Every Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). Check Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar for past essays, poems, or flash fiction pieces.
congeries. noun. A collection of miscellaneous things.
I’m half cheating today. Back in March, I broke from my regular Wednesday routine and published a guest post by author Linda Lappin, where she explained a different kind of writing exercise. I still took the time that Wednesday to jot down a quick write on the day’s word: olla podrida, which means an incongruous mixture. I forgot about that story until today.
Congeries and olla podrida carry similar meanings, so I dug out the first draft of the old story and rewrote it.
The day after Monica’s husband, Richard, broke the news to her, he was waxing his car like nothing had happened. From the kitchen window, Monica stared at Richard and held a cup of boiling hot coffee until it burned the palms of her hands.
Then, she decided to leave.
She waited a good three minutes, honked her horn at least five times, then pinned Richard between the rear of her car and the front of his. The accident broke both of his legs and landed her in court.
When the judge bored down at her with questions and a maniacal look of his own, she explained herself as best she could.
“He wouldn’t get out of the way.”
She faced a series of punishments: community service, one year probation, and defensive driving. That’s where she stood today: outside room G29 in the basement of the City Hall, staring at a sign that said “Tom and Peggy’s D.D. Fun.”
She turned the doorknob and walked in. An older couple beamed at the front of the room. A tan woman with black hair pulled back tight clicked her long blue fingernails on the table. A young man no more than twenty sat with his legs shoved out from underneath the table and his arms crossed. An elderly woman in a peach suit rummaged through her purse. And, a black man in a shirt and tie looked directly at her. Monica’s face flushed, and she held her Coach bag close to her chest.
“Welcome!” the woman at the front of the room cheered. “Find a seat. We’re just getting started. I’m Peggy and this is my husband –“
“Tom! Peggy and I have been teaching Defensive Driving for a good–“
“Ten Years!” Peggy turned to Tom and laughed.
The young man to Monica’s left mumbled and shoved his seat back further from the table. Monica saw the print on his t-shirt: Chicks dig me. She thought of Richard, and bile rose to the back of her throat.
“We love teaching this class,” Peggy cheered again. She insisted everyone would have fantabulous fun, which would start with introductions.
“State your name and why you’re here,” she shrugged her shoulders and grinned.
“My name is Gloria, and I ran through a red light.”
“I’m Lamont, and I was driving 50 in a 35.” Tom let out a big sigh.
“Nick. Speeding. Maybe a little drunk.” Peggy gave Nick the eye and nodded towards the next person.
“My name is Joanne, and I’m here to keep my license. They told me I’m too old to drive. I told them to stuff it. Then, they handed me a fine and a piece of paper that said I had to show up here if I planned to get behind the wheel again.” Joanne’s eyes twinkled. “Funny thing is, I drove here.”
Joanne turned around to face Nick. “You think speeding and a little alcohol is bad, try turning 85.”
Tom looked to Monica, who said “accident” right when Peggy flailed her arms and pointed to the clock. Peggy scurried back and forth across the front of the room and listed the class schedule: lecture, film, break, group work, quiz.
“Quiz!” Nick yelled. “Damn.”
Nick fell asleep during the lecture portion. Joanne nodded off during the film. At the break, Monica was first out the door and into the bathroom.
She sat in the stall with her head in her hands. The past few months had taken a toll on her, left her physically tired, depressed, and now at risk of jail time if she got anywhere near Richard. Stepping out from the stall, she stood at the sink to splash a little water on her face. Gloria walked in and leaned against the counter.
“So, what’re you in for?”
Gloria’s choice of words startled Monica. “What? Oh, here. It’s a long story. I was court ordered to come here after a minor accident with my husband.” She took a deep breath. “I ran into him with my car.”
“Ran into him?” Gloria raised her eyebrows.
“He wouldn’t get out of the way.”
“Damn, girl. He must of really pissed you off!” Gloria chuckled and freshened up her lipstick.
Back in G29, Peggy and Tom separated everyone into two groups. Monica sat with Gloria and Joanne. Lamont moved to Nick’s table. Tom handed out a worksheet with questions about the film and the lecture. Then, after twenty minutes, Peggy called everyone’s attention towards the front of the room.
“Time for a game!”
“Girls against boys,” Tom laughed and winked at Monica.
Peggy explained that she would ask a question and the two players up front would write their answer as fast as possible on the white board. Whomever turned around with a completed answer, in the quickest time, would win the points.
“The teams are a little uneven,” she said, “but it’s all in fun. Monica, why don’t you and Lamont start.”
Monica felt faint standing at the front of the room. She gripped the dry erase pen. Peggy asked a question about yielding and right of way. Monica scratched out her answer and looked back at Peggy. But, as she turned, Monica lost her balance. She fell backwards and hit her head on the metal pen tray.
Monica pulled herself to a sitting position, reached back, and touched something wet. When she brought her hand forward, she saw the red. Lamont moved in to help her.
“Don’t touch me!” She screamed, as she recoiled.
Lamont lifted both hands, “But, you’re bleeding.”
“Don’t touch me, I said!” Monica’s stared back at her hands. Her face went white. She heard the pumping of her own heart and watched as everyone in the room moved in slow motion: Tom picked up the phone, Gloria put a hand to her mouth, Nick stood and said something that shocked Joanne. Then, Joanne walked gently towards Monica.
“Let me put something on your head dear.”
“No,” Monica’s eyes welled up. “Please, don’t touch me. You don’t understand.”
Joanne nodded to Lamont, who offered his hand while she knelt down next to Monica. “Whatever it is you have, honey, I’m not afraid.” Joanne took a handful of tissue and paper towels from Peggy, wrapped her arm around Monica, and pressed firm against her head.
Only Joanne heard Monica whisper “HIV” to the paramedics. But, after both EMTs looked at each other and took out an additional safety kit, the rest of the class understood. As the EMTs helped Monica onto the stretcher, Tom moved behind Peggy.
“I put your quiz in your purse,” Peggy said, from a distance. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
Monica gripped her Coach and closed her eyes against the glare of the fluorescents.