A glass of crazy, p.11
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       A Glass of Crazy, p.11

           Tina Laningham
 
We locked the apartment and headed to Mom's Mercedes out in the parking lot, tightly sandwiched between an enormous pickup truck and a carpet cleaning van. I fumbled through the keys and picked the black plastic thing with the Mercedes symbol, but when we got to the car, I wasn't sure how to unlock the doors. Of the button choices on the pad, I pushed the one that looked like an opened padlock. We were in.

  From the passenger side, Rafa grabbed the keys. "Which one is it?"

  "Mom sticks this round thing in here."

  Rafa looked perplexed when I stuck the end of the key pad into a little place just to the right of the steering wheel. I pushed a button. I remembered watching Mom do it a million times and like always, the car started instantly.

  "Wow." Rafa stared at the key in total amazement.

  "Now what?" I asked.

  Rafa swallowed hard. "You have to back up."

  "Obviously!" I said more sarcastically than I meant. "How exactly do I do that?"

  "See this thing?" Rafa pointed to the joy stick by my knee. "Move it to R. The R is for reverse."

  It took everything I had to not say "Duh!" But there was a limit to Rafa's patience and if I didn't want him to leave, I had to start being nice. I drew in a deep breath, moved the joystick to R, and somehow managed to keep my mouth shut. Without any kind of warning, the car glided backwards.

  "Stop!" Rafa yelled. "Stop!"

  "I don't know how!" I screamed.

  "The brake! Push the brake!"

  "Where is it?" The car kept moving backwards, all the way out of the parking space and into the lot.

  "The floor," he pointed. "Push it!"

  I looked at the floor and pushed my foot on the pedal, but the car went faster.

  Rafa shrieked, "The other one!" and crossed himself.

  I moved my foot to the other pedal, but not before the car hit a hard bump. When I finally got it to stop, the back end of the car was higher than the front. Rafa shoved the joystick to P, got out and slammed the door.

  Even though my legs shook like they were having seizures all by themselves, I needed to get out of the car to see what I had done. I stepped out with my heart fluttering way too fast, but my legs started working, so at least I could walk. The back wheels of Mom's car had driven over a curb and were sitting in dead grass. Fortunately, the front wheels were still in the parking lot.

  Even though it was cool outside, Rafa wiped sweat from his forehead. "Why can't you just come to my house to eat," he said.

  I wanted to cry, but clenched my teeth instead.

  He marched over to my side of the car. "I will drive to the store."

  "I need to learn! In case you're not around."

  "I will teach you, but not here."

  After I shut the door on the passenger side, Rafa moved his trembling hand to the joystick. While turning the steering wheel, he stretched to search through the windows. "A dog is growling. Where is it?"

  "Um, it's my stomach." I held my belly.

  Rafa sank back and pulled the joystick to the D. The car crawled forward and made a scraping sound when the back wheels rolled off the curb. I don't think I was breathing.

  Rafa steered the car through the parking lot and turned onto the street. I started breathing again when I saw he really could drive and even though he drove super slow, at least he knew what he was doing. We zigzagged out of the neighborhood and got on the main street that went straight to the grocery store. Cars passed us, one after another, but I didn't say a word about how slow he was driving. I tried to gaze nonchalantly at the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of the street.

  When we finally reached the grocery store, Rafa turned into the huge parking lot and stopped the car far away from where all the other cars were parked.

  "Why don't you park closer?" I asked.

  "I'm parking here." He moved the joystick to the P.

  I forgot I was trying to be nice and quickly added, "You're a fantastic driver."

  He didn't say a word.

  A cold wind blew during our hike through the parking lot and the second we stepped in the store, my teeth started chattering. "It's a freezer in here."

  "What do you want to buy?" Rafa asked, narrowing his eyes.

  "Everything. Cereal, milk, eggs, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, chips, pizza, ice cream-."

  Rafa pointed and said, "There's the cereal." His finger was shaking.

  I pushed the cart toward the aisle that had endless boxes of cereal and grabbed my favorite chocolaty kind that Mom refused to buy. Rafa was definitely anxious, like I'd pushed his law-abiding-citizen personal policy over the limit. I decided to start rambling on about something. That always calmed him down.

  "My Mom believes everything she reads about food," I said, trying to sound relaxed. "All my life we ate wheat bread because white bread was bad for you. Then all of sudden, wheat was bad because it had gluten. Same with tofu. I had to eat that nasty tasting crap forever. I mean seriously, it tastes like Play Dough, that stuff kids play with that comes in different colors. It comes in little cans." Rafa didn't say anything. "Anyway, a study found tofu wasn't so great after all. Turns out all this time I could have been eating pork."

  Rafa followed me around like a child as I went from aisle to aisle, complaining about sales gimmicks, tossing things in the cart, and entering the price in the calculator on my phone. When the running total reached twenty dollars, I didn't have enough for ice cream or pizza, which was pretty disappointing, but I could live with that. I pushed the cart to the front of the store and found an open lane.

  While I paid the cashier, Rafa put all the stuff in plastic bags.

  "Mom keeps those green shopping bags in the trunk of the car," I said. "I hope no one from school sees us using plastic bags since you told everyone Ghetto Girl believes in going green. Seriously, I have a public image to maintain."

  Not even a crack of a smile from Rafa, but at least he'd stopped shaking.

  Twenty dollars only got us two bags of groceries and during our long trek to the other end of the parking lot, a few teensy water drops sprinkled my face. Out over the Gulf, dark clouds hovered. I pulled out a big bag of potato chips, ripped it open and stuffed a few in my mouth.

