“Now buckle up, Clara. Hear that chime? That means you don’t have your seat belt on.”
“Oh, okay, sorry. Can you help me, Ida? I can’t reach the buckle.”
“Here…oh my goodness, it needs to be just a squinch longer…there you go.”
The ladies were on their way to a mall they hadn’t visited in at least a year. They’d seen an ad for nautical-themed outdoor décor, and agreed it was just what their porches needed. Ready early, they’d sat in Ida’s living room in their good pantsuits, purses at hand, and waited until 9:30 to set out. No sense in arriving before the stores opened.
Ida drove her 2001 Lincoln Navigator, the last car her late husband bought before his demise. James had been a large man and he insisted this was the only car that fit him. It was too big for her, but it was paid for (sinful, what that car cost!) and in perfect shape. If there was one thing James had been a stickler about, it was car maintenance. So the paint retained its showroom luster, the wire wheels sparkled, and the leather seats were still buttery-soft. Ida could see over the steering wheel if she sat up very straight on a cushion, which she always did.
“Let’s see, we could take the interstate, but I’m going to stick with surface streets to avoid the traffic,” Ida said.
“Much better,” Clara agreed. “We can take our time; we’ve got plenty of it.”
They laughed companionably. Time had expanded in their old age. Days were long, sometimes tiresomely so. It would help if they didn’t get up at 5:30 in the morning, but they both did, and then complained bitterly when they fell asleep during their favorite evening TV shows. Clara, the more technologically daring, had mastered Tivo, and Ida could always catch up on what she’d missed at Clara’s house.
“Oh! Oh!” Ida was shaken from their comfortable conversation by the sight of something new in the street ahead. “What in the world? Clara, do you see this? It’s a big circle! What am I supposed to do?”
“It’s a roundabout, I think,” Clara said. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before. Supposed to take the place of an intersection and be safer.”
“I don’t have a choice, there’s no way around it.” Ida said. “I guess I’ve got to get on here.”
She’d slowed to a crawl as she scoped out the situation, only to be propelled from behind by a horn blast. The big car shot into the curve and traveled rapidly around the circle, completely ignoring the Yield signs. More horns joined the exasperated chorus as Clara sped around the circle again. And again.
“What should I do?” she wailed to Clara, who was hanging onto the dashboard with both hands.
“Slow down!” Clara shouted. Her voice tended to get loud when she was upset. “I think you’re supposed to go to the inside lane.”
“Well, how will I ever get out of here if I do that?”
“I don’t know, but if you stay in this lane we’ll get squashed. Just keep merging over until you’re in the center. Then you’re supposed to merge back to the outside when you see your exit.”
“How the hell do I know which is my exit?” Ida said, panicked into unaccustomed profanity. She did as Clara said, though, and it brought a blessed lull in the horn-blowing. But then, as she feared, she was stuck in the inside lane, circling and circling. Clara looked increasingly green as the big car slewed around the tight circle.
“You’re not going to throw up, are you, Clara?” Ida asked. “You know how James was about this car. Don’t you dare throw up in it.”
“I’m trying not to,” Clara moaned, hand over mouth. “But you have to stop going around in circles. You know I get motion sickness.”
“I can’t stop,” Ida said through clenched teeth. “It’s no use telling me to stop when I can’t. Here, use this litter bag in case you puke.”
Clara held the litter bag with its Spearmint gum wrappers and used tissues under her nose, just in case. The mint smell actually calmed her nausea a bit. She glanced over at Ida’s white knuckles and wild eyes and knew she’d have to take charge.
“Okay, now, Ida,” she said with a confidence she did not feel, “put on your blinker for a right lane merge.”
Ida looked doubtful, but she obeyed.
“Now get over one lane.”
Ida did so successfully.
“Now signal again, and merge right again.”
“Okay, you’re on the outside. Take the first exit. It doesn’t matter where it’s going. Just get off.”
Limp with relief, Ida exited the roundabout. They found themselves on an unfamiliar street headed in the opposite direction of the mall. Ida took the first opportunity to pull over to the curb and park. Both ladies got out of the car. Clara put her hands on her knees and took deep breaths. Ida cried a little.
“Sorry, it’s just nerves. Would you mind if we went home, Clara?”
“Not at all, I think that would be best. I don’t need any more stuff for my porch, anyway.”
“Me either. It was just going to be an outing for me. I probably wouldn’t have even bought anything.”
“We had an outing, that’s for sure.”
Clara’s mouth turned up at the corners. Ida felt an involuntary grin stretch across her face. Then they were leaning against the car, laughing helplessly.
“What shall I dooooo? It’s a big circle!” Clara said through tears of mirth. “That was you.”
“Urp, urp, I’m so sick,” Ida mimicked. “That’s how you sounded.”
After a few minutes they wiped their eyes, pulled themselves together except for a few stray giggles, and got back into the car. Ida sat up straight behind the wheel.
“I think I’ll get on the interstate to go home,” she said. “Put on your seatbelt, Clara.