Success Is Not a Destination but the Road to It

An Atlantic “First” by Katherine Harding

When I drive anything can happen. Recently I have been daydreaming as I drive: implacable thoughts force their way into my mind. I visualize colliding cars and bodies ripping apart on impact. When I drive on the Sunshine State Parkway I find myself staring at all the snakes, raccoons, and dogs that have been hit, killed, and left on the side of the road.

I first noticed my daydreams seven months ago. I had been with Ian at the O’Brien house, which my office leases and maintains while the O’Briens summer in Europe. Ian had been called in to reengineer the crumbling retaining wall that threatened to let the ocean carry the house out to sea. I had taken Ian there and back to his office-at-home on Worth Avenue, taken him there because Ian didn’t drive. A thirty-six-year-old structural engineer familiar with the combustion engine, but an engineer who did not drive. I still can’t get over it. “I ride my ten-speed Motobecane very smartly down the Lake Trail,” he said to me once. “I’ll wager you can’t ride a bi-cycle.” That’s the way he pronounced it: bi-cycle.

At the O’Briens’ we examined the buckling and stress in the wall while standing in wet sand that sucked at our feet until we sank to our ankles. The wall was eaten out from below, and waves lapped around the rusted steel beams. The concrete surface had already been eroded up to the high-water mark. “It’s not a matter of rebuffing nature’s energy; it’s a matter of harnessing it and distributing it,” Ian told me in his oppressively didactic way. I was bored. “Anderson at your office told me something about you, Jane,” Ian went on.

“What’s that?”

“That you love cars.”

Maybe his bluntness made me uncomfortable, or the detour back to his office, which made me late for the Delray appointment, annoyed me. When I dropped him off I was glad to be alone, even though I liked Ian. In Delray Beach I had an appointment to show New Yorkers the house on Beachway Road. I drove fast, darted in and out of traffic, tailgated relentlessly. The fury I feel behind a car dragging its ass in the left lane! I want to flatten the car, knock it off the road! It was raining in large slanted sheets of water from the east and I could feel, as I whipped around one car. then another, my rear polyglas G60s just beginning to slip out from under me: a tantalizing feeling. I kept everything just barely under control. I cannot say what I did, but there was an edge I could reach out and touch. I would go over that edge or not.

The car’s motion relieves the motion of my thoughts. Some synchronization has finally occurred, some medium has been found for thoughts that otherwise would prey on me.

I always notice cars. The New Yorkers drove a '71 Dodge Dart, black. It was already parked in the carport of the house, as though they were trying to fit two contradictory images together. The Dodge’s frame was bent as a result of some collision from the side. Despite the rain which had drawn lines along the hood, fenders, and through the lettering on the plates, the Dart was still dusty after its trip down from New York. These people didn’t care about cars, I thought; if they decided on the house, after a while they’d buy a huge aqua Oldsmobile station wagon—a Ninety-Eight—to match the ocean that can be seen between the split-levels on Sandune Drive. In their new Olds, they’d roll cautiously along South County Road looking at the estates of the rich, and I’d be behind them blaring my horn, trying to get past them, and I’d regret having shown and sold them the house.

I drive a metallic blue Firebird Trans-Am with an SD 455 engine and I am an alert, fast driver. I feel serene behind the wheel of the 455. I like the soothing, guttural rumble of the engine, the encapsulated calm inside. Until recently I hadn’t hesitated or concerned myself with avoiding things in the road. I have always followed my father’s old advice. Usually I assume cars, people will get out of my way, and I just step on it.

My father put me behind the wheel of his Buick Roadmaster when I was nine and filmed it. I sat in the driver’s seat and peered through the space between the steering wheel with its necker’s knob and the rim of the chromium horn. I looked down the country road before me. It went straight to the horizon of pines and palms lining the inland waterway. I wondered if the car would sweep me into that brackish water where you could get ringworm and polio. A story that everyone talked about in those days had run in the Palm Beach Post. A man had tried to commit suicide by driving off the Australian Avenue dock. He had failed and explained that he was merely drunk. Later he succeeded.

