Well, we’re drivin’ this car and the sun is comin’ up over the Rockies,
Now I know she ain’t you but she’s here and she’s got that dark rhythm in her soul.
But I’m too over the edge and I ain’t in the mood anymore to remember the times when I was your only man
And she don’t want to remind me. She knows this car would go out of control.
-Lyrics from “Brownsville Girl” by Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard
“You’re thinking about her again, aren’t you,” Lucy said forcing an end to Sam’s daydreaming as he refocused on driving their aqua Nissan Versa. They were on the LIE heading back to their comfortable Ronkonkoma home. Sam’s thoughts had drifted to an area of his memory that he could not escape. For a few moments he could imagine Amy sitting next to him in the car, only this time the car wasn’t a Nissan Versa. No, back then he drove a hot red ’97 Jaguar. It was the first car he’d ever owned, and they’d both go out spontaneously and just drive. They’d drive anywhere with Amy’s seat leaned back and her bare feet on the dashboard with the trees racing by and the pavement yielding its limitless horizon. Amy had such a mischievous smile with a forbidden dark beauty inside her. Sam often lost himself just gazing at her. Amy had been an enigma, but that’s what made Sam crazy about her. All these years later, as he found himself awakened by Lucy’s intrusion into his thoughts, he turned and noticed Lucy’s humorless expression and knew that he was done for. This is how life pans out after you let society tame your passions. You end up in a shitty Nissan Versa thinking about how great your life was decades ago before you let your life get ruined.
Sam offered up a noncommittal denial, and Lucy saw right through it. She said, “What is it with men and their obsessions with women from their past? I don’t get it.”
“I’m just driving us home. What’s the problem?” said Sam. It was quiet again, but the silence didn’t last long.
“I don’t suppose you plan to put on Stardust Memories again when we get home,” said Lucy.
“It’s my favorite Woody Allen movie to wind down to,” said Sam.
Lucy started in, “It’s your favorite Woody Allen movie because Charlotte Rampling’s character reminds you of her. She’s your ‘Dorrie.’”
Sam became incredulous, “My what?”
“Dorrie. That’s Charlotte Rampling’s character in the movie. She’s the dark beauty that Woody Allen is constantly torn back to even though she’s a psycho-depressive maniac.”
Sam said, “Lucy, let’s not fight. It’s just a movie.”
Lucy countered, “It’s just a movie and you’re just a writer inspired by it. I’ve heard it all before. The best line in that movie happens when a random woman says that the insights are ‘shallow and morbid.’ Doesn’t she say ‘they try to document their private suffering and fob it off as art’? That’s exactly what your precious favorite movie gets ultimately reduced to. And your writing, don’t get me started.”
“What about my writing?”
“It’s the same cynical pretentious drivel that Woody Allen tries to pawn off although not nearly as funny. There’s a reason why you’re a teacher now, Sam, you just don’t have the talent.”
Sam became increasingly deflated, “That’s a lovely attitude from the woman who’s supposed to be my wife.”
Lucy’s eyes seared into Sam, “Oh, am I supposed to be the maternal nurturing Isobel character? Sorry to disappoint you.”
As the car approached the bend in the expressway, Sam could see the red lights of traffic up ahead. Soon, the car would come to a halt, the silence would be deafening, the storm that had been threatening to downpour would burst its clouds from the heavens, the lightening would strike boldly in the distance, and the menacing thunder would resound in his ear drums, and the sooner it could strike the better. The thunder would take him back to the day Amy and he had been driving when the cloud cover came out of nowhere followed by torrential rain. The brutal rain blasted that Jaguar so hard neither Amy nor Sam could see out the windshield but they were in the middle of the expressway and couldn’t just stop. The windshield wipers furiously swept back and forth across the windshield but to no avail. For a long 10 minutes, Sam had driven them nearly blind. Then, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Sam took the next exit and Amy directed him to drive to a secluded spot. Before he’d even reach the spot, Amy had her hands all over him as he drove. When the car came to a halt, she pulled Sam over to her and furiously kissed him. They tore off each other’s clothes and made love as the sun set. Sam could still remember her soft skin and the way her hair fell on her shoulders making her look almost like a lion. That was Amy and she had been his lioness.
“Snap out of it! Can’t you see it’s moving now!” Lucy hollered sitting next to Sam.
Sam recovered and took on a more penitent tone. “I’m sorry,” he said, “ I don’t know why my mind has been wandering like that lately. I’ve been downright foolish.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be driving,” said Lucy for the first time with compassion in her voice. “Maybe you’re just stressed out. It happens to all of us.”
“I’ll be alright,” said Sam. This time he told himself he’d stay focused. He had papers to grade this weekend and even though it was Friday night the weekends seemed to just race by. Life just seemed too busy and so much more time was now required to be spent on the obligatory things. He found himself missing the carefree days of his youth when he could shrug off all responsibility and take himself wherever fate would lead him.
“You know I didn’t mean what I said back there,” said Lucy. This took Sam by surprise.
“Didn’t mean what?” asked Sam.
“About your writing. You know I love you but sometimes you just have a tendency to get lost and it’s infuriating to me.”
“That’s alright, sweetheart. I’m pretty sure I deserved it.”
“I’m not going to argue with that, Sam.”
