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Car skids on the wet pavement, hydroplanes, the wheel shutters and shakes but only a little. She turns the music down. Drives, drives, drives. The car rumbles, she worries. Doesn’t know, but decides to pull off at the next exit. The roads are long, the night’s been dark for hours now. Mile marker, tree, reflector pole-thingy, where are the exits on this highway anyway!? Something shifts, the rumble turns to a grind.

Panic.

She pulls over immediately, as fast as she can get her Taurus over that solid white line, not 200 yards from the exit ramp. As the car slows, she hears the uncomfortable sound of metal to asphalt. Oh no.

Guilty that she doesn’t know more, that she didn’t pull off sooner, that she didn’t see it coming, she breathes heavily and her face feels hot. Fearful that the problem is bigger because of her ignorance, she waits a moment. Afraid to be alone with no answers, she fishes for her phone. Plus, she used to be afraid of the dark. Used to be, right.

She calls dad, calls the insurance helper people. Someone’s on his way. Wait, wait, wait. She drank coffee and ate popcorn all the way here and she has to go. But she has to stay and wait for the man who will fix her tire. Wait, wait, wait. It’s taking a while. He’s going to be late. An hour goes by. She prays for her students with notecards stuck in the mirror. She practices her sign language. She checks the rearview mirror obsessively, but doesn’t mean to.

The driver calls and they figure out that he’s searching for her in Indiana. She’s in Michigan. That’s not going to work out, she thinks. And says. More calls, lots of apologies. A new truck goes out in search of her blinking hazard lights. One in the same state this time.

By this time, she can’t wait; she absolutely has to go. Kleenex, hand sanitizer, a break in the oncoming traffic. She runs up the embankment, out of sight. Two steps out of the car, a ditch. It’s been raining all day, so a muddy ditch. Maybe a foot of muddy water. She nearly loses her shoe, soaks her sweat pants. Anger. The hill is much steeper than she realized. Halfway, she can’t stop to pee; she can hardly stand. Her hands are muddy, her feet are soaked. At the top of the hill, she can hardly stand it. She goes and runs back down. But the hill is steep, and the only way back. She falls, slides down the hill in her clothes, caked in mud, twists her arm to catch her fall.

She has a suitcase full of clothes, but no pants to put on. Distressed, she stands outside the car before getting in and getting everything muddy. Her shoulder throbs from the fall. At least it had stopped raining.

The man finally comes, changes her tire, tells her to drive 50 on the highway marked 70 with the spare. Be careful. She turns the car on and slides back onto the highway. Warning lights pop up all over the dashboard. Emergency break, antilock brakes, transmission something bad. Dad is annoyed with the problem, two hours old by now, and offers no help via phone. So she drives slowly, burned by semi trucks through three states and all the way home with warning lights burning her retinas.

She waits to wake up, to snap back to reality. There’s no way this is real. This just must be fiction.

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