Mirage Problems

Written in response to: Write about a couple who fall out on the road.... view prompt

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Fiction

The four-door Mitsubishi Mirage that Carl rented for he and Georgina's excursion to Dave's wedding reminded him of the go-karts he'd drive as a kid at Boomer's in Livermore. The sound the Mitsubishi's door made when he slammed it shut brought him back to the sound the go-karts made when he'd ram them into the corners of the quarter-mile track; thin metal on thin metal. It was a cheap sound, like flicking the tip of your fingernail against an empty coke can. 

The pinging made him wonder what the car's safety rating was and if Georgina wished she was going on a trip with a guy who had enough money to upgrade to the vehicles in the 'Sports Car' category. These thoughts, especially at the beginning of a weekend getaway, were not ideal, and Carl quickly tried to shake himself out of his insecurity. So what if he was a guy in the 'Economy Car' category? He'd been dating Georgina for three months, and she hadn't seemed turned off by his frugality yet.

As he made a right-hand turn out of the car rental parking lot, he said aloud, "Big Sur, here we come!" 

Georgina was uncomfortable in the tiny car, but she told herself that accepting that discomfort was part of her growing process, so she feigned a smile and let out a lighthearted, "Woooo!"

"Well, it's not really Big Sur," Carl muttered as he merged into the lane to get onto the US- 101 S toward San Jose, "It's a little further, but it's pretty close."

Georgina paid no attention to him as she rolled down the window. It made a terrible squeaking noise.

Carl looked at her, "That didn't sound good, right?" 

 "How long is the drive again?" She asked.

 "It's five hours if we're taking the one. Is that still cool?"

"Yea," Georgina said, moving her head toward the open window so she could remind herself of the outside world.

"They say it's something that you have to do at least once in your life," Carl said, "But I'm a local, and I've never done it either." 

They pulled up to a stoplight. He glanced at her and thought that she looked tense, like she might be regretting the decision to join him at his friend's wedding. He tried to put her at ease with a joke, "Look at us," He said with a sarcastic smile, "Going through all these firsts together." 

His sarcasm was lost on her, as it often was, but she offered another chuckle. 

Then, the light turned green, and the car's engine roared like a street sweeper as he accelerated ahead to the on-ramp. She gripped the edge of her seat like she was afraid he would lose control and crash.

Her unanimated reaction to his joke put him off, and he didn't appreciate her clinging on to the edge of the seat like she was terrified of his driving. 

When he reached 60 MPH, the car's engine was violently loud and the wind coming in from her rolled-down window whipped his ears. He had to scream through the noise to ask her to roll it up. 

The window sputtered to a close, and once it was shut, Georgina had the unsettling feeling that she would get car sick. She should have asked Carl to rent a bigger car, but doing that would have been against her friends' advice. Her friends told her the reason she hadn't settled down yet was that she was high maintenance. This trip was a test to show she wasn't. 

***

When Georgina said that she didn't care what kind of music they listened to, she hadn't considered that Carl would play artists that she'd never heard him listen to before. Forty minutes into the trip, when they were going slow in traffic through Half Moon Bay, she started to get a headache. It was the harsh drum beats and samurai sounds of the Wu-Tang Clan that afflicted her. She pitied herself for being in the car listening to the intrusive music and resented Carl for not making it clear before the road trip that he was obsessed with the nine-person rap group.

"They are the best ever," He said.

"Uh-huh," She nodded as she peered at the depressing ocean out her window.

"RZA is my favorite. He's like the mastermind of it all. When I was in college, I went to one of his shows in Phoenix, and there was a shoot-out afterward, and I had to hide behind a cement roadblock. It was nuts." 

It was nuts, she thought; nuts that she'd agreed to go to this wedding with a guy she knew she would never marry. But her friends told her she needed to lower her standards. Was this man talking about the Wu-Tang Clan in a Mitsubishi Mirage her rock bottom?

"That's crazy," She offered.

Carl wasn't oblivious to Georgina's mood. He noticed she had been looking out the window like a dog waiting for its owner to come home. He decided to try to engage, thinking that maybe she just needed some attention. 

"It seems so long ago," He said, "I guess it's been almost ten years." 

He was three years older than her. She was in her early thirties, the only friend out of her group from college who wasn't married with kids. 

Carl continued, "Do you have any concert stories from college?"

She thought of the time she went to a Hoobastank concert and had a one-night stand with a guy she met there who happened to live in the same apartment complex. 

But she told Carl, "No, not really."

"Didn't go to concerts, huh? I was big into them back then. I don't know if it would be the same now, though. I would sweat too much." 

