Len Messineo


Not in Service Area

 

She changes her mind at the last minute, the red-headed woman with the cloche hat in an old Jeep. Instead of turning left, she goes straight. I try to drive around her, on the inside. It’s either blindside her or pile drive into a parked truck. I choose the truck.

My car noses under the truck’s bumper, collapsing like the bellows of an accordion. I am a crash dummy, the inertial force, hurling me forward.

She drives on.

The handouts, the extra chalk, the chicken parmesan sandwich and protein bar I packed for lunch scatter onto the floor. I was supposed to be teaching a class this morning.

I am indignant, want to chase after her. The engine dies, the radiator hisses. Mockingly, I think.

 

A quiet Saturday morning, the air crisp, dusty, with that sepia tinge it often gets in late summer. Edgy, nervous, I pace back and forth. I place two fingers to my carotid artery. I want to jump out of my skin.

Neighbors peer out their windows, front doors. A woman, Hispanic, young, mocha-complected, comes out of the house.

“Are you all right?” She bounces a curly-haired baby on her hip. “Do you want an ambulance?”

“I’m okay.”

She calls her husband. It’s his truck. She calls the police and I call school. I get a message: “Not in service area.”

“I was on my way to teach a class.” I say it casually, surprised at my calm.

“I teach,” she says.

“Where?”

“No. 49.”

“I taught at No. 27.” I say.

We discuss contemporary teaching methods, new grading practices that disallow quantitative measure—mustn’t traumatize the child.

Neighbors come out on the front porch. They offer to call an ambulance, the police. I assure them I’m all right.

I ask someone to call my school. Strangely, they, too, get “Not in service area.”

 

The husband arrives in a shiny metallic-red Cobra. “Are you hurt?” he says. He offers to call an ambulance.

“I’m in good hands.” I show him my Allstate card.

“Don’t worry about the truck,” he says. He sighs to his wife, “It’s like destiny. I practically never park on the street.”

“Destiny,” I say. “I might have gone back for my sunglasses. Or hit the snooze button one more time. Or watered the hydrangeas.”

He tells me he’s a barber. “I own the shop on Norton. Marco’s Place.”

I admire his Cobra, the deep sheen, the luxurious black leather interior. His three year old unfurrows maps he’s wrestled from the glove compartment.

He calls the police. “Ay! Where are the police when you need them?”

I continue pacing. I cross my hands, fingers to my wrist. I ask another neighbor to call school.

“Not in service area.”

 

“I sure could use a haircut,” I say to Marco. I don’t know why. The body’s reaction to trauma is instantaneous, almost robotic. Adrenaline floods the blood stream. Opiates assuage the pain. Clotting agents rush to the site of injury. Heart rate, oxygen consumption, blood glucose level soars precipitously. This is the most critical period, the danger that the victim might slip into shock; oftentimes this does not occur until twenty minutes to a half hour after the accident. Were we to use as an example a cat, it might be said that it is nature that compels it to climb so very high in the tree. As with a serious body trauma, the question is, how is the cat going to get down? The last thing I should be thinking of is a haircut!

Surprisingly, Marco says, “Why not?”

His wife brings out a cane chair. He throws a striped apron over my shoulders, fastens it about my neck, places his clippers, scissors, and comb on my car’s collapsed hood.

Marco reaches into the car. “Mind if I plug into your lighter?”

“Not at all.” I know instinctively my car is totaled.

We make small talk, the unseasonably cool summer, the tomatoes on the vine not yet ripe, whether the bushy-tailed squirrel portends a bitter winter.

Danny from across the street comes over. He sits on the lawn, paging through Easy Rider. He lights a joint.

I call school again while gray-brown swabs of my hair fall on the apron. “What do they mean, not in service area!” I am livid, not my usual equable self.

“Relax. You’re going to be fine,” Marco says. He snaps his scissors overhead. A peppery Salsa tune plays on his Cobra’s radio.

“Want an aspirin?” Marco’s pretty wife says.

“Want a hit?” Danny says.

 

While Marco cuts, I call Allstate.

“When did the accident occur?” Agent Steve asks.

“Just now. We’re waiting for the police.”

Marco nicks my ear.

“He’s bleeding!” Marco’s wife says.

“Are you hurt?” Steve, on the phone, asks.

“It’s nothing. Barber nicked my ear.”

“The barber?” Steve says.

“Call the ambulance,” Marco tells his wife. “He’s bleeding.”

My agent asks if there is anyone he can notify.

“My school. I’m supposed to be teaching a class. My students will be anxious. They have paid their tuition. They have packed lunches, sandwiches, protein bars.”

I have prepared for this class all week. I should be lecturing, making chalk marks on the board, eating my parmesan sandwich. I feel anew the indignity of being wrenched from the expected, the ordinary, to a place well outside my comfort zone, so to speak, out of my service area.

If only, I think. If only. . . If only . . .

 

I complain to Marco, “There ought to be something in the trunk other than the fifth wheel. In case of an accident.

