Do Not Worry!

Everything is Okay

By David Oppegaard

The girls were fighting again, but she was too exhausted to play peacemaker. Sometimes she let them fight themselves out like this, allowed them to fill the air with negative vibes as they said bitchy little things to each other. Ah, to be young again and without a care in the world (except of course what your sister was doing and if she was sitting too close to your side of the car, or wearing your favorite hair clip, or pair of shoes, or playing with your overpriced doll that your mother had purchased on Christmas Eve as part of an unruly shopping mob that had almost torn the whole store town.) Yes, she wouldn’t mind being young and free again. Not yet ten years old, or married, or living in the burbs. Not yet driving two snippy little blond girls to a soccer practice that had started five minutes ago.
“Did you bring your cleats?” she asked the girls.
“What cleats?” one asked in a moron’s voice.
“What is a cleat?” said the other.
They giggled and she rubbed her temple with her free hand; the gas light had decided to come on, an angry throbbing orange light that commanded her attention like a police siren. They still had twenty miles to go, and though her husband had assured her, many times, that you could get an easy fifty out of their SUV’s tank after the light came on, she didn’t really believe him (he was too gung ho about everything that involved driving a motorized vehicle), so she pulled into the first gas station she saw.
The girls stopped fighting.
“Why are we stopping?”
“We’re late enough already, Mom.”
“Yeah. Coach is going to kill us. You know how that vein gets in his forehead?”
“The purple one?”
“Yeah, the purple one. Isn’t that gross?”
“Yeah. Very gross.”
“Well anyway, Mom, that vein is, like, going to explode if we’re late again. Do you really want to see something that gross? I mean, think about it.”
She gritted her teeth and pulled up to the nearest gas pump. The quiet outside was a welcome change as she left the girls to their own devices, or complaints, or whatever they were doing now behind the heavy tint of the SUV’s rear windows, and started to fill the SUV with gas. The pump’s digital numbers ticked higher and higher and she tried not to think of American soldiers dying in Iraq, dying in the desert sands as they bravely fought for freedom with sub-par armor and occasionally went insane, torturing a helpless prisoner or two. She really didn’t want to think about that so she thought of her therapist instead, of how he reminded her at the end of each session to take a deep breath and say, “Everything is okay”. She had laughed at this practice at first. It seemed ridiculous, to say that everything was okay. There was a gaping hole in the ozone layer, people were dying in devastating tsunamis, and North Korea was developing nuclear weapons. Things seemed anything but okay.
Repeating it had helped. Everything is okay was soothing. A mantra. Something to say to whisper to yourself in the middle of the night, when the sleeping pills weren’t working and your husband was snoring, his big overheated body occupying your bed like a conquering army that had worn out its welcome.
Everything is okay.
What, another terrorist bombing somewhere she had never heard of?
Everything is okay.
You haven’t had a fulfilling orgasm since the Clinton administration?
Everything is okay.
Is your face slowly sagging apart in your bathroom mirror, your stomach bloating beyond all recognition?
Don’t worry about it, honey. Haven’t you heard? Everything is okay. Jesus loves you, the world is a just place, and that expensive home security system you installed will definitely deter burglars, rapists, and desperate people of all kinds. You are a loving, loved person, a stay-at-home mom fully capable of nurturing two beautiful little girls. You are great. You are fabulous. Your friends from college still send you Christmas cards every year and people always want you on the newest committee at church. Everything is A-Okay.
The cavernous gas tank finally finished drinking its fill, all fifty dollars worth of it, and she put the gas nozzle back on the pump. She tightened the gas cap slowly, not allowing herself to flinch when one of the girls pounded on the window inches away from her nose. Everything is okay, everything is okay, everything is okay . . .
“What took you so long, Mom?”
“We’re way late by now. Coach is going to have a cow. Have you ever seen a man have a cow before?”
“Have a cow and then some, I’d say. He doesn’t like freeloaders.”
“Whatever. Who cares, right Mom? Coach is a sociopath anyway.”
Where did they learn to talk like this? Was it TV? Their father? Or was it the others kids at school? Pretty soon it would get much worse than smart talk, she knew. They would develop into sexual creatures. They would feel lust, wear too much makeup in all seriousness, and develop breasts boys would want to touch. They would go to parties with loud, ear-blasting music and be offered cheap drugs. They would take the drugs to see what they were like, and when they found out how good drugs actually made them feel, despite all the warnings and horror stories, and they would do even more drugs. They’d lose weight and have sex without protection and visit pregnancy clinics for the morning after pill and stop eating anything but lettuce and celery until they got so thin and wasted they looked like swimsuit models—
“Hey Mom.”
“Earth to mom.”
“That’s your cell phone ringing.”
“Maybe it’s Coach, calling to yell at us.”
She didn’t really feel like answering, so she let the phone keep ringing. Why should she answer something just because it rang? She wasn’t a dog, some Pavlovian mutt. But the girls began to shout, to clamor for her to answer it, answer it. Finally the phone shut up and she looked at the girls in the rearview mirror, smiling because she had won and they knew it.