Before, my father had taught me to drive by sitting me in his lap. Then I became too big and was aware of his thin legs and something else beneath me. Now I was alone behind the wheel. At first he sat next to me, but then he got out, walked down the road fifty yards or so, and pointed his new movie camera at me. He’d bought it since I had seen him last, two months earlier, when he’d left my mother.

I didn’t ask him where he had been. Anyway, I knew he’d leave again. But he was back, my mother was gone, and now my father and I shared the house, which had been sold. I didn’t know where my mother was. My father and I had to be out of the house in two weeks.

“Come on!” my father called. “Drive slowly, and I’ll get out of the way as you drive by.” I inched the car slowly forward, my right foot tensed over the accelerator; I was afraid by accident my foot would slip and jam the accelerator to the floor. I was concentrating so hard that the periphery of my vision seemed to blacken and encroach on my focus, my father. I began to sweat but I held on to the wheel. As my father moved to the right side of the road, so did the direction of the Buick. Magnetized by him, it followed his lead, and try as I might I could not steer away from him. I slammed on the brakes to avoid running him over, but it seemed the Buick’s old drums would never respond.

My father laughed. “Always look at where you want to go, not at what you’re trying to avoid.”

My mother was afraid of cars and drove as I did when 1 was nine. In her gray Nash Rambler station wagon she was the terror of the island, and I was scared. Now her driving seems hugely funny and stylish to me, despite what happened to her because of it. It evolved consistently from her preoccupied, myopic, but well-meaning personality. Watching the lamp post so as to avoid it, Mummy steered right for it, slammed on her brakes and slowly maneuvered to the other side of the road and the oncoming cars. It was like all those nightmares where your efforts to save yourself, to run, to scream, lag behind the emotions you’re feeling. But Mummy would pretend nothing unusual was happening. She would sing in her shaky contralto “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top” (which reveals how Mummy longed for a past without cars), or “Every Little Breeze Seems to Whisper Louise,” which had been played at her lavish wedding: her name was Louise. It makes me laugh. Saturday was the only day she drove to the market because at eleven o’clock she could pretend that it was I who liked to listen to Let’s Pretend. I can hear the theme music still and feel the sympathetic sway of the Rambler as we worked our way along South County Road to Aiello’s Market.

It seems funny to me now. Then I was constantly bracing myself for the impact that was always about to occur. I would stiffen as though slamming on imaginary brakes, thinking childishly that Mummy might notice this and get the hint. I couldn’t reason with her, or ask her to let me out. She needed me with her. Maybe the car itself would get the idea, for sometimes I thought it knew what 1 wanted. Sometimes I thought it had a mind and feelings and could make decisions on its own,

“I disapprove of cars,” Ian told me a few weeks after I’d seen him at the O’Briens’. He had called me up expressly to ask for a lift to the old Dodge property in the north end. An architect needed his opinion about an underground tunnel, a passageway for bathers that Mrs. Dodge’s architect probably Mizner—had built. The passageway remained tong after the mansion had been demolished, and the architect wanted to know, in planning for the new house, if the tunnel was still sound enough to use. “But I approve,” Ian went on pompously, “of well-built tunnels like this one.”

“Do you know whose money built this tunnel?”

“Dodge? Oh. motorcars, you mean, it’s fantastic how it was built, and the house the architect builds today won’t have near the durability of this structure.”

“If you disapprove of my car, why do you feel free to exploit it?”

“Actually, I disapprove of your relationship to cars. Can’t you see. I’m trying to interject myself ”

“Oh, come on.”

“Well, 1 plan to exploit it some more by having you drive us to some nice restaurant soon. When can we have dinner?”

You know, most men around Palm Beach are rich fags, drunken fags. It’s possible to find real men. and in my Firebird 1 do. Perhaps because Ian didn’t drive. I thought at first, Oh well, just another English fag. Ian was a dark, skinny, tall man who seemed fragile and awkward when I first met him. He wasn’t bad looking but he also wasn’t coordinated enough to shift gears and depress a clutch at the same time. I was uneasy that our relationship had gotten off on the wrong track.

