An experienced public speaker faces the butterflies in her last commute.
|The stress was on. Carmen fumbled the keys in her shivering hands, the bite of winter in full sway, looking for the right one. The only thing on her mind right then was the speech. Just one wrong word, she knew, was the difference between a captivated audience and a complete failure.
Her fingers found the rubber end of her engine's key and she shoved it in to the ignition of her Passat. She had been speaking for years now, but the butterflies always came, filling up her stomach to bursting. As the car revved to life, she turned on her radio to ease her mind.
Madison Drive. Furnace Street. Pine Grove Drive. The streets were flying past her as she drove, faster and faster until they all seemed to be a blur. She would be at the community center in mere minutes, a drive that felt like an eternity any other day.
The steering wheel felt so cold it burned her bare hands. Good morning, Johnsontown, she recited in her head, today we're going to talk about car safety.
Her glasses slipped down her long nose, so she realigned them with her right hand. She began again.
Good morning, Johnsontown. Today, we're going to talk about-
But that was where the words ended. There was nothing more. Her mind was blank.
DeMoss. Lavender. Springfield. Street salt and ghostly trails of car exhaust filled the streets as she hurtled on. She bit her chapped bottom lip and chewed.
With her right hand, she opened the pouch on the side of her laptop bag. Note cards, note cards, she thought, groping for anything rectangular and thin. How much time did she have? Did she pass the second light yet?
It was only after she managed to grab a few of her note cards that she remembered that she was driving. She looked up again, just in time to slam on her brakes before the second light. The Passat did not want to stop, but after one sickening moment of lurching chaos, it lay motionless a foot ahead of the line.
She took the few precious seconds offered by the red light to scan her cards. They were all numbered, highlighted, and meticulously arranged by content. Twelve, four, nineteen—how did they get so unorganized sitting in her bag?
The squeal of the tiny horn behind her told her to look up. The light was, indeed, green, and she floored the gas peddle.
Nine, thirteen, twenty-one. Harold Avenue, Caroline Street, Heartline. Numbers and words danced through her mind's eye in a barrage of figures, hopelessly obscuring the road. The only things she was aware of was the exhaust and the salt and she flew, in excess of seventy miles an hour, down a congested Second Street.
Good evening, Johnstown—no—good morning, Johnstown—wait, that's not right—good morning, Johnsonstown. . .
Squeaking breaks piercing the chill morning air like screams. Horns and headlights, glass, metal, and plastic. The Passat melting before her like a cone of ice cream in July. These things she would recall later, in the hospital bed, but for now there was only motion, the endless swirling of her note cards around the interior of her hard-earned vehicle as she desperately tried to remember what it was she had come to speak to the dear citizens of Johnsontown about.
“Hey lady, what's your problem? Driving like a maniac, you almost got my family killed! Oh, oh, my God! Somebody, someone call an ambulance, she's stuck in here, there's blood everywhere!”
Herring. First Street. Acorn. Eight, four, eleven, nineteen.
“What's your name, lady? Stay with me, what's your name?”
Twenty-seven. “Good morning, Johnsontown.” Thirty. “Today we're going to talk about car safety. . .”