Prompt: After being pulled over for speeding, your character finds something important while looking for her registration in the glove compartment.
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Out of more than 600 entries, readers helped us pick "Anonymous" by Patti Cavaliere as the winner. For winning, Cavaliere's story will appear in an upcoming issue of Writer's Digest.
by Patti Cavaliere
I know the drill and open the glove compartment of the ’98 Honda I drive since my other car was totaled in an accident one year ago, only this time my wits are scrambling. The cop beside my window leans down to where my eye level should be.
“Just a minute officer,” I say. “The registration must be here.” My hands slide blindly over candy wrappers and maps of states I’ve never seen, then beneath a clump of napkins, I touch a solid object that makes me feel empty.
By some miracle I discover my license wedged between a sleeve of two stale cigarettes, but because of nerves, I hand over the whole crumpled packet of smokes. Finally, I grab a manila envelope with last year’s postmark stamped on the outside. The bill is sealed shut and that’s not a good sign.
“Where are you headed?”
“Home,” I say, glancing back at My Place, the tavern that I’ve just left.
“Wait here,” he says, and strolls back to his flashing vehicle. In my rearview mirror I see the top of the officer’s hat; no doubt he’s checking my last DUI on his
computer. My heart thumps so hard that I swear I can hear it when the medallion I’d received for my one year of sobriety plops into my lap and catches the winking sunlight.
I can’t bear to read the inscription, so in the doom of sunset, I dial my husband’s cell phone.
“Barry, thank God I got you.” My chest tightens when I hear him sigh, then say nothing. “I know this is my fault,” I talk quickly and play dumb. “Did you pay the registration bill?”
“That’s your responsibility now, Kelly.” He curses. “I have to go.”
“Wait, Barry. I’m at the corner of—”
“You know who to call,” he shouts back then hangs up. But I’m ashamed to call friends when instead of going to meetings, I went to celebrate.
It’s dark now. I squint at the red strobe light to see if the officer is still in his vehicle. I speed dial my daughter who stays at her boyfriend’s house since Barry left. She even took the dog; supposedly the dog doesn’t have accidents at their house.
I take a deep breath when I hear her say hello. “Jessie!” Her name gushes out of me like the time she was only five and I finally found her hiding in the dressing room at Macy’s.
“Where are you?” she asks in her snotty tone.
The officer returns, shining his flashlight on my turned back; my head is crumpling toward my lap because I am like the abandoned child now. Lack of food causes my stomach to cramp while booze seeps into my blood, but the psychological pain is worse, knowing I’m beyond apology to my family. I hear Jessie talking to someone as I shut my phone. “It’s my mom. She’s loaded again.” Jessie’s tone crushes my spirit, as if I’ve forgotten the times I didn’t make it home to meet her at the school bus— same damn thing my mother did to me.
“Step out of the car.” The officer’s words are controlled, but his gaze spells disgust. My tears freeze, over-chewed gum squeaking like rubber against my teeth. I clutch my medallion— the only thing left to remind me of the person I am when I stop drinking.
“Can you stand on one foot?” I tell him I have chronic vertigo. He holds up his pen and drags it back and forth across an imaginary line in front of my nose. When I lower my head and tell him I am refusing the field sobriety test, he says the last thing I ever expect.
“Was your maiden name Kelly Long?”
My eyes snap up, reconnecting with a withdrawn boy who once lived next door to me as a kid.
“Frank?” A choked-up laugh swallows the rest of my words.
“I thought about you after you moved away,” he says. “I had some rough times, too, before the police academy.”
We’re standing beside my second-hand car, but I feel like the clumsy child who tripped up stairs and knocked at Frank’s door to ask him to come out to play.
“Hop in the car, Kelly, I’ll give you a ride home.” We stop at a coffee shop and talk about our crazy parents, our lost dreams. But soon I forget I’m Barry’s drunken wife, Jessie’s bad mother. Starting tonight, I’m just Kelly Long.