You see, I try to follow my father’s advice not to think about avoiding things and just to go, go, but increasingly I get into absentminded thoughts, and my reaction time is slower. Or I just don’t see. Once I was turning left into Worth Avenue, delivering some drawings to Ian (“Be a love and fetch the McIntyre drawings from Feruggia, will you?” “Get them yourself. Where’s your trusty hi-cycle?” “In the shop. Mrs. Goodwillie mistook me and it for the drive-in bank deposit window.” “You’re kidding!” “No, she was plastered, and nearly plastered me over the stucco of the Palm Beach Bank and Trust.” It had made me laugh. “Are you all right?” “I suppose so. She’s paying for repairs”) and I didn’t see, just like Mrs. Goodwillie, the 450 SL coming the other way. It didn’t hit me, but only because of the attention of Princess Marina, who was driving. “You fucking nut.” she yelled, and gave me the finger.

Occasionally my slow driving thoughts make me think of a man, what we’ll do, say, how his gestures and manner will suggest complete intimacy . , . we’ll be sitting side by side in a car, speeding calmly through space as though it were (he entire course of our life together. We won’t need to speak, we’ll be perfectly attuned so that each wish will be the other’s wish as well. But I become tense thinking about Ian. what we said to one another, what we didn’t do. Something gets stuck. I can’t follow the sequence of scenes beyond a setting, a certain mood. What will happen next? 1 do not know, and so I drive fast again. 1 push everything forward, force these scenes to be played out; I try to make things happen, only they don’t.

I pick up men in my Firebird. When races were held at Sebring I met men there. The course was set in the midst of orange groves. I loved the mixed smell of oranges and burning oil, a smell that you drove into like a wall two miles outside of town, long before you heard the fitful roar of engines, long before you saw the Martini/Rossi, the Permalube, the Quaker State signs, long before the track itself.

Now I drive around and meet men in Riviera or in Stuart. There’s always the 455. they’re always interested in what the Firebird’s equipped with. They talk about the reasoning behind the polyglas G60s. I let them drive, we go to dinner, then to a motel. The room sometimes has two beds. I like having two, even single beds. I can fall asleep afterwards in my own space between the sheets; as in my Firebird, it is all my space. I never take a man home.

Ian called me at my office and pried my home phone number out of me by asking if I was frightened of him.

“Of course not,” I said.

“I was ringing you to say our dinner reservation’s for eight and we can walk over from my fiat here. I won’t prevail on you to drive. Do you know the restaurant? I forget what it’s called, but it’s just down the street.”

It was uncanny that he had chosen that restaurant. Once, after an argument with my mother, I ran away on my Schwinn to Worth Avenue, where I watched the rich shoppers hurrying home in their Mercedes and Bentleys. I would never go home. In front of the restaurant at the lake end of Worth Avenue was my father’s Buick. He was at the restaurant. I thought, of course. I’d have dinner with him and we’d go home to his house: I could live with my father.

Then I saw a man and a lady eating by candlelight in the outside patio. The lady looked familiar. Her sluggish voice carried clearly across the lawn. She was talking about Cuba and began to sing a little song to the man, something about a “Cuban Moon.” I remembered the voice. The lady was the one who took tickets at the Four Arts at Saturday afternoon matinees. I’d seen The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella there. I kept telling myself that the man with the lady was a stranger. He was lifting his glass to her, smiling and laughing. I told myself I had never seen him before and I hoped I’d never see him again in my life.

I was cool as ice going home on my bike. I tried out a few tricks: no hands, no feet. First I was riding Black Beauty, then a motorcycle; I was tearing through space and the wind blew into my lungs, making them inflate like a terrible balloon. They ached and ached. The cops were after me, but I was too fast for them. I dashed into my yard, home safe; the cops would never think to look there.