“The donut,” Marco says. His clipper buzzes in my ear, the cicada of late summer.

“Do you want breakfast?” Marco’s wife asks.

I say, “No thanks,” though I am ravenous.

“How about one of those motorized scooters,” Marco says.

“Or one of those ejection seats.” Danny says. “Shoots you a hundred feet above the accident. Chute opens.”

“Or a space pod,” Marco says. “Like on the Starship Enterprise. It gets hit by a photon beam from a Romulan war ship. You get in your pod, zoom off to another galaxy.”

“Or even one of those Transformer deals, like in the movie,” Danny says, his voice raspy, smoke-filled lungs. “It looks like a ball-point pen, folds out into a monster truck.”

“How about a jet pack, like Iron Man,” Marco says.

“Iron Man. Doesn’t he rust?” Danny says.

“It rains, he’s out of luck,” Marco says.

“Good thing it’s not raining,” Danny says.

“Krypton is hard to get.” I don’t know why I say this. “You have to order it special, from the Space and Astronautical Science Laboratories.”

“Or from Amazon,” Danny says. “They got everything.”

“How come you never see those motopeds,” Marco says. “They were supposed to be the next big thing.”

“You mean Segues. I’ve seen them,” I say. “At the Park Avenue Festival. Bane of women in sandals. Let one of those suckers run over you, goodbye metatarsals.”

 

“All done,” Marcos says. He snaps the apron clear of my shorn locks. He holds up a mirror. I turn my head left and right. He’s buzz-cut his logo on one side “Marco’s Place.”

“I love it,” I gush.

Marco’s wife brings out a card table. She’s made burritos: Monterey jack cheese, bell peppers, onions.

Delicious!

Danny asks if I know Texas-Hold them. He fans a deck of cards.

 

The police arrive, finally. The red and blue and white bubble flashing makes me feel nauseous. I’ve wolfed down two burritos. I have the hiccups.

“We’ve called the ambulance,” they assure me.

“No need,” I say.

“You’re bleeding,” one cop says.

“It’s only a nick,” I assure him.

“Nice cut,” the other cop says.

Marco hands him a business card.

 

They ask you how the accident happened.

“She cut me off. “ I squat down, use yellowing leaves to place my car in relation to hers. I use a stick to trace her path, estimating my likely speed given my car’s weight.

I know all about mass, momentum, speed. I stand, brush dirt from my hands. “Aren’t you going to write this down?”

“Can I use your stick?” one officer says.

The other guffaws. “We’re a No-fault state. Don’t matter jack.”

 

The first officer asks if they could sit in on our game. We play Stud, Draw, Hi-Lo. Marco’s wife brings out another card table, Marco a cooler of Dos Equus. The second officer explains that they were late because they were part of a motorcade, to Cobb’s Hill. “Rochester Police Benefit. There’ll be a helicopter, clowns for the kids, a scuba diving team.”

“But isn’t Cobb’s Hill Pond to shallow to swim in?” I ask. I remember an elementary school buddy vowing to walk across it, on a dare. The water barely reached his crotch.

“That’s fortunate for our Scuba Squad,” the first cop says. “They don’t know how to swim.”

“Ain’t that why they wear scuba gear?” the other cop says. They laugh raucously and punch and slap each other in a way that reminds you of the Keystone Cops.

The police have put up a yellow ribbon blocking off traffic. A Latin song plays on Marco’s radio: he’s cranked up the volume and opened the trunk of his Cobra. Sub woofers throb and pound. Neighbors, couples, kids, dance wildly in the street. Someone’s set up a grill. Smoke curls upward into the sun-dappled canopy of trees, the hazy air scented with sausage, onions, and peppers. I’m dealt one winning hand after another. I can do no wrong.

Someone hands out cigars—a new father?— I roll mine to the corner of my mouth, squint. “I’m all in,” I  announce. I push my chips to the center of the table. I have an inside straight, can’t wait to see their faces.

I slam down my cards, hard. …

An airbag pops. Someone is attaching a blood pressure cuff to my arm. “Put your head back,” he orders. They wrench the door open with the jaws of life, slip me onto the gurney.

The last thing I see, a mocha-complected woman bouncing a curly-haired baby on her hip.


Bio

Len Messineo earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Wichita State University, and his MA in Theater at St. Louis University. He is general editor of the book The Unburnished Mirror: An Interpretative Study of Folklore. His pieces have appeared in many magazines, including Shenandoah, Tampa Review, New Novel Review, The Sun Magazine, The Chrysalis Reader, Tennessee Review and Rosebud, and his stories have earned two nominations for inclusion in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. His one-act plays, By the Sea and My Anatomically Correct Artificial Life Form were performed as part of the GEVA Theatre's Regional Playwrights Festival in Rochester, NY. He teaches at Writers and Books, runs the 2000 Word Club at Barnes and Noble, and performs throughout the Rochester area in the Artisan Jazz Trio.