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Revenge Adjacent Part II

 Part II


Previously in Bedtime Story #217: “Revenge Adjacent”


A young woman named Etna was leaving a park in Multioak after a long day of sunbathing and meditating on the blessings in her life when a wild-haired woman named Delilah ran up to her in the parking lot and asked to borrow her car so she could chase after a red-faced man in a suit who had just fled in a truck. Etna refused, but Delilah dragged her out of her car, jumped in, and drove away. Outraged, Etna resolved to get her car back from Delilah, even after a nearby man, who was wearing a shirt, told her that Delilah was chasing the man because she wanted to avenge her husband’s suicide, which the red-faced man had caused. When we left off last time, Etna had just asked the shirt-wearing man if she could borrow his car…


               “I’ll rent it to you,” said the man, tugging at the collar of his shirt.

               “How much?” asked Etna.

               “How much do you have?” asked the man, tugging at the hem of his shirt, then tugging at the sleeves of his shirt, then tugging at the collar of his shirt again.

               Etna realized, then, that her purse was in her car. “I don’t have anything on me,” she said. “But I can pay you once I get my car back.”

               “Hmm,” said the man, stroking his shirt thoughtfully. “I don’t know about that.”

               “How can I earn your trust?” asked Etna. She could feel her car getting farther and farther away. Maybe Delilah was already using it to ram the red-faced man’s truck off the road, maybe she was losing control of Etna’s car in a turn and sending it sailing off a cliff, leaping clear at the last possible second while Etna’s car and her connection to the action exploded and immediately faded from relevance. Although Etna couldn’t think of any cliffs around Multioak, not with roads along them, anyway. But she knew that haggling over the cost of renting this man’s car was doing nothing to justify increased consideration for herself.

               “I don’t know,” said the man. “That’s a difficult question to answer.”

               Etna had forgotten which question the man was struggling to answer. “Never mind,” she said. “I’ll find another way. I’ll call Mary, my most adventurous friend. She’ll be my driver. She lives close by, and she took a driving course where they taught them maneuvers.”

               “Ah,” said the man. He peeled off his shirt to reveal another shirt underneath it. “Your phone wasn’t in your purse?”

               “Oh, shoot,” said Etna. “It was.” She felt her frustration expand within her, crossing borders, ignoring forbidding signage. She knew that Delilah would never allow herself to be so consistently stymied like this. No wonder people wanted to pay attention to Delilah and had little interest in paying attention to Etna. It wasn’t just the significance of their respective causes. It was the force with which they pursued them. Etna had a hard time imagining Delilah spending minutes dithering around a parking lot under any circumstances. She certainly hadn’t engaged in any dithering when she’d taken Etna’s car. “Can I borrow your phone?” she asked the man. “Just to call my friend Mary real quick?”

               “Just borrow it?” asked the man.

               “Yes,” said Etna. “I’m not going to keep it. Just call my friend and give it back.”

               “But, I mean, for nothing?” asked the man. “You’re not offering anything in return?”

               “You already know I don’t have any money on me,” said Etna.

               “But that doesn’t seem like a very good deal for me,” said the man. “To just let you use my phone.” He used the balled-up shirt in his hands to mop at his neck around the collar of the shirt he still wore.

               Etna tried not to think about the fact that, even if she got a ride from Mary, she had no idea how she would find Delilah and her car. “All right,” said Etna. “I’ll ask someone else.”

               “Hold on!” said the man. “You don’t have any money on you, but you can still do me a favor. I’ll let you use my phone if you take these two dollars over to the pop machine by the bathrooms and buy me a 20-oz bottle of Artiste Grape Soda.”

               “No,” said Etna. “I’ll ask someone else. I’m in a hurry!”

               “Are you?” asked the man.

               Etna turned to survey the other park-goers. There were a few parents observing their children on the playground equipment, two men playing catch with a baseball, a young couple dozing on a blanket not quite large enough to accommodate both of them, a man on a bench morosely tuning an acoustic guitar. The couple was closest, but Etna also felt the most self-conscious about approaching them. But no, she needed to act with force, she needed to assert herself as a person to be reckoned with, and that was not the same as taking someone’s car when you’d already been told you couldn’t.

               Etna strode across the grass to the couple on the blanket. When their nap had started, they had probably both been in the shade, but now the left half of the young woman’s body was in the sun. “Excuse me,” said Etna. She could feel the two-shirted man watching her, no doubt wishing failure upon her.

               The woman on the blanket opened her eyes, but the man next to her did not. “What’s wrong?” she asked. She wore a gray tank top and white denim shorts. Her feet were bare, but a pair of yellow flip-flops lay a ways off in the grass as if flung away in disgust. A pair of sturdy glasses dominated her face.

               “I was wondering if I could borrow your phone,” said Etna. “I need to make an emergency call. My car was taken. Stolen.”

               “Sure,” said the woman. She sat up and shifted onto her hip so she could get her phone out of her back pocket. “I’ll even dial 911 for you. That way all you have to do is just take the phone and talk.”

               “Oh, thanks,” said Etna. “But I’m not calling 911. I’m calling my friend, Mary.”

               “I thought you said it was an emergency,” said the woman on the blanket.

               “It is,” said Etna. “But I’m handling it myself.”

               “Yourself,” said the woman. “But you’re calling this ‘Mary’ person.’”

               “Well, yes,” said Etna. “But calling Mary is part of how I’m handling it myself.”

               “Couldn’t you make the same case for calling 911?” asked the woman.

               “No,” said Etna. “Can I have the phone, please?”

               “I’ll still dial it for you,” said the woman. “It’s a little tricky to dial. You have to touch the screen just right. You have to have the right kind of finger. Not a better kind of finger, I’m not saying that, just the right kind for this screen.”

               “OK, OK,” said Etna.

               “So what’s Mary’s number?” asked the woman.

               “Um,” said Etna. “Uh.”

               “She doesn’t know the number,” said the man on the blanket, who had still not opened his eyes. “Go back to sleep, Pia. We still need to sleep another nine hours before we’ll have made up our deficit from yesterday.”

               Walking back toward the parking lot, Etna saw that the man who had become defined by his shirts was gone. Even he had lost interest in her. And who could blame him? He’d witnessed Delilah’s argument with the red-faced man, he’d heard the juicy details of their feud, he’d seen the scuffle, the knife to the throat, the red-faced man’s sneaky escape, the ensuing chase, and Delilah’s vigorous seizure of Etna’s car. How could he be anything but disappointed at how things had gone once his focus shifted to Etna’s bumbling attempts to make herself a factor?

               But that man had given up too soon. He had missed this, Etna’s most decisive moment so far: her decision to pursue Delilah and the stolen car…on foot.