“That was probably Dad, Mom. He probably thinks we’re dead now because you didn’t answer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s crying his eyes out right now and thinking about finding a new wife.”
“Right. Like Dad’s going to find a new wife that fast.”
“He could so. I saw a guy on TV who did it.”
This seemed to somehow seal the argument, thank god. She was getting tired of coming up with new imaginary ways of torturing the girls, of pulling their hair out and knocking their heads together until their tiny little mouths stopped yammering. It was better to look out at the window and imagine a beach somewhere in Mexico. Strawberry daiquiris, as far as the eye could see, and parasailing. Taking flight, soaring over water. Now that was a beautiful thing to imagine.
“Hey, look at that guy.”
There was a black man up ahead, standing at an intersection with a cardboard sign that said he was a war veteran and that he would work for food. She bit her lower lip. There were so many poor people. So many poor and hungry people. The hungry and the homeless. Always, there were the homeless. What could she do about it? They gave to charity every year, yet there always more people like this man. Was it her fault she had been born white, well-off, and relatively pretty? That she had gone to college, married a good provider, and settled down far away from the city? She was lucky; she knew that. She had always known that. Even as a little girl, watching those tear jerking commercials with Sally Struthers and those skinny Ethiopians, she had known she was lucky. What good would it do if she slowed the SUV down, opened her window, and gave this particular homeless man money? He’d need more money tomorrow, and they’d be even later to the girl’s practice than they already were.
She hit the gas, and the SUV roared past him.
“Wow, Mom!” the girls shouted in unison, smiling. They were getting closer to the soccer field.
“This baby can really move.”
“We should race somebody. Can we race somebody, Mom?”
The idea that life was only a video game suddenly sounded very reasonable as she passed a Honda Civic, a Saturn, and a Mini Cooper in a span of ten seconds. There was a strong crosswind today and she turned the steering wheel into it, smiling as the highway blurred at the edges. The girls were shouting in the backseat, but even they were blurring, shouted down by the roaring engine that encased them all. Maybe they were late and maybe they were late, but they’d get there soon enough, darn it. She would see to that, even if rain forests were disappearing all over the world. Even if gay people wanted to get married, even if Mom and Pop stores were dying out, even if half the United States hated its own president. Sure, cancer and AIDS were everywhere, devouring healthy human beings like so much popcorn. Sure, the world was constantly skirting nuclear war, implosion, martial law. But she could do her part and get her kids to soccer practice in a timely manner. She would be a good mom. She would love them before they went out into the mad, mad world.
She jumped in her heated leather seat. Her phone was ringing again. She must have turned the ringer’s volume up by accident—
She looked down, spotted the phone resting on top her purse, and reached for it. One of the girls shouted something and the next thing she heard was the SUV’s tires going over the rumble strip. She popped back up into her seat and yanked the steering wheel towards the highway, but they were going too fast and this only caused the vehicle to tilt onto one side, their momentum hopeless.
The girls started screaming, or was that her?
They flipped, rolling into the ditch like a boulder.
Once, twice, three times.
Then they stopped, the world topsy-turvy and the SUV’s wheels spinning uselessly into the air. She was hanging upside down by her seat belt, the cloth straps digging into her shoulder and her face on fire with bits of broken glass. She was breathing too hard, so she tried to stop, to stop breathing for a second and take a look around.
“Girls?” she said, looking into the rearview mirror. They were hanging suspended by their seatbelts, too, a pair of wide-eyed blond haired bats. They looked okay, simply stunned with all thoughts of sniping at each other purged (if only for a few precious moments).
“Girls,” she said. “Everything is okay.”
A piece of metal buckled somewhere. The SUV tilted to the left, as if it had one more big crash left in it. What would the crash feel like? Would it feel like getting slammed down by a wave, when your back was turned to the ocean?
“I love you girls very much,” she said, and closed her eyes.


Asura said...

I've read this one before. And while I thought it was an honest and interesting piece, I kept thinking the whole time...Teenage girls don't talk like that!

But, props for trying to talk like a teenage girl, Dave, seriously. The story is good. Nice buildup to an unexpected ending. Unexpected...maybe. I kind of wanted her to drive off a cliff from the moment the kids in the back seat made an appearance, but that's just me. ^_^;;

Anonymous said...

The dialogue didn't take me out of the dream, so I must have believed it. Great story, Dave.

mikey said...

Ohhh, suburban soccer mom gets' hers! Owned!

Becca said...

You hit on about 8 topics I like to rant about. Nice job.

Blogagaard said...

thank you everyone.

Something dirty said...

I devoured this story like so much popcorn. Good stuff!

shortygrrrl said...

This has NOTHING to do with Thunder Road. Nothing at all.

Blogagaard said...

Why don't you run back inside darling, you know just what I'm here for.

Kelly said...

I like this one, but I am not expert in teenage girls. I thought it was Carver-esque -- not that it sounds like him, but that it affects me similarly.

Blogagaard said...

Thanks, kelly. I love how Carver uses dialogue to move stories along, add atmosphere, and about a dozen over effectual things, all without the reader really noticing it at first.

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