Mummy emerged from the house. “You’re damn lucky I didn’t call the cops,” she said. How’ had she known about the cops? But she always seemed to know what I was thinking. Did she know I had resolved never to be like her? I’d never get dumped the way she had. Whenever a man wants to see me again, I stiffen . . . We’ll be in bed smoking cigarettes, sex is finished, and he’ll be telling me something personal. He’ll say then. “What about you?” I’ll say, “Oh. not much, there’s nothing much to say.” He’ll start in again, his hand moving up my thigh, “What’ll we do tomorrow?” he’ll say, making plans, and starting in on sex again, and this time I’ll harden to stone; his kisses and the way he touches me will do nothing for me, and if we have sex then I won’t come and he’ll be surprised, annoyed. “What the hell is going on?” he’ll say. “I was right for you, you liked me before, what’s this cold fish act?” Then he’ll relent, remembering the first time round, and he’ll say, “When can I see you?” And I’ll say, “You can’t see me, not again.”

I did see my father after he married Helga Rath. She was German and her name was pronounced by dropping the “h” and enunciating a long “a”; Rot. Over the years I’ve enjoyed this mild joke, but now it doesn’t seem funny, it seems only childish. Helga and my father moved to Naples, Florida, after the wedding. I lived there with them until after high school. They are still in Naples, but I don’t see them much. When I was eleven his company was just opening the new branch in Naples, and he and I made the trip across the state. During the day I visited a friend, and on Tuesday and Wednesday nights we stayed in a dingy motel east of town. On the return trip Thursday my father gave me the wheel and we started out fast on the Tamiami Trail. I knew he drove at 75 mph. and so would I.

The empty road stretched eastward in a straight line. Undulating currents of hot moist air rose from the macadam, making water mirages, blurring the edges of the road. I kept the car—a peagreen Pontiac convertible with black upholstery, whitewalls, and inside, the St. Christopher medal that my father had unscrewed from the old Roadmaster—I kept the car steady. Daddy talked about his business, but I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. I murmured “Yeah, really?” to convince him I was interested, but it was a strain.

Soon my father fell asleep. His head with its hairbrush bristles fell forward and slightly toward the left, toward me, and he began to display those neuropathic spasms that come just before deep sleep. His head would come up in a jerk, then it would roll downward in an arc to the left, like the slow, accelerating tumble of a roller-coaster car. I worried he might hit his head, or fall forward against the dashboard. Then I thought. What if he put his head on my shoulder; would it slide down into my lap, just as, when I was five or six, I feigned sleepiness and laid my head in his lap? The intimacy of my father’s measured breathing, the trust his sleep implied pleased me, but only momentarily. 1 knew it was a misplaced and foolish trust, because I had begun to see in the narrowing road things that quickly disappeared when I looked closely at them. Besides, the Pontiac required increasingly subtle control to keep it on the road.

The sun had set at our backs. The sky and the Everglades wfere finished with a pink-gold luster that blurred the distinctions between land and sky, road and swamp, the Pontiac and us inside it. The road seemed to foreshorten and narrow and I imagined it came to a halt just five hundred feet ahead. The road existed for only a few yards before the Pontiac gained on them, ate them up. Sweat was falling into my eyes and I slowed from 80 to 50: my father was sleeping, he’d never know. Then I began to like us there alone in the Pontiac, passing through the Everglades together.

When my father dropped me off, my mother’s house was lit up so bright it hurt my eyes to look at it. I was tired, then annoyed to find our neighbor Mrs. Richardson inside. She was standing at Mummy’s desk and seemed to be looking for something.

“Where’s Mum?”

“Where’ve you been?”

“Naples with my Dad.”

“Is he outside? I want to speak with him.”

“Mum’s Rambler isn’t in the drive.”

“Did he go home or to the office? I guess not. so late.”

“I dunno. Well, he went to Mr. Wickwire’s, I guess. How come you want to talk to him?”

“He should come back.”

“Can’t. Has important news for Mr. Wickwire. Dad was hopping mad how late we were.”

“Wickwire, Wickwire . . . ,” Mrs. Richardson said, thumbing through the phone book. She began to dial.