Taillights now glared in the dark moonlight halting their progress once again. Lucy turned up the radio. Some insipid Top 10 hit played out of the speakers and Sam tried his best to tune it out but Lucy sang along. Sam thought to himself that perhaps he hadn’t done so badly. Perhaps he needed someone to keep him grounded and if that was the case Lucy fit that role perfectly. They had met at a party 3 years prior and got on swimmingly. He had impressed Lucy with his limited knowledge of classical music and he was impressed with the fact that she had played the cello. Back then he imagined his life with her would be a fantastic mutual learning experience for them both. He’d get to learn and enjoy all the knowledge that came with her classical background and perhaps she might enjoy his writing. He thought he might dedicate his debut novel to her and that it would be the first of many. Their first romantic evening together had been at the Metropolitan Opera House and he couldn’t help but feel like Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck. He wore his best suit and they met at the fountain at Lincoln Center and they each smiled and got lost in each other’s eyes as if they had been in the movies. Lucy wore a beautiful aqua blue dress that made her look ravishing. He’d call her Loretta after Cher’s character in that movie and she’d teasingly call him Ronny, and that’s how they fell in love. On their wedding night, they danced to “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin and relished in the knowledge that they were the only ones in the room to get the reference. Their guests had wondered why that song since neither one of them was even Italian.
Traffic from the flash floods finally let up slowly and Sam was able to start driving again. This time he didn’t need Lucy to wake him from his daydreaming. The Nissan Versa chugged along, the car got back to moving, and the mood had been lightened to the point where Sam felt comfortable again. A minor accident had slowed things down and once everyone passed along with their obligatory side glances, it was determined that there was not much to look at. Sam decided to break the ice again, “That really was a fun time. We should make an effort to see Fionna and Billy more often.”
“Are you finally admitting to having a good time or is this just looking for safe empty conversation? I could never tell with you,” Lucy nervously laughed.
“No, I really did have a good time,” said Sam. “Stop being so cynical.”
“It’s just that you always write about how boring couples can be to hang out with. That story you sold to Phantom was all but a thinly veiled portrayal of couples just like Fionna and Billy. I mean it wasn’t exactly them of course, but very similar. The middle class home with the two car garage, the obnoxious precocious children, the way the husband can’t stop talking about his office job. I felt like I honestly had to drag you there today so did you really have a good time or is this just filling up space?”
“Filling up space?” Sam inquired.
“Filling up space. I mean you know that thing people do to make innocuous conversation as in small talk. I just need to know if you’re being nice or if your being sincere.”
Sam let out a nervous laugh, ”I’m being sincere. I like Fionna and Billy. I had fun. Billy has an entire collection of Ian Fleming 1st editions. How could I not like him?”
Lucy became catty, “Really, because if you ask me it seemed more like envy not mutual admiration.”
Sam hesitated and said, “Listen I don’t want to fight. I thought things had settled down with us.”
Lucy jumped on the phrase, “Funny you should use the phrase ‘settle down.’ Is that what I am to you? Is that what this is?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lucy.”
“I’m talking about the fact that I know you still think about Amy. Amy, Amy, Amy. That’s all you think about when your mind wanders.”
Sam interrupted, “For your information, I was actually just thinking about us before and when we first met at the opera. Why can’t we get back to more times like that?”
Just then a thunder strike startled each of them out of their train of thought. Sam could see the cars in front wading through the flooded lanes on the expressway. It felt like they would never get home. He thought about Amy. Where was she now? What would his life be had they worked things out? Sam knew it would have never worked. Not only had Amy gotten bored with him, he knew that he could never satisfy her. She was always too elusive. There had been something about Amy that drove him crazy with passion and desire even though he always knew he’d come up short when it came to fulfilling her. Still, Amy was his Dorrie and he missed her even if she didn’t miss him, even if she was just a little looney – besides, it was her craziness that endeared her to him.
As Sam drove, his thoughts drifted once again to Amy, however, Sam continued to be aware of his surroundings. The Nissan Versa arrived at their exit when just out of the corner of his eye, Sam noticed a familiar face in the car beside him. It was her. It was Amy. She was driving alone. His jaw dropped as he took in her beauty once again for the first time in many years. Then, it was as if an arm reached over, but Sam could hardly tell whether or not that had happened. Sam tried to slam the brakes but it was too late as the Nissan skidded out of control. Lucy’s furious eyes penetrated him as she seemed to scold him. The steering wheel turned wildly out of his grasp. The car spun around, then tumbled, and then skidded upside down towards the parking lot of a strip mall.
Sam blacked out. His final thoughts were of Amy. Had he remained conscious he would have been surprised to see Amy get out of her vehicle and offer assistance. He would have seen Amy struggle to get Lucy out of the car and call 911. Then, he would have heard Amy tell Lucy, “You’ll be alright. Help is on the way. I’m living proof that you can always depend upon the kindness of strangers.” Sam would have seen Lucy gazing at Amy, would have witnessed Lucy becoming entranced with her. Perhaps a glance back from Lucy to Sam would have told him everything he needed to know or rather everything that he knew already. He once had a woman who was irresistible. For once he might have even obtained Lucy’s reluctant sympathy regarding his daydreams. As it was all he could do was to hold on to his most cherished memory of Amy when they had first kissed in an empty theater as the light from the projector displayed images that would rush by unnoticed on the silver screen. He channelled all of his passion to capture that single moment in time and freeze it for as long as he could hold onto it. Then, he expired and life went on for Lucy and Amy.