In her dreams, Naomi was always driving.
The road unrolled before her like a perforated ribbon, winding amongst the night- dark trees. Shapes loomed out of the gloom, bone white and twisted strange, and she told herself that they were wood, nothing more, nothing more. What else would they be but trees?
The road took her each night, and she never knew the destination. Despite that, her hands were sure on the wheel, confident in their purpose.
She always woke before she arrived.
The ivy clung thick as dried blood to the stone wall outside her window. Woozy and still half asleep, Naomi struggled to sit up and put a hand to her head. Morning again. May as well get up, get dressed, get going on yet another day of job searching. Someone out there wanted her talents, Marisela kept telling her, though these days Naomi didn’t know that she could convince anyone what those talents were.
In the shower her head cleared somewhat, and she could start to put together the way her day would unfold. Coffee first. Cheaper at home, and cheaper was important until she could nail down another job.
Always another job. In the last year they had slipped through Naomi’s fingers like water, no matter what she did. She had trouble finishing tasks without getting distracted. Something seemed to tug at her brain like a half-remembered song lyric with the music just barely out of hearing. Not a lot of places would keep people who couldn’t focus from one task to the next. She had a lot of probationary periods under her belt and not much else.
The steam filled the bathroom and for a moment she thought she saw a flash of light pass across the fogged up mirror, like headlights coming in the opposite direction around a corner.
When Naomi wiped the glass clean with one hand, she could see only her face and the shower tiles behind. The overhead light flickered again and she remembered that she still needed to replace one of the bulbs.
Once dressed and with the first slug of caffeine attacking her stomach, she walked to the Internet cafe. She scrolled through anything feasible on the job boards, people drifting hazily by at the edges of her awareness. Should she bother to list the last place as a reference? It was probably better to vaguely mention an illness in the family as the reason for the time period she had been “unemployed.”
She didn’t even know what half of these people wanted — the temp agency descriptions were so generic.
Naomi looked up to find that the faces around her had all changed. The oily coffee left in the cup had no warmth left. She staggered back to the apartment, queasy and jacked up from too much caffeine and not enough solid nutrients.
Bus fare, the nicest of the clean clothing, and resume drop-offs for the afternoon. It was dark before she knew it, thanks to the malice of daylight savings time. Back to the apartment, where she scraped together something for dinner. By 7:30 it could have been 11:30, the night falling as thick and impenetrable against the windows as a snowstorm.The special this evening is blackened apartment, Naomi thought, and gave up the fight to stay awake. Maybe tomorrow she could find something that would get her an interview, get her something. It would be better this time. She would be better.
She fell into sleep on chilly sheets as suddenly as though plunging through the ice on a frozen lake.
The road again, the headlights finding dirt or maybe sand drifting over parts of the thick white line. The sound of the tires on the road was louder than the static from the radio, louder than the stars shining and louder than Naomi’s breath as well. For miles on either side of the car, the world stretched flat and brown and unremarkable until it met what must have been mountains off in the distance. Occasionally she saw something like cactus, if cactus had spiky pompoms attached in places. Naomi watched for eye shine but nothing approached. The road didn’t even bend.
She was more alert than she ever was during the day, her eyes clear and her head as untroubled as it was before she saw the accident.
The only motion beyond that of the car was the shifting of tumbleweeds.
There was a knock at the door. Naomi dragged her mulish feet in that direction, mumble-calling apologies as she went. Through the peephole, she could see her sister. Marisela’s arms were laden with grocery bags.
The chain eluded Naomi’s fingers for a moment before she could thread it out of its bracket on the door. Marisela frowned when Naomi got the door open.
“Are you sick? It’s two in the afternoon! Why are you still in your pajamas?” Marisela headed for the kitchen.
Naomi had no answer for this, clearly having just left her bed. She followed Marisela and then leaned against the doorframe as her sister emptied the bags onto the kitchen counter. When Marisela looked up, Naomi shrugged.
“I can’t seem to get enough sleep--maybe I’m fighting off a bug, or something.” The words sounded the way Naomi suspected she looked, sluggish and worn. Maybe a little sullen, because she understood the food was just a decoy.