He laughed at his crudeness. She finally tore her eyes from the water and looked at him. He had pit stains under his right arm. The only thing that compelled her to keep on dating him was the fear of her friend's chatter. She sighed.  

***

"Maybe I'm just hungry," Georgina said when Carl eventually turned off the music and asked her if she was in a bad mood. He then listened as she proceeded to eat Corn Nuts in the car. He couldn't believe that she brought the deep-fried corn kernel snack, which was offensively loud in the car's closed space. He didn't have misophonia, but he began to feel rage toward her chewing when she was about a quarter into the pack. 

Yet, Carl was reasonable. He knew he needed to do something to snap them out of their funk, but at that moment in the trip, overwhelmed by her eating, he felt like she was a total stranger and didn't know what to say or do to overcome it. 

He tried to remember the dating advice blogs that he read that suggested questions to ask if the conversation ever went dull while on a date. He searched his mind for anything that could help him: What was the best job you ever had? Have you ever mediated? What do you want your life to be like in five years? What is your favorite flower? Are you allergic to anything? 

None of them were good, but he had to say something so that he would stop focusing on her chewing. 

"Hey, are you allergic to anything?" 

"Yea," She said, "Remember? You asked me that on our first date. We're both allergic to poison oak, right?" 

Carl gripped the steering wheel tighter, feeling like he'd been caught for something, "Oh yea," He said, "That's right."

How many girls had he asked that same question to? He felt pathetic for being so unoriginal, and his anger compounded as he listened to Georgina finish off the bag of Corn Nuts. 

The Mitsubishi's handling was abysmal; with every curve, they came across, he had to hit the brakes, then accelerate, and the engine made a loud sound like it was struggling. The car moved them both around in their seats like they were on a wooden rollercoaster. 

When they were about 20miles outside the Butano State Park's entrance, he saw that Georgina's posture had changed, and her face had gone slightly pale. 

"How are you feeling?" He asked her.

"Not good," She said. 

"Corn Nuts not sitting well?" He said, chuckling on the inside. 

"Can we pull over?"

He was almost offended by the question. There was no place to pull over; there were no turnouts on either side of the road, and there wouldn't be amenities for several miles. 

He said, "Not really, there's nowhere to stop. Can you hold it?" 

"I don't need to go to the bathroom," She said.

"Then what is it?" 

"I don't feel good."

"Are you serious?" 

"Yes, I don't feel good," She said, putting the back of her hand to her forehead. Georgina was overcome by motion sickness, and she felt incredibly nauseous, "Can you please pull over?" 

"There's nowhere to pull over, look," He said, pointing out the window.

Though the ocean was on the right-hand side, it was obscured by trees and bushes. 

"Can you roll down the window, instead?" He asked as they pulled around another curve. 

"I need to get out," She said, taking a massive gulp of air and then putting her hands over her mouth, "Pull over!" She shouted through her fingers.

"Jesus, ok. Calm down. You're serious?" 

Georgina couldn't understand why he wouldn't just listen to her. She emphatically nodded. She felt like she was about to vomit. 

"Hold on." 

A couple of switchbacks later, he pulled over just far enough to be out of the traffic lane, "This is super sketchy," He said. 

Georgina got out and walked into the bushes. She was so nauseous that she stumbled. To prevent herself from keeling over, she placed her hand on the branches of some shrubs. After she'd regained her balance, she stood with her hands on her knees and heaved. 

The car door of the Mitsubishi was still open, and Carl chuckled to himself as he watched Georgina. He couldn't help it; he'd never seen Georgina be sick before and felt like she deserved it for eating the loud snacks in the car. 

She heard his muted laughter, and her blood boiled. 

***

When she'd finished dry heaving, Georgina walked back to the car to find Carl with his left elbow resting against the interior car door and his hand wrapped over his mouth; he was covering his smirk. 

She'd reached her tipping point of patience. She didn't care if she was high maintenance or what her friends would think if they found out she'd flipped on another boyfriend. 

"It's not funny," She barked. 

Carl had never heard her voice in that angry tone before, but he read the situation wrong and thought she was trying to be playful, "It's kind of funny. I've never seen anyone get car sick." 

She glared at him furiously, "No, it's not Carl. I don't feel seen. You don't care about how I'm feeling, and that feels shitty. I'm not looking forward to this weekend anymore." 

Carl panicked. He imagined her being miserable the entire weekend and how shitty that would be for him and the guests at the wedding. He felt an urge to fix what was right. 

"You're right," He said, "I'm sorry. I want the wedding to be good. I want us to enjoy this weekend. I think the pressure of it being our first weekend together is getting to me. Can we reset?" 

