Cracked Windshield

Tamara Kaye Sellman

It was midnight when I finally pulled the BMW back onto the highway after buying two large coffees, to occupy both cup holders, from a lone service station along I-5.

These drive-away jobs aren't for everybody. The road sings a siren song meant only for me, appealing to my nomadic nature. I can think of no better job than to cross the kaleidoscopic landscape, separating Seattle from San Diego, in someone else's car. Usually a man's car, a well-appointed car, a car I'll never afford on my own.

My mom hates my job. She says that no woman my age should have to—want to—travel alone. Which is precisely why I do it: No risks? No rewards. But for the lack of companionship, I'd say this was the perfect métier for an introverted, nonconformist chick like me, more interested in the unpredictable knife edge of life than the suburban tyranny my mother would choose for me.

I've come to love the weirdness of the road. It can't be witnessed standing still in the bright light of day, with a baby screaming on one hip, a Dyson in the other hand.

I never take the main drag if I can avoid it.

Tonight, I can't help it. Interstate 5. You can chart its north-to-south trajectory, and it's lesser, paralleling arterials, by way of the birds: bald eagles to redtails, grouse to magpies, condors to roadrunners. Crows and seagulls are ubiquitous—nature's devils and angels, hitched to the drafting shoulders of your ride. Ultimately, it is they who inspire me to ponder the Big Questions:

Am I the only girl who's never dreamed of a fairy tale wedding? What if I'm barren and I don't know it? Why doesn't anyone use the beautiful old two-lane highways anymore?

Then there was this startling curiosity earlier: the star-shaped windshield—crik!—where a pebble pocked the glass. The wound has since run, in less than two hours, into a question mark, spanning the height of the glass.

Can it do that—divide the window in half, yet remain whole?

A cracked windshield is a freaky thing. Unsettling, threatening. You may know, intellectually, that the windshield isn't going to come crashing in on you, randomly, unless you have a terrible accident, and if that happens, it's not the windshield you'll be most concerned about. Still, it appears delicate, wounded. Drivers are vulnerable on the open road, even if they're driving high-end performance vehicles like this one, without as much as a single bug splotch on the grille. But a cracked windshield—it's a reminder that we'd all rather not have to deal with, right?

I traced the curvature of the crack, while eating on the fly—a dinner of chicken with jo-jos and Dr. Pepper from a waxed paper cup—unable to feel the fracture with my fingertip, sensing only its suggestion of menace. Something could happen, were I to let things go too far, too long.

I left behind grease marks where my finger touched the pane.

Dang. I should probably do a detail before I deliver this one tomorrow.

Pushing midnight, I began to feel groggy and pushed stereo buttons to find a station to keep me alert through the rest of the drive. It was in that moment that a silvery light began to fill in the crevice in the windshield: slowly it radiated outward through the crack's veins like negative blood, illuminating the greasy traces of my fingerprints.

I abandoned the stereo—tuned to a remote Mexican music station—and started to pull over. The glow was competing with the dash lights and disrupted my night vision. My eyes were already buggy from hours of scanning the road's edge for hazards. After all, the 325 series, even when fully loaded, doesn't come with deer whistles.

Which, as it turned out, wouldn't have mattered.

As I turned the engine off, thinking I might just recline the seat and grab a few Zs, a blur in front of me tugged me awake.

A colony of burrowing owls flew low across the road in perfect silence, wings beating asynchronously after their initial glide from nowhere. The light emitting from within the cracked windshield was reflected by the mirrors within their perfectly round yellow eyes. The owls gathered along the road's median on scrawny long legs disproportionate to their fluffy round bodies. They bobbed awkwardly in a unique choreography, timed precisely to the beating of my thrilled heart.

I blinked, certain I was hallucinating, then they flew away as surreptitiously as they'd come.

But I saw them. I swear I saw every last one merge into an amorphous blur, before I found myself alone once again, in need of something.

I decided it was coffee.

You can ask yourself what it all means when something like that happens. But who really can answer that without inviting all kinds of crazy? I boiled it all down to the reality that, despite these solo trips along the coast, I am never alone. I belong underneath somebody's wing, even if it's not my mother's.

The next day, I pulled into Carlsbad, grossly overdue for delivery, thanks to a six-car pile-up on the 15, which I'd taken specifically to avoid the LA traffic. The night's double kick of caffeine left me jittery and exhausted at the same time. The car's recipient, Bobby, had called me twice on the cell already; he seemed patient and understanding enough, but even I would be pissed to be kept waiting so long.

I finally found Bobby's apartment complex and parked the BMW at the curb. I rushed inside the air-conditioned apartment lobby, only to find it empty except for a gorgeous, tanned woman, with a long narrow nose, fluffy blonde hair, and hazel eyes flecked with gold. She wore coral lipstick, her cleavage sprouting from a Monroesque white halter-top.

"You must be Shannon."

I blinked. "Bobby?" I recognized the masculine voice from the phone, but I didn't connect it immediately with the woman in front of me. I tried not to double-take, in deference to my non-hetero friends. And though I wanted to say "Nice job!" to the transvestite, though I wanted to say "Let's swap; you can be a woman, and I can be a man… together we can cancel out social expectation and move forward," I didn't, mostly out of sheer politeness, but also because Bobby's gilded eyes reminded me of owls.

Instead, I said, "Sorry about the windshield." I stuffed the paperwork and keys into her ringless, manicured fingers, and took away my payment before she could reply. Drive-aways have always been, and always will be, one night stands for me, regardless of who's at the receiving end. "Insurance should cover it."

I excused myself and disappeared past the doorman and into the afternoon heat outside. I walked around the corner, surveying the busy avenue, in the afternoon's bright light, for a checkered cab to take me to my next job—a 2009 Lexus in Chula Vista, destined for Bellingham, for which I was already four hours late. My bladder outweighed my need for a ride, though, and I used the restroom at a nearby park to drain off the rest of the night's coffee infusion.

As I reclaimed the boulevard to wave down my ride, I nearly collided with Bobby, who stood at the curb where I'd left the BMW parked, having completed an inspection of the car.

She frowned at me, pointing at the car and wrinkling her coral lips. "What's with the windshield?"

The question confused me more than the voice. Then I cursed myself: Damn it! In my haste, I'd forgotten to wipe away the fingerprints I'd left there last night.

I regarded the windshield, to survey the damage in the bright light of day. The greasy prints and the crack itself had vanished, the glass a wide and perfect lens.

I gasped. "What the…?"

"Looks fine to me," Bobby said, clearing her throat. "Listen, I'm heading south… do you need a lift?" Her gold-flecked eyes twinkled. "Looks like you could use a break."

I didn't think twice about climbing in.


About the Author

Tamara Kaye Sellman is the founding editor of the archived magazine MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magical Realism (www.magical-realism.com). Her most recent speculative work has appeared in Rose Red Review, Open Road Review, Naugatuck River Review, Alimentum, and Diagonal Proof. Recent anthologies publishing her work include PENUMBRA: Speculative Fiction from the Pacific Northwest and Like Water for Quarks. Her paranormal novel, The Borderland, was a finalist in the PNWA literary contest for 2012.