  "Ohmygod, have some!" I tilted the bag toward Rafa. "My taste buds are having a party to celebrate the end of my potato chip deprivation. Mom never let me eat junk food, but I'm in charge of the grocery shopping now and I'm sure a study somewhere found that potato chips make you live longer."

  Rafa pushed the bag away.

  "Fine," I said. "More for me." I got in the driver's seat and rummaged through the bag that held the peanut butter and crackers. My hunger level bordered on critical. The crackers kept breaking in the peanut butter, but that didn't stop me from scooping as much as possible. In the corner of my eye, I could see Rafa judging me, like I was gross. He should've been grateful I was eating because without food in my stomach, I wasn't going to be nice.

  When a few larger drops splattered the windshield, I screwed the lid on the peanut butter and handed everything to Rafa.

  "What are you doing?" he asked while I fished for the keys in my pocket.

  I inserted the round plastic thing back in the slot and started the car. "You're going to teach me to drive."

  "Not in the rain." Rafa grabbed the door handle as if he needed to escape.

  I gave Rafa the look.

  Rafa didn't argue, probably because I was on a mission and he knew it.

  "Okay," he blew a quick breath and wiped his palms. "On the floor you have two pedals. The one on the right is the gas and the one on the left is the brake."

  "I think we established that last time."

  Rafa gave me the, you-really-need-to-shut-up look. "Put your foot on the brake," he commanded.

  I did exactly what he said.

  "Now move the stick to D."

  "Check."

  "Okay, look around for other cars. If you don't see any, slowly take your foot off the brake."

  Since we w
ere in the no-man's-land section of the parking lot, I took my foot off the brake and the car rolled forward. I gripped the steering wheel tight.

  "Good," Rafa said in a calm voice, even though his eyes were about to pop out of his head. "See that big light pole down there? Drive to it and stop."

  Unlike last time, I eased my foot on the gas pedal and the car gradually sped up. As coordinated as I was in sports, I was surprised at how difficult it was to think about steering and pressing the gas at the same time. Since I gently pressed the brake, my stop was smooth, except for the very end when I gave the brake one final push and jerked the car. My heart pounded. I had done it.

  Rain fell harder on the glass. Since I had no idea how Mom turned on the windshield wipers, I played with the gadgets until I found the one that worked.

  "I will drive," Rafa said.

  My eyes welled up and I sat still.

  After a long pause, Rafa said, "I will show you how to turn."

  I drove all over the vacant end of the parking lot until my stops and turns were nearly perfect. Through the whole driving lesson, Rafa was kind, even when the rain came down hard, but his patience vanished when I insisted on driving home.

  "Loca de la cabeza!" he shouted. "You're crazy in the head!"

  "I can do it."

  Rafa crossed his arms. "Excuse me but I am not in the mood to risk my life today."

  "You're pouting."

  "I will walk home in the rain." He reached for the handle.

  "DQ alert." I moved the joystick to D and turned toward the street.

  "What is that?" he asked. "DQ."

  "Drama Queen."

  I was too busy concentrating to watch him roll his eyes, but I knew he had. A stop sign at the street had my attention and I lifted the left turn signal the way Rafa had shown me in the parking lot. Next I had to figure out how to make the windshield wiper go faster when the rain really started coming down. After several cars passed, an opening appeared in the traffic and I took it. When my leg started seizing again, it was hard to control the amount of pressure I put on the gas pedal, but no way would I tell Rafa I was nervous.

  I crept down the main road with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Sharky's Seafood Grill on the other. Up ahead, a red light turned green, which meant I had plenty of time to make it through. Even though all the other cars were going faster, I maintained my same slow speed and leaned forward to get a better view through the blurry window. I had no idea what was going on with DQ and I couldn't take my eyes off the road to glance over, not even for a millisecond.

  From riding with Mom, I remembered the traffic lights were synchronized and sped up a little to make it through as many as possible. Applying the brake wasn't something I wanted to do, mainly because I didn't know what my nervous leg would do if I moved it. Rafa must've been in a state of shock or praying or something because I had to wipe the fog off the inside of the windshield by myself. There was a button for that somewhere, but I didn't have time to search the dashboard. I made it through at least five lights when my luck ran out and the next one turned red.

  Gripping the steering wheel tighter, I waited 'til I got closer to the light to start slowing down, and then lifted my foot off the gas pedal and pushed gently on the brake. The car slowed, but I must have misjudged the distance because I was about to go through the red light.

  Without thinking, I shoved my foot hard on the brake. Rafa gasped. Instead of slowing down, the car actually sped up and turned sideways, sliding toward the Gulf. I turned the steering wheel to go straight again, but it was like the steering wheel didn't work anymore. After a three-sixty spin, Mom's Mercedes slowed to a stop on the edge of the Seawall just before falling into the Gulf of Mexico. My heart hammered through my chest and the sound of a siren grew louder.

  Rafa totally freaked. With wide eyes, sunken cheeks and a dropped jaw, he looked like the skeleton his mom always set up on their porch for Day of the Dead. I turned around and through the downpour, watched a blue flashing light pull up behind us.

  "Um," I said, "this is serious." I moved the joystick to P. "Not like we're grounded serious; more like we're going to jail serious."

  Rafa's face bunched up and tears streamed down his cheeks.

  Should've kept my mouth shut.

  - 12 -

 
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