The concrete was slick, but the less smooth surface of the grass likely had friction. Taking another step towards the frictioned grass, this time both her feet flew forward and she landed on her back, her right hand outstretched to try and cushion the fall. Sally cradled her right wrist: “Ow.” 

On her left hand and knees, she crawled the rest of the way to the pool house. She was only inside for a minute or two before she came out victorious. Crawling her way back, the swimsuit was clutched in her jaw with a wide grin.   

------

Get to Airport

The Mercedes wouldn’t start. She let out a long, poetic stream of expletives and slammed her fists against the leather steering wheel. She fell back in the seat and looked across the manicured garage, the floor painted with plastic coating that looked like tile. The light from the window casted the room with odd, oblong shadows. Next to her Mercedes was her husband’s Land Rover. This, albeit brief, setback saved her future-self as the Land Rover had four wheel drive. 

Pushing the garage door opener, nothing happened. She tried a few more times. “No damn electricity.” Not turning off the engine, she got out of the vehicle. Sally searched for how to lift the garage door and tried pulling on a random piece. Her right wrist ached. 

She leaned into the Land-Rover and yelled at the phone. “Siri, how much do garage doors cost?”

A standard garage door cost $1,500. 

Sally got back into the Land Rover, put it in drive, and rammed it through the garage door. The Land Rover metal screeched as the paint was peeled off. The garage door did not come easily and a piece of the chain fell and hit the Mercedes. Her foot pressed harder against the gas. With a pop, the door was no longer part of the garage and she was gliding down the driveway. She flicked her wrist and left the hunk of metal next to the sheet-and-snow covered azaleas. 

“Siri, text John and tell him that we need a new garage door. Then plot a route for the airport without using highways.”

After brief bouts of losing control of the car, she slowed the speed to fifteen miles an hour. Every block, she tried to increase the speed to twenty miles an hour and felt the tires slip again and returned to fifteen. “This is booooooor-ring.” She tapped a beat against the leather. “Siri, text The Girls message group: ‘I had a great idea. I’m leaving this ice-hole. I’m going to Mexico! Y’all should come. Flights are cheap.’”

Finally turning onto Shepherd Drive, she turned up the heated seats a little more in the Rover. The car jingled that she had a new message. “Siri, play message!”

A robot answered. “Gwen McCarthy says I-thought-you-had-to-get-a-COVID-test-to-be-allowed-back-in-yousa.” 

Sally sighed and shook her head. “Oh, bless my heart, Gwen.” From the passenger side, another car was careening towards the Rover. “What the hell!” She turned the wheel away from the other car. “What are they doing on the road? This is dangerous!” The Rover increased to twenty miles an hour, zipping past the car and the signs for Kindred Hospital North Houston. 

Her left knuckles had gone white from the death-grip on the steering wheel. She took another deep breath. “It’s OK, Sally. You’ve got this. No more texting.” At fifteen miles an hour, some plastic bags in the wind moved faster than her. “Siri, play NPR. I need some classical music.”

The tires hit black ice and the Rover glided over to the median. The metal of the vehicle screeched again. That’s why she didn’t notice she was listening to the talk radio version of NPR. She was crying thick, mascara-colored tears as the host monotoned about how the ethics of the COVID vaccine. She thought she might die before Cancun.  

She let out a snotty wail as she turned onto the feeder road for beltway eight. NPR shifted to a story about wealthy people during the pandemic. A younger host, his voice not as monotoned, “I mean, there are a lot of reasons for why the wealthier are only getting wealthier. But let’s take what’s going on in Texas right now. They have the most unregulated power system in the country and the people who run it are hugely rich. The unregulated market has led to an electricity price that is slightly lower, one cent per kilowatt hour, than the national average. However, many of their neighboring states like Louisiana have an even lower price and the protections of the federal regulations. But now, in the storm, it’s going to be the average Texan who is bearing the costs, who is going to have to remodel their homes when their pipes rupture. Or even worse, may die.” Sally heard the word ‘die’ and sobbed. “This isn’t unique. We’ve systematically rid ourselves of protections for the average person, which, in turn, have let the rich get richer.”

Her brakes didn’t catch and she found herself slipping through a red light. The Rover had an eerie peace as its momentum finally couldn’t be halted. Sally looked to her right and saw a red Camry. It had more speed and was coming towards her, the rust spots coming into focus. She stared at the goateed, tan man inside the car. He was yelling in her direction, gesturing with his hands. She whimpered at his anger. Her right food pressed hard against the gas and the tires caught. The Rover zipped out of the intersection and dinged itself against a light pole. It was only a flesh wound for the pole.

