Race To The Bottom

“I knew a girl once,” Simcha was saying, “who absolutely refused to call me by my real name.”

      I never really trusted Simcha behind the wheel of an automobile.

      He’d gotten me through hurricanes and hailstorms and snowstorms (one, anyway) and riots and chemical spills and dust-storms and a whole host of lesser troubles. He had Skill; that I never doubted. And almost any time I found myself riding in an automobile, Simcha would be driving it. So it wasn’t like I put effort—not any real effort, anyways—into avoiding his driving. And I don’t want to say he was my driver, because that gives you the impression of a hierarchy, of an order of command that really didn’t exist. It wasn’t as if I was a significant figure chauffeured about by a mindless peon named Simcha; we were friends, in a way. It was by choice that I didn’t drive. And it was by choice that Simcha did drive. These were choices that both of us had. Made. Every time before we went somewhere he’d ask, hey Sofro you wanna drive? and I’d shrug and say no, giving some excuse why I didn’t want to drive this time. So whenever we went anywhere, he’d drive. But Simcha? He wasn’t really my driver.
      I just never really trusted him. Fact was, he was more competent than me. He had more technical skill. A prowess at maneuvering that unwieldy machine under virtually any circumstances. The reason I didn’t trust him was that he had nothing like a healthy respect for death. You got the impression, he was more concerned about speed and timing than death. Even decapitation and/or gross bodily mutilation didn’t enter into his typical thought process.

Simcha had been driving. That, too, I remembered. Tried to think more. Tried to move but felt strangely paralyzed. Queasy.
Ready to vomit.
Dizzy. Sharp abdominal pain.

      “Tell you what,” Simcha was saying, “it surprised the hell out of me.”
      I wasn’t really watching. I wasn’t really thinking.
      He said: “Something with propane, I don’t really know what-never bothered to find out. So, you know, even if she didn’t really, not really recognize them, I guess she thought she did.”

Spit dripped from my mouth across my forehead; I realized I was upside-down.

Past:      “So what happened last night?” Madlyn was asking, her back to me as she struck our decade-old coffee-maker with her fist in an attempt to exact revenge on it for the vile sludge it provided us. I thought maybe there was a possibility she had a black eye, I hadn’t seen her face yet but it wouldn’t have surprised me if she did.
      “You know. The usual.” I inspected a paper cup for evidence of prior use, then filled it with lukewarm orange juice.
      “Tell me you took a taxi.”
      “I’m here, aren’t I?”
      Madlyn turned around and smiled blandly; she had a black eye.
      “Yeah, so ‘m I. Your point?”
      “No sense prolonging the inevitable.”
      “Wish I could say that with your steadfast conviction.”
      “It’s just a gift I have.”
      “What beauty.”

Present:      I’m thinking how I’m going to be late for the meeting. I’m thinking and rationalizing and writing off and dwelling in other times and places, three weeks from now, a month next Tuesday, four hours ago in the shower, a few seconds earlier.

      “It bother you?” I asked.
      “Not like a whole lot, not—not like you’d think it migt, I guess. I wondered, though, sure. And— but she absolutely refused to call me the same thing twice. Or, not refused but…”
      “Didn’t know her that well. I didn’t think that much of it, after all I didn’t see her that often. I probably only talked to her a dozen times or so. Maybe twenty.”
      “So twenty different names, she called you.”
      “No, she’d switch mid-conversation if she had to, if the occasion rose such that she needed to call me by a name. Get my attention or something.”
      “You ever know anyone like that?”

I’m trying to orient myself but it’s fucking ridiculous, basically impossible. I’m sure the car’s stopped moving by now but everything keeps spinning around us, around me, and it’s like we’re still going 114mph down the freeway, might as well be for all the sense I have left in my head. And I’m trying to think, I’m trying to shut out all the things spinning around in my head, all the voices and memories and things from my to-do list and addresses and phone numbers and favorite moments in the past and I’m trying to feel if my body’s intact, if my leg bone’s still connected to my knee bone and so forth.

      I had to admit, at least to myself if not to other people: each time we cheated death, I felt somehow privileged.