Eleanor finished her breakfast, rinsed the cup and bowl under the cold faucet and went outside. Around the back of her small wooden house she pulled the cotton-cover off the Cadillac. Having folded the sheet as best she could, she stowed it under the back of the house and stood admiring the car.
It had been given to her by the old judge in town when he retired. She had cleaned both his house and his office on Main Street for twenty-three years never missing a single day. It was her retirement present from his employ before he moved interstate. At the time she could not drive; she didn’t even have a driving licence. Her brother had to collect it for her and then spend every spare moment showing her how to control the beast. She passed the test on the second attempt and for the first time, was able to drive the car home, all on her own. She felt like a queen even if there was no crowd to wave to.
Her biggest regret was that her house was isolated, sitting on the edge of a cotton field where their grandfather had built it, two generations back. It meant there was never anyone to witness her driving home in her own Cadillac. Alone in her own little world she still got a thrill out of standing back and admiring its solid shape once it was dusted down the windows and mirrors polished.
Every Sunday morning she would either drive to church or simply go out for a drive for the thrill of doing so. She had no kin left after her brother died, no husband or children so she was free to please herself. The white Cadillac was her companion. She went back inside to change.
In the small town of Horaceville, Eddie and Katya were coming up for their first anniversary living in the condominium that Eddie’s parents had provided the deposit for as a wedding present. They had met at a basketball game in Houston. Katya had reluctantly agreed to accompany her brother to the Houston Rockets’ game after his girlfriend stood him up.
At the end of the second quarter she had excused herself by saying she wanted to use the powder-room. She was bored as she never really understood why people could get so excited by two teams of giraffe-like men chased each other from end to end of a wood-floored rectangle in an attempt drop a large orange ball through a hoop mounted on a board. Each time they managed it the crowd went wild. It all seemed so stupid and the three boys behind them were so loud.
Coming back from the restrooms and looking around for a refreshment outlet she literally bumped into Eddie who was carry an armful of popcorn and beers. The bump caused beer to splash out of the plastic cups all over his trainers. He was angry at first until he realised how pretty she was as she put her hands to her face in pure shock at having caused the accident.
“Oh sorry, please I not see you.” Eddie wasn’t sure which he found the most attractive – her appearance or the foreign accent. He was smitten.
“You don’t worry one little bit. Just stay there while I give this to my friends and I’ll be back.” He shot down the steps to his row spilling even more beer as he went, dumped the refreshments with his friend and rushed back to Katya who against all the advice her brother had given her about not talking to strangers, stood there waiting for the young man. Six months later they were married.
Eddie was so excited about Katya’s pregnancy he got up early on Sunday morning in order to give his parents the news face to face. He knew they would be so excited at the thought of becoming grandparents even though his mother had strongly advised him to delay having a family until they were better prepared. This was too good to be phoned or texted, their usual means of communication these days.
He decided to take Katya’s Mazda sportscar with the top down and eased it out of the driveway as quietly as possible so as not to wake her; he hoped she was still sound asleep. It was a bright October morning as he turned into East Parkway. If only the weather in East Texas was always like this Eddie thought to himself instead of having to go to work encased in air-conditioning to avoid the usual heat and humidity.
Half a mile along the Parkway he came to a red light at the intersection with Juniper Drive. A white Cadillac Seville sat in the outside lane, the driver was an old black lady sat patiently waiting. Eddie figured if he didn’t get by her now he would be following her for the next 3 blocks so he pulled alongside her into the right turn lane. Being Sunday and quiet he could wait until the lights changed without blocking the lane for other cars.
He looked across at the old lady. He could only see her from the chin upwards as she was so small in the big sedan. She wore a bright green brimmed hat decorated with a large red rose on the right hand side. She must have sensed she was being observed; as Eddie’s looks were unwanted she maintained looking straight ahead.
It amused Eddie. For the love of God he never understood why black folk always had to bedeck themselves with ridiculous hats? He went on to inspect the car. It was polished and appeared to be in good condition. Probably worth more than her house he mused.
The light turned to green and Eddie gunned the sports-car into life and with a slight squeal of rubber was able to move into the main lane in front of the Cadillac. The old lady was just selecting ‘drive’ encouraged by the Chevrolet pick-up sitting behind her impatiently beeping.
Forty minutes later Eddie pulled into the drive way of his parents’ house in Melody Oaks. His father was outside, bent picking up the Sunday newspaper. As Eddie climbed out of the car he was greeted with his Dad’s usual sardonic attitude.
“What d’you want bothering respectable folk on a Sunday morning? I see you’re still driving that ‘rice burner’. Don’t tell me that cute gal you married seen the light of day and skedaddled back to Russia?”
“It’s always good to know I’m welcome home pop. No, Katya is fast asleep in bed and her car is a damn sight better than that gas guzzlin’ monster you drive.” His reply had more warmth and genuine humour than that of his father. “Where’s mom?”
“Not sure, she might have run off to Mexico with the gardener, she’s threatened to often enough. Then again she might be in the kitchen watching some crap on television.” He turned and started for the open garage door, Eddie followed behind. They never shook hands or hugged or anything, it was just the way his father was. It wasn’t helped that this was his father’s second marriage and he was in truth, old enough to be Eddie’s grandfather.
Inside the house his father made off to his den armed with a cup of coffee and the Sunday newspaper. His mother was indeed in the kitchen nursing a large vacuum, plastic tumbler of iced-tea and glued to an old episode of Dallas she had found on an obscure satellite channel.
“Who were you talking to Wilbur? She said to her husband’s back as he disappeared through the interior door. Eddie grabbed her from behind and kissed the top of her head. She all but spilled the contents of her iced-tea in her lap.
“Eddie darling, how lovely to see you, what brings you here this morning? Not bad news I hope?” She swung the swivel easy-chair round to face him and beamed with pleasure at seeing her only child.
“Far from it Mom, in fact I have some great news. You are going to be a grandmother, Katya’s expecting!” He was so excited to get the news out he couldn’t wait until his father was there.
The smile instantly dropped from her face which caught Eddie unawares. He knew she had counselled him to wait a while but he was sure she was going to be as thrilled as he was once the pregnancy was in progress.
“Have you told your father yet?” His mother got up from her chair and walked over to the door his father had just gone through and silently closed it.
“No, I didn’t get chance. What the hell’s going on mom? You’re really scaring me.”
“Sit down Eddie this isn’t going to be easy for me.” He did as he was bid and sat on one of the breakfast chairs.
“There is something I never ever told you or your father for that matter. I am from a mixed race family. My grand mammy was black.” The words hit him like a sledgehammer. In a flash all the racist words he had used in the past came flooding back; everything that had been said around the dinner table when he was growing up.
“So you’re worried that our baby turns out black, a genetic throwback, is that it?” She merely nodded her head as she burst into tears.
He heard enough. There was nothing more to say. He jumped up and ran outside, climbed into the Mazda and reversed out into the street as fast as he could. He heard the sound of a car’s horn and looked right just in time to see the white Cadillac coming straight at him.
The little old lady in the green hat, her mouth wide open forming a scream and her eyes bulging could do nothing to avoid him.
“You stupid n…” but he never completed the word as the solid body of the Cadillac crashed into the driver’s door of the flimsy sports-car and drove him sideways, twenty feet along the road.
Inspired by Kate Chopin’s short story Désirée’s Baby. 1892-7
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