“What do you wanna talk to Dad for? This is really queer.” I knew something was going on. I was used to having my questions go unanswered. I’d been through a divorce, hadn’t 1? Hadn’t I learned to translate what Mummy meant to say from the expressions on her face? I was a pro at that, I read her perfectly, just like she read me. made me nervous. But I couldn’t read this Mrs. Richardson.

My father came back and gave me the news that he’d learned from Mr. Wickwire: at two A.M. on Thursday morning my mother had mowed down two old Florida pines, tall, thick-trunked trees that line AIA fifteen miles south, in Manalapan. and she had virtually severed her head on the rebound back through the windshield. She was dead.

I don’t like having conventional evenings with men, seeing them regularly. I didn’t think Ian was an exception. He was rather handsomely dressed in an expensive beige linen suit and we sat near the bougainvillea in the courtyard. As he talked he kept his bony hands cocked on either side of his plate as though to avoid soiling his fingers. He only occasionally looked directly at me, preferring to address his butter knife. He had been a musical prodigy as a child in England, but owing to a severe illness had given up the piano and the concert stage for MIT and engineering. The northern climate had affected his health adversely and he had had to move south. He loved bridges. He talked at length and boringly about the mathematical structure and symbolism of bridges. I felt vaguely he was trying to say something personal. “What was the illness?”

“Rheumatic fever. Left my heart rather damaged. But I’m going to hospital.” He laughed. “I’m going in for a valve job this winter. Then I’ll be right as rain. I imagine you’ve always lived in Palm Beach and now that I’ve got your phone number, perhaps we can progress to where you live.”

“On Royal Palm Way. I’ve lived many places. I’m never satisfied and keep moving around. Even when I was a child we were always selling houses, renting new ones, moving.”

“It’s become habitual, your moving about. I myself am accustomed to staying put, having been bedridden for so much of my childhood. Have you noticed that difference—how I’m interested in the stability of structures, how to harness entropy and chaos, whereas you’re interested in forcing entropy along, interested in movement, speed, change?”

“Not really. I don’t want anything to change.” But I was thinking that his damaged heart made him kind of a sitting duck. I could see how he might like a friend right now. It could be anyone: he just wanted a lift. “Ian, your bicycle, is it really in the shop?”

“I suppose not.”

“Mrs. Goodwillie didn’t wreck it, did she? I’ve never seen you on a bike. Do you have one?”

“A lovely one. But I’m not permitted to ride it until after the winter.” His face fell.

“I’ll teach you to drive.”

“Oh, no. I stay away from cars. I think it’s charming for you to love them, very American, like the cowboy loving his horse.”

“Ian, how did you manage before 1 became your chauffeur? You must learn to drive. I’m getting a little put out dragging you from one place to another.”

“Actually, I’ve the idea it’s the way to see you.”

“Is that so important? For your work, isn’t being mobile

“It’s becoming important, yes.”

I left him at his apartment later. I became annoyed when he tried to have me stay. I wouldn’t. Clumsily he kissed me, and I could feel something dully beating in his lips. It reminded me of some presence I had been marginally aware of before. His clumsiness seemed profound: I couldn’t imagine his playing Bach, whom he so adored. When I left him the memory of the pulsing kiss made me tense, so I took off. My mind began to race. It was 12:30 and I headed for Riviera Beach. I met there a guy named Benjy who drove a diTomasso Pantera and who had the Carvel on North Federal Highway. I didn’t ask him how he’d financed the Pantera.

I taught Ian to drive in a rented Vega automatic. At the end of the road a yellow scoop was digging trenches for the foundations of a new house. Soon the area would be built up, fan would be consulting. I’d be renting and selling. The scoop made sporadic grinding noises. We had to shout at one another.

“What if it jolly well goes off on its own? I’m rather frightened.”

“You’re supposed to be. at first.”

“I’m not supposed to become too anxious. Reasons of health.”

“Then don’t. Do as I tell you.” Why couldn’t he see how simple it was, how much fun it was? His steering was absurd. At last I conceived of a plan to teach him not to oversteer. I straightened the wheel for him and told him: “Don’t steer at all. Just press the accelerator and see where the car goes.” It worked. The car, despite the wheels’ needing alignment, rolled almost in a straight line as it was built to do.

