By Susan K Maciolek
The sky was a deep, inky blue studded with stars. There was no moon, so no moonlight, which was all to the good. I had business to take care of, best conducted under cover of darkness.
I loaded up the trunk of the car with the goods. My Honda Civic was what they called “reliable transportation,” a few dents here and there but dependable. Maybe it didn’t look great but the car ran like a champ. It also had a trunk big enough for a body, if I ever needed it for that purpose.
But not tonight. While I might be a blonde in a trench coat, I wasn’t some gun moll packing a pearl-handled revolver in my purse, looking to settle a score. This was a simple cash transaction, to be repeated only as need dictated.
And people sure had needs, were desperate in fact. I’d never seen anything like it. How could human beings let themselves become so dependent? But then who can figure an addict?
Sure, I was a user but I kept it under control. I mean, isn’t that what separates us from the animals? The stealing, robbing, beating each other up, maybe even killing for the stuff made no sense. I’m sure Dr. Freud could explain it to me, if he were around to explain anything to anybody.
It wasn’t much of a drive, 6.2 miles last time I checked. There was a street light at the corner where I turned towards Lake Michigan but I was headed for the shadows. We picked the spot because the nearest street light was burned out. A pitch dark night, a poorly lit street, a large clump of bushes along the lakefront across from a deserted baseball field. At midnight, nobody out but dog walkers and even they were rare. Not likely we’d be noticed.
I parked the car parallel to the bushes and cracked the window for a whiff of fresh air. But the breeze off the Lake was raw and damp. At a mere forty-one degrees, it was typical early May weather for Wisconsin where spring was as reluctant to appear as a six-year old who knows there’s broccoli for dinner. I rolled up the window and settled in to wait. I’d give her fifteen minutes, that was our deal, and then I’d be gone. There were other customers who wanted what I had.
I checked my watch – too much light if I used my phone. Twelve minutes had already ticked by. I scanned the street in the rearview but all I saw was a kid of twenty or so pedaling a bicycle like Lance Armstrong juiced up for the final stretch of the Tour de France. Seemed like a strange time to ride, except there was almost no traffic. He soon disappeared in the opposite direction and the street was empty again. Then I saw headlights.
It never ceased to amaze me that those suburban tanks known as minivans were entitled to share the roadways with normal vehicles. Did people simply lose their good sense, along with their good taste, once they managed to procreate? Minivans were notoriously pokey in traffic with such a wide turning radius that if you got stuck behind one, you could drink a cup of coffee in the time it took for it to make the damn turn. Yeah, I know, I know, they’re practical for hauling kids around, along with their mounds of sports equipment. How about just having them read a few books instead? Then you could get a normal car.
The driver turned around and backed up so we’d be trunk to trunk. Made for a smoother transfer of goods. As she inched towards me, the minivan moving with all the streamlined grace of a city bus, I could see her “Safe-driving Soccer Mom” sticker on the rear bumper. If all the kid detritus in the back of her vehicle didn’t make it obvious it was too late on that score, I would have suggested a better sticker for her: “Condoms Prevent Minivans.”
As she popped the trunk – or whatever you call it in a minivan - and got out, I could tell this was one stressed out Soccer Mom. It was our third exchange and it looked like the subterfuge was starting to wear on her. Her blonde salon highlights had grown out a couple inches by now and what had once been a neatly cut bob was ragged at the edges. I couldn’t fault her for that. My own hair wasn’t looking its best after I hacked off a few inches with my sewing scissors, and I was overdue for a mani/pedi.
But it was her eyes that got to me. Peering from above her mask, they looked weary and bloodshot. And there was a hole in the thumb of one of her blue nitrile gloves.
I slipped my mask on, making sure my earrings didn’t catch on the elastic, and squeezed a dollop of Purell on my own gloves. You couldn’t be too careful. For the last few months, I’d kept a bottle in my cup holder, tossing an old scarf over it before I parked the car for the night. Leaving the bottle in plain sight would just be an invitation for some deprived passerby to help themselves.
Popping my trunk, I got out of the car and closed the door behind me. I stayed put and waited for Soccer Mom to make the first move. This was our routine. She immediately went to the back of her minivan to place the envelope of cash in the trunk, with a visibly trembling hand. Then she walked to the passenger side of her vehicle to wait.
I moved in quickly and scooped up the envelope. Peeking inside, I lightly fingered the bills to confirm it was the amount we agreed on. Yup, Soccer Mom was dependable on that score. I’d let the bank teller sort it out bill by bill. For now, I just slipped the envelope in my pocket and stepped back.
Soccer Mom moved to the back of my car and began to unload, swiftly grabbing the goods from my car and stashing them in the minivan.
Sixteen twelve-packs of Scott tissue was a hell of a lot of toilet paper but I think soccer mom was helping out a few neighbors. I mean, she must be, this was our third meet up. If she wasn’t sharing, then this was a serious case of hoarding that hearkened back to the early days of toilet training.
When she had moved all sixteen packages, she stared at me over the light aqua paisley mask she wore, no doubt straight off Etsy. To my chagrin, her eyes filled with tears.
“Are you sure you can’t get Purell?”
Not this again. I felt for her but all I could say was, “No, I’m sorry. It’s just not possible.”
She asked me that every time we met and I couldn’t help her out. I only dealt in paper goods. Once I ventured into products containing alcohol, I’d be lost. There’d be no turning back.
“But if I hear of anyone...”
She nodded, her eyes downcast now. “OK. Same time next month?”
My eyebrows went up. “You want more?”
Her head bobbed. “Another sixteen. Can you get it?”
“It’ll take me a while. Text me next week and I’ll let you know.”
She nodded again and shut the trunk of the minivan. I watched as she climbed into the front seat of that ungainly vehicle, started the engine and rolled away, slowly disappearing into the shadows.
I stared out at the Lake. Without any light, it was only a vast pool of darkness but I could just make out the sound of water slapping the shore. No matter what else was going on in the world, it was always comforting to hear it. Long after Covid 19 was relegated to a folder of pandemic statistics in a World Health Organization filing cabinet, Lake Michigan would still be here.
I opened the car door and got in, peeling off my gloves. The mask came off as I peered into the rearview and spotted the bicyclist again. Evidently he was repeating the circuit. As he disappeared from view once more, I started the car and drove off into the moonless night.
Susan K. Maciolek is a writer in metro Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in print and online publications such as Willow Review, Thunderclap!, Blink Ink, Vestal Review, Microw, Midwestern Gothic, Full of Crow, Grey Sparrow Journal, and Pure Slush. She also does drawings and collage, which have been shown in a variety of exhibits. Current projects include a comics blog and a young adult novel. You can check out her words and pictures at lilymack.net.
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