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Driving Neutral by Joseph Han | Word Riot
Flash Fiction

August 16, 2012      

Driving Neutral by Joseph Han

Listen to a reading of “Driving Neutral” by Joseph Han.

At the stoplight a man wearing a tattered red cap and a piano key grin starts spraying blue stuff at the windshield. He gives me a thumbs-up with a squeegee in his hand. The hood keeps popping under his palms. My little sister watches as splotches of bird crap fizz with his sprays. She points, makes a fist, mimes rolling up the window.
     The car is low on gas and I’m afraid we won’t make it to the station, and ballet practice afterwards.
     “Let’s compromise,” I say. “It’s smoking in here.”
     She took the vow of silence after the accident. The announcement is still taped to her door, letters cut out ransom note style.
     The man outside drags the rubber blade against the glass in one sweep, and I want to scream—louder than the car horn that signaled my mother was dead, her head pressed against the steering wheel; louder than the wail of the wipers scraping half-moons, louder than the thunderous quiet after they stopped and I sat her upright.
     The man finishes, I pay him and drive off. My sister takes out her notebook and draws a picture of our dog eating rocks. The caption beneath reads, “I’m scared.”
     “You or her?”
     The rocks are cutting up her insides, and our dog needs surgery. In angrier times, I used to ask her loaded questions. Now they’re more definitive, begging certainties, things we can be sure of. I can’t tell her that we won’t be paying for the procedure. That kind of stuff leads to depression.
     “Was that man earlier scary looking?”
     She nods yes, points at me and tilts her head to the left, her way of asking the same question—I just shrug.
     The car gives up and I have to merge to the side. She looks worried about being late. I hit the wheel and hate myself.
     “What do we do?”
     She shrugs.
     “You wanna drive?” She nods at speed. I get out and she climbs over, looks too small in the seat. I adjust it so she’s closer to the wheel, let her sit on my backpack for a boost to see through the cleaner windshield.
     She presses her ballet shoe against the brake pedal. “Cool,” she says, then touches her mouth, surprised at her slip. Most of the lettering in her note was from the memorial folder.
     “Yes, very.”
     I put the car in neutral and tell her to be steady. I stand behind the bumper and start leaning into the edge of the trunk. The car feels lighter as it moves forward, as I release each step on pointe, bending and snapping my legs straight. I take my hands off for a moment before planting them back on again, just like how I used to with shopping carts when she could still sit in the baby seat. I can see her concentrating in the rearview mirror. Now I’m the one facing her, trusting that she’ll know where to turn while I ignore everything behind us.

About the author:

Joseph Han lives and writes in Honolulu. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hawai’i Review, Metazen, The Rusty Nail, Eunoia Review, and Used Furniture Review. Visit his blog:

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