Often after lessons he’d ask me to dinner, would try to have me stay at his place. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so physically repelled by him at the same time that I smiled inwardly whenever I saw his skinny figure, his baggy eyes. We were an absurd pair: me maybe chewing gum very evenly, coolly driving my Firebird, letting nothing touch me; he always gesticulating, teaching, explaining. He was always late for appointments. I never was.

His driving improved gradually over four weeks. We kept coming back to the road in the south end. The house’s roof was tiled and soon the landscaping would be done: full-grown coconut palms would be hauled in and replanted, sea grapes would be lined up in hedges. The workmen all knew us by sight, and as Ian could now turn, back up, and parallel park without a hitch, they had stopped laughing.

When Ian could drive without anxiety in traffic, he took his test, passed it, bought a Volkswagen automatic, and began to drive himself on his consultations. I didn’t see him much anymore.

The New Yorkers bought the Delray house and I made a big commission. Soon afterward they bought a huge yellow Chrysler. I had been wrong about the make and color, but it was all the same. The O’Briens came back to a new retaining wall that rerouted and dissipated the ocean’s erosive energy. I heard that construction had begun on the Dodge property. It was December and the winter people were keeping me busy: I rented eight houses in four days.

Ian called me at home several times. He asked me out but I avoided him, and anyhow he seemed just to want to talk. The last time I spoke to him on the phone I asked pointedly what work he was doing.

“I’m quite back to my old habits. I stay at home rather much. All that seems to interest me is the piano. I’m practicing but I’m frightfully rusty. The partitas exhaust me; I take one at a time. I try to take each thing I do separately, as though it has no connection with other things. Tomorrow—”

“May be a good policy. One foot in front of the other.”

“But still I wonder what’s at the end of the road. What tripe! Speaking of ‘tripe,’ would you come over and fix me supper?”

“I’m meeting the eight o’clock plane from Chicago—clients I must take to The Towers. Anyway, I’m a terrible cook.”

“Get Anderson to meet the clients.”

“I’d lose the commission.”

“Anderson’s a decent fellow. You might pick up hamburgers at Hamburger Heaven. I’d be in heaven.”

“Ian, I can’t.”

There was a long silence during which I thought. What is this, there’s nothing between us. “Very well, I won’t beg. but I wonder what you want.” Ian said. “Not companionship, not sex. though Anderson said he thought you were promiscuous.”

“Jesus. Ian, will you leave me alone!”

He had hung up and it wasn’t until the next afternoon that I learned he was in the hospital: his open-heart surgery was scheduled for early the following morning. I called the hospital. A girl with a deep southern accent told me that Mr. Lister could not accept calls. He was resting and undergoing tests in preparation for surgery.

I thought about how there may have been something I’d said that left him vulnerable, precipitated some problem with his heart . . . What had I done? What could I do? I couldn’t think about it, I wouldn’t think about it, so, not signing my name to anything, I sent Ian flowers, a basket of oranges, some paperback books. But 1 knew he’d die under the knife. The lack of coordination in his limbs was a symptom of the malfunction in the exchange between the chambers of his heart. I knew he’d die. I called again later, at six. I was told Mr. Lister was resting comfortably.

Around midnight I drove up to Riviera where I met a young kid named Peter who liked gospel music. Peter felt about gospel music the way I felt about cars: everything else seemed all the same. We went all over Colored Town looking for a group called the Sweetwater Singers and ended up in one sour-smelling bar after another.

Around seven I drove to the Good Samaritan Hospital: the name had always reminded me of the Saint Christopher medals on my father’s cars. Ian’s surgery had just begun. I sat down in the waiting room on the surgical ward. The room was painted aqua. That color appears all over southern Florida: rooms, cars, the squat cement houses in the developments west of town are all painted aqua. Perhaps without anyone’s being aware of it, the ocean once mysteriously rose up in the night beyond the high-water level and engulfed the land, leaving its sick blue mark behind.