------

The terminal was pretty empty. The only noise was the announcement to be weary of strangers’ luggage. Sally made her way to the ticket counter and hit the bell once. Twice. Three times. 

A goateed, tan man came from the back, buttoning his airline issued shirt. He held up a finger to make her wait and put on a standard black face mask before walking up to the desk. Her mask had Gucci in rhinestones across the front. 

She attempted a dazzling smile. “One ticket to Cancun, please.”

“What happened to you?” He gestured at her eyes, covered in black streaks.  

“It’s been a day.”

“Tell me about it!” the man said. “I thought a historic weather-crisis meant that I didn’t have to come into work. Then my boss calls me and tells me that if I don’t make it into work today, don’t bother coming in at all.” He chuckled. “I nearly died three times on my way here, but I made it. Maybe I should've paid for the Camry to get new tires. But it was either that or let the girls join the soccer team. Gotta choose the girls every time.” 

“Listen, I need to get out of here. Could I have a ticket to Mexico?”

“Sure! One second, let me pull up the new protocols.” He flipped through some papers behind his desk. “Between you and me, I think you’ll be the only person I see here today, so I’m trying to milk this piece of entertainment as much as I can.” He lifted up a paper to the light. “Great, OK. What is the nature of this visit?”

“To escape.”

He had taken out a pen. “Ah, well, see, ma’am, the government has restricted all travel to Mexico. Has to be essential. ‘Escape’ is not an option.” He laughed harder, “if you will.”

She placed both of her hands on the counter. “This is essential.” 

“Wow, your right wrist is really swollen, ma’am.” It was about the width of a whiffle bat. “OK. Well, if the pandemic taught us anything, it was the grey area of essential. Let me see what I can do.” He scanned the list with his pen, going from the top to the bottom twice. “What do you do?”

“I’m on the board of a few companies.”

“Yeah, that figures. What does your husband do?”

Sally sighed and tapped her foot. “He is a lobbyist.” 

The man opened his hands wide. “Well, we’ll just say it is essential for his work, eh? No one really knows what is essential for a lobbyist.” He winked.

“Excuse me sir, this is all very unprofessional. Is there anyone else here I can talk to?”

“In the arctic vortex of doom? No, you only have Hector.” 

“Well, let me talk to Hector.”

His smile crinkled his eyes; he opened his arms wide. “Ah, no, you see: I’m Hector.” From his pocket, he pulled out his name tag and put it on. 

Sally placed her left hand on her head. “I don’t understand why you are being so mean. Are you jealous of me, of this?” She gestured to her face, to her hand. 

Hector began to fill out the forms for her. “Could I have your passport?” She pulled it out of her purse and slid it over. “Am I jealous of you? Of course! You get to leave here and let me tell you, here has a lot of problems right now. No water, no power, no food. You are smart to want to escape and I am jealous of that.

“Could I have your credit card?” Sally pulled it out of her purse and slid it over. “Jealous that you can leave. How can you afford to go at the drop of a hat? How can you risk the damage to your property while you are away? That concept, ma’am, is so far removed from me that I am not sure I can begin to imagine.”

The printer spat out her ticket. Hector handed the credit card, passport, and ticket back to her, “You are a foreign species and yet you live right next to me.” 

“I am not that different from you.” Sally tucked her credit card back into it’s slot. 

“Listen lady, you are the cause in the world and I am merely the effect. You want to go to Cancun: I have to go to work. Some board of directors decides that winter-proofing the natural gas lines is too expensive: I go without power in the cold.” 

“I think you are being simplistic” and she went to security. 

------

Sally sunk into her first class seat. She took in a five-second inhale and let out a five-second exhale. Closing her eyes, she could feel the future heat on her skin, cooking her to a golden shade. The sunset would set over the water, turning it orange and red. Birds would fly overhead, looking for french fries to steal, cawing. The smell of salt would make Sally long for a margarita. She would have her tropical paradise. She would separate herself from her problems with a moat of salt water. She had made this happen, despite terrible luck, so maybe she was the cause.

March 03, 2021 23:26

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4 comments

Rachel Quinn
18:50 Mar 12, 2021

I really liked the frantic tone you created at some spots. I was wondering why exactly she wanted to leave, maybe I'm just missing something.

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H Bolton
23:23 Mar 14, 2021

Thank you so much for your feedback! That definitely give me something to think about... This story is an imagining of what USA Senator Ted Cruz and his wife Heidi must have gone through to get to Cancun during Winter Storm Uri. I probably should've relied a little less on that and had her fear for her life a little more in the beginning.

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Darya Silman
13:21 Mar 09, 2021

Great story!

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H Bolton
13:30 Mar 09, 2021

Thanks!

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