from FIVE TOPOGRAPHIES
Rounding the side of the car, a body, the familiar angle of the windshield, the slope of the dashboard, the seat fabric’s divisions, the shiny haunches over the wheels, the saggy loop of the seat belt, the parts and the shape of this body so known it becomes nondescript, not there, nothing, a backdrop, a stage.
The face of the pump, and numbers on the face, their blur, the misplaced sense of acceleration somewhere in you as the numbers increase, a reeling or letting some small part of you spin off out into the air; depressing the tongue to stop them, the pleasure at the arrival of the numbers.
The time between the beginning and the end of the pumping; the relief of this nothing; thoughts surfacing and proliferating and the light on a nearby opening car door flashing, momentarily taking up your entire vision.
The empty metal paper towel container, putting in your hand into the cleft in case some need to be nudged down or the grabbing of too many paper towels at once, two paper towels instead of one like two paper plates instead of one, or grabbing a really thick intentional wad of paper towels, as thick as a sandwich to keep in the car or take on a picnic and the way the wind catches them in the backseat, pulling one up and then another tucked into it so that an insane number of paper towels is flooding in a single column out onto the floor of the back seat, in drunken flood, the surge of light adrenalin, or the laugh from the driver’s seat as you can partially see this in the rear view mirror or the not noticing, while the paper towels, still connected to each other, are pressed against the back seat or are pushed up against the fabricked ceiling by the thrust of wind from the window while on a highway.
Or because there are no paper towels, inserting the key with a slippery finger.
The car door hanging wide open out of sight, how you can feel it hanging open while doing something else, the hanging open like a small weight, a pull. You also get this pull which you often brush aside, such as when you put four kiwis into your backpack without any container, knowing, even as you zip up the bag, refusing to acknowledge the probable logic and illogic, the kiwis not being extremely ripe, wanting to insist, pushing back this feeling.
Or the feeling of the closing car door but not its not completely closing, the door resting against the frame, or the feeling of the door closing, but only having gotten half lodged in, and needing to lean a hip or the entire side of your body against it, pressing it until it defers , and slides up into the grove, the tongue clicking in.
Or sitting in the seat with the car door open, about to leave but then deciding to stay, as in the case of waiting for someone who is about to return, and leaving the door open so as to not feel contained in the car in the way that you can only feel when it is still, a feeling that is acceptable to some and not to others. Or leaving the car door open for air, or leaving the car door open so as to heat up a leg or to let some part of you dry off, say in the case of having thrown up in the car, the first thing you may do is open the door.
Or sitting in the car with the door closed, having a drawn-out conversation with someone in the passenger seat, such as a fight, not getting out of the car because there is something to resolve before getting out, because if fighting, it is better to fight trapped in a car than to fight while walking between places. Sometimes you witness people fighting on the sidewalk or on a bench, and you pity them, it is like watching an airplane, in the way that you could have easily been born another person, now looking out an oval window at the houses, and streets and cars, feeling relieved watching these people fighting.
Although frankly there are other times, in particular, minutes on a subway platform when you have to beat back the desire to yell, in particular to yell and leap up into the face of someone unassuming and not-bent seeming, not an angry yelling but the yelling that comes with a “silly” face. Yes, the face of a clown, and yes, this face is held up closely to the face of the other person, inches away, even, this desire not having come from any place in particular, nor seeming provoked by the person his or herself, and not having anything to do with anything except that it is what you are NOT doing, and not what you should do.
In the back seat not hearing the conversation between the driver and front seat passenger, the asking to repeat a lost word, sentence, the not asking and the turning to the window instead, or the leaning forward, the tensing of the face to hear.
The duty of giving directions when you are the only one having been to the destination, explaining two exits ahead of time, explaining too early, explaining right as we are passing the turn, realizing that we have already passed the turn, realizing that you thought you knew that road, but as the houses line up against the road in the dark, this is not the road you thought. Or because you have no idea where we are going, never having been here before, the sitting back and not paying attention to streets at all.
The putting of hands out the window at a red light or on the freeway, the wall of noise when you roll down the window on the freeway. How this noise irks you, or how this noise bothers other people, but how you like this noise, you, in fact, still stick your head into this noise into the window sometimes at night, taking your glasses off first, not for too long, and only with certain people.
YASMINE ALWAN is the author of Elsewhere and co-editor of Tantalum, a magazine for new prose.