Nurses, aides, and doctors in washed-out aqua pajamas sauntered through the room. Their names and strange numbers came over the loudspeaker. “126 on 4 West, 126 on 4 West,” came a clipped dry voice suddenly; and soon new aqua figures were running through the room. What did it mean? Was Ian dead already? I imagined his death would come after long, complicated maneuvers in the surgery, not quite yet, not quite so soon. I began to cry.

Later two nurses passed my chair speaking of “that cardiac arrest.” I stood up and took hold of one woman’s arm. “What cardiac arrest?” 1 asked. My hand, my whole arm was shaking visibly. I realized I was furious, I wanted to throttle this woman. She looked scared.

“Now, Hon, we can’t talk about our patients,” the nurse said. She wore a girdle under her uniform and her waist was pinched like putty. Her body might break in half, 1 thought. I wished it would.

“What about Mr. Lister?” I asked.

“They’re still at that valvular repair, if that’s what you mean. Are you a relative?” She looked narrowly at me.

“Just a friend.”

“Well, don’t you worry, now. You’ll hear something soon.”

I sat down again, listened to more names, numbers, codes, and fell asleep. I dreamed 1 had died; yet I stood in an empty dirt road at the end of which was Ian’s house. He was having a party, and as I watched, limousines filled with laughing people traveled down the road to where he lived. I couldn’t go, I was dead. I cried as each car passed and the sound of the engines roared in my ears. Then I heard’ a whirring sound. “Miss? I’m Dr. Angel?” His voice went up at the end questioningly, as though he doubted his own identity. The day had begun with angels: I remembered Peter’s cherubic face, gospel music. “Mr. Lister has just come out of surgery. Miss Cross said you were a friend?”

“He’s dead, then.” I heard “were a friend.”

“No, everything’s fine. The damage made it take longer than we expected, but he’s doing very well.”

When I drive I feel anything can happen. Sometimes I over-rev it and I wonder, will I blow the engine? Yesterday I drove, tailgating, dodging traffic, slipping slightly on wet pavement, feeling the edge of things but afraid I was late, late. I slammed on the brakes and smelled the slow, sweet burn of rubber, or was it myself I smelled?

Yesterday I drove the Edwardses to some property in Lantana that they think they might buy. They are unsure about the narrow spit of land between the ocean and the inland waterway because of strong and erosive undertows that have carried away five feet of beachfront in the last two years. Ian was there waiting by his Volkswagen when we arrived. He had gained weight and seemed so graceful and confident that I barely recognized him. After business with the Edwardses was finished he politely said, “I believe you sent those nice presents when I was at hospital. Thank you.”

“Your surgery was quite successful, then?”

“As you well know. Dr. Angel said you were there the entire time. I must say I was surprised.” He paused but I said nothing. “Well,” he went on after a bit, “I thought I was a dead man. Now everything’s changed. I’m free. I think I shall go north. I’ve had a super offer in New York. Thank you again for the gifts and thank you for teaching me to drive. I never could have learned otherwise, even now that everything’s changed.” He walked to his car and I to mine. I had started my engine by the time he opened his door and waved. As I gunned it going past him I thought, I could easily run him over; I could make it look like an accident.

I like to drive on the Sunshine State Parkway. It is only a matter of time. I’ll drive for miles at 100 mph, then I’ll stop and think. I’ll look at myself in my rearview mirror, I’ll look at the person I see. Who is she? I’ll pretend I don’t know her, I’ll try to dredge up thoughts about what this woman is like. I’ll try to be a stranger to her: Oh yes, there’s an aging, pale, once pretty woman, still futilely trying to make a success of things. But look how she chews her gum in neat circular motions of her jaw. Look at the asymmetry in her body, in her face. She’s had it, her life is over.

The Sunshine State Parkway, which often runs in an absolutely straight line north to south, is the crucial road to drive, the easiest road to let the wheel go to see where the car goes. My feelings change between letting go the wheel and moving along slowly, not very fast, having things come at me as they may, or driving fast, hard, running things down: people, animals, woods, tearing things up until I can’t anymore.