Marisela made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a sigh, then stuffed the rest of the empty plastic bags into the remaining one. Sullen or no, Naomi tried not to feel guilty as she watched Marisela cut up an onion and then hunt for a pan to cook it in--she knew that Marisela was taking the only free time she had, that gap between her first and second job on her lone day off, to try and convince Naomi to get herself together.
She really did need to get herself together. The kitchen could be cleaner. She could have gotten up before two p.m. on a weekday. She could have been doing something, anything to prove that she didn’t need Big Sis coming around to give her another helpful lecture. Naomi knew all of this and hated it.
For once, though, Naomi was wrong. Marisela told soft stories about her kids, about something funny her coworker did the day before. Marisela didn’t give her grief. Just spaghetti.
Her sister’s grip was tight before she left, though Marisela’s words were casual. “Get your shit together, for Chrissakes. I know this is a rough patch, but that thing we saw happened nearly a year ago. It’s time to move on.”
Marisela checked her watch as she walked down the hall to the building’s front door, the sunshine wreathing her in brilliance and stretching her shadow back toward Naomi. The sound of the traffic came muted down the hallway.
Naomi went to the cafe. She went to restaurants, and office supply stores, and anywhere with a “help wanted” sign. She heard back from one place that they received a lot of talented applicants and she realized that it wasn’t her they decided to hire.
She drove to the interview. Wait, no, that wasn’t right. She took the bus to the interview. She tried to focus and to ignore the sun dazzle from the windows, the noise of the highway coming in from outside. She gave what she thought were reasonable answers that made her sound like a wonderful candidate. If not wonderful, acceptable.
She slept through the interview and woke up to find a message on her phone wondering where she was and perhaps they could reschedule. No, wait.
Naomi smiled politely across the shiny black desk and she shook hands and she went home to bed.
Gripping the steering wheel, Naomi wondered why she never saw any other traffic. She had never thought this before but she did then, the headlights sweeping over empty asphalt as the car went around a curve. With the window down, she could hear the rhythmic crashing of surf nearby. She didn’t even worry about it, the curve, something in her body smoothly controlling the vehicle despite the speed. She’d always known how to drive at night, apparently.
There was a movement, off to the left.
Shit, it was someone in the road. Naomi could see their yellow coat — just like that day, where she thought for a moment that it was her yellow coat. It was the same, Naomi had been sure of it, watching the woman dart across the road between cars in the rain. Naomi knew because both coats had the same green plaid lining.
The lining was exposed when the truck struck the woman from the side, lifting her into the air and causing the garment to flap open. Naomi had seen the green plaid as the woman came up over the hood and then thwack! Into the windshield and tumbling to the ground. The truck had barely slowed, water shushing away from the tires as it accelerated through the intersection.
Her coat. She had that same coat.
It wasn’t raining now. Naomi could see the coat getting closer, the person getting larger as the vehicle closed in on them. The person didn’t see the car — how could they not see the car? The headlights were so white and it was nighttime, for Chrissakes!
Why were they coming into the road?
No, wait, she could avoid them. Her body in these dreams was so confident — it knew this car, it would know how to swerve into the oncoming lane and then back around. This body would know how to do what she wanted.
The wheel didn’t move.
Why wasn’t the car changing lanes? Why wasn’t the person moving out of the way? Why weren’t they going back to the side of the road? She was right on top of them!
The wheel didn’t move.
There was an awful thud, louder than Naomi’s heart in her ears, as though the impact had missed the car and passed straight through to her instead. Up and over the hood, the hands coming up to slap against the windshield, and then the head lifted at the last second.
Naomi looked into her own face, and then she tumbled off of the hood and off the side of the car. She sped away, away, into the dark with only the white and yellow lines to guide her, her blood hammering in her ears like the wail of a siren.
The ivy on the wall opposite her window waved slightly in the breeze, even darker in the overcast light of a drizzly morning. Naomi sat up and stretched. Rain pattered against the glass, leaving silver blotches and smears.
Had she been dreaming something? The last few wisps faded away from her waking mind even as she reached for them. Whatever it was, it must have been good. Naomi felt more rested this morning than she had in weeks. She stood up and hummed as she walked to the bathroom.
Rachel Unger is a Canadian writer living in California where she learned that you always flip the rock sample over first to check for scorpions. When not writing, she spends way too much time riding her bicycle. Her recent publications include Asymmetry Fiction, Digitally Disturbed, and Polar Borealis.