She was used to getting her way and found his apology satisfactory. After all, she understood his feelings; she was anxious about the weekend too, but for different reasons, "Yea, let's reset, "She said, and she reached for his hand to hold. 

Soon they were back on the road headed south towards Santa Cruz. Instead of turning back to music, he put on NPR, a station that they'd both listened to together before. 

But the thing about NPR on the weekends is that programs repeat, and the lineup does too. After a few minutes of listening to 'Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!', a weekly news radio panel show that Georgina enjoyed, the programming changed to 'Car Talk.' Car Talk's humous approach to automobiles and automotive repair didn't interest Georgina, but she could tell that Carl enjoyed it.  

Couldn't she ever find a guy with similar interests? Through Santa Cruz, she listened to Carl chuckle at the boring program, and when she just about had enough of listening to it, she decided to roll down the window to get some fresh air. 

The window took thirty seconds to go down and sounded like a squeegee while it made its way. Something was broken.  

"Maybe we shouldn't roll down that window," Carl said, looking at the struggling window.

"Yea, probably a good idea," She said, and she tried to roll it back up. 

It didn't budge.

"Shit," She said, and then a long strand of her hair got caught in the wind and whipped her face and eye. 

*** 

In Carmel, there was traffic, which Georgina welcomed because she'd had her window down for the last hour and the wind was too much. At least in traffic, there was some calm. However, the peace quickly disappeared when she looked down at her hand she'd been itching and noticed a rash was breaking out. She instantly knew what it was. 

Then, something worse happened.

When they were passing a turnoff for downtown Carmel, the pungent smell of skunk spray wafted into their car. 

"Oh my God," Carl said as he began to cough. 

"Ew," Georgina gagged. 

They both frantically began to try to roll up the windows, but hers still wouldn't move. Meanwhile, all around her, people had their windows up and were safe from the smell. Instinctively, she tried to cover her nose with her hand but then realized what that meant. She was getting the poison oak everywhere.  

"This traffic is insane," Carl said. 

She wanted to tell him the whole trip was insane; their entire relationship was insane. 

"Ugh!" She moaned, "I can't believe the car window won't roll up." 

Georgina scratched her itch so vigorously that the top layer of her skin was chaffing. She grew frustrated with the whole situation,

"Maybe if you didn't get the economy car, I could at least roll up my window."

It was petty. She knew it, but she had to project her anger onto him; it was habit. Maybe she wasn't high maintenance; perhaps she was just a bitch. 

Carl felt insecure and became defensive, "Give me a break." 

Just then, they passed a sign that signified Big Sur was twenty miles away. 

"Thank God," She said, "At least we're close." 

"We're going past Big Sur, in between Lucia and Gorda." 

"I thought you said the wedding was in Big Sur?" She said, outraged. 

"I said it was pretty close." 

"So, how much further do we have?"

Carl looked at the GPS on his phone, "It's about 55 miles. It's going to take an hour and a half." 

Georgina wanted to cry. She couldn't stand the thought of being in the car any longer with Carl; she couldn't stand the idea of having to be at the wedding with him or having to drive back home with him either.

He couldn't stand that she was melting down in front of him and that she'd brought up the rental car. Then, he noticed that he'd been scratching his hand. He looked down and saw that it was bright red, and a rash was starting to form. 

"Are you itchy at all?" He asked her.

She looked down at her hand. Her rash was already spreading. She thought about all the different parts of her body she'd touched since she'd got back in the car. 

"I touched poison oak when we pulled over on the side of the road." 

"Are you serious?"

"I think so." 

"That's just great," He said, "Now I'm going to be covered in it too." 

She looked out the window at the ocean, "I should have told you to get a bigger car."

She pictured her friends telling her how high maintenance she was. 

He wished he'd RSVP'd as single. 

September 10, 2021 19:49

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3 comments

Shea West
20:41 Sep 10, 2021

These two are just a barrel of fun aren't they? There were so many things I liked about this one. First of, taking it back to the Mirage and Wu-Tang Clan you'd have to be alive and well during that time of the 90's to really understand the impact both of those things had. If you were cool as hell you drove a Mirage, so what a bummer that Georgina didn't like it. You did a good job at making us dislike her, and I'm sure glad she touched Poison Oak- Because who TF eats corn nuts in a closed vehicle like that? I secretly hoped she fell off ...

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Scott Skinner
23:11 Sep 10, 2021

haha I'm glad the Corn Nuts bit resonated. I was trying to think of the most obscene food to snack on in a car and thought that would be the go. Thanks as always for reading! I really enjoyed reading yours this week .

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Shea West
23:21 Sep 10, 2021

They have such a distinct smell, and they stick to the insides of your teeth. I love your writing, so as long as you dish 'em out I'll come read them.

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