Car Wreck
P.L. Mosher

Gary had this idea: a real family dinner in a Mexican restaurant he’d loved as a kid, with his wife and his son. Just the three of them. “Everyone in the car,” he said, clapping his hands. “Let’s go, crew.”

“Crew?” Jonah asked. “There’s, like, three of us.”

“He likes to imagine himself a sea captain,” Wendy, his new wife said. “It’s important we humor him, at his age.”

Gary smiled and held the door. “Very funny.”

Gary’s new wife, Wendy, was twelve years younger, a pretty girl who loved a good time. She laughed at everything, and lately, he was starting to notice, often laughed at him. They’d been married less than three months. Since the day they’d returned from their honeymoon, she’d developed this running joke of tugging on his gray hair, or picking up a CD that demonstrated his outdated musical taste, and saying, “Wow. You’re old.” This would always cause Jonah, Gary’s eleven-year-old son, to convulse with laughter.

In the car, Jonah and Wendy wrestled around together over the seat, passing a bag of chips back and forth, laughing about TV shows and rock bands Gary had only the slightest acquaintance with. He considered making a joke of it, saying something about how he wanted them both to behave, but he was growing weary of the feeling that Wendy wanted to be his daughter more than his wife.

“Don’t spoil your appetite, Jonah,” he said. “We’ll be at the restaurant in fifteen minutes.”

“We want to stop at Games, Etc. on the way,” Wendy said. “Jonah and I want to play Halo 2 tonight.”

“Isn’t that a mature rated game?” Gary asked. He envisioned another evening alone while Wendy and Jonah yelled about kills from Jonah’s bedroom.

“That’s only because of the blood,” Wendy said. “Anyway, we can buy it for him.”

“But if it’s rated mature, maybe it’s not appropriate for his age,” Gary said. He pulled to a stoplight and looked over at them. “I think you should stick with teen games.”

Jonah and Wendy exchanged a glance that said this was exactly the type of lame remark they would expect from him. Wendy said, “This mature rating is just a political thing. Jonah can handle it.” Gary stared at her. She stuffed chips into her mouth.

The light turned green. Gary steered the car toward Boulder. He’d be damned if he was going to stop at Games, Etc.

Wendy grabbed another handful of chips and handed the bag to Jonah, who dug in.

“PUT THOSE AWAY.”

“Wendy’s eating them too.”

“Well, she’s a grownup,” Gary said. “She isn’t going to ruin her appetite.”

“I don’t want to eat at some stupid Mexican restaurant. I want to get a pizza and eat at home and play Halo 2.”

“We’re going to eat together like a family. No TV, no video games . . .”

They were passing the mall. “Mexican food is so greasy,” Wendy said. She pointed over her shoulder. “Hey, you’re driving past the store.”

Gary ignored her. “This place isn’t greasy.”

“I’m not hungry yet, anyway,” Wendy said. “It’s so early.”

Gary gripped the wheel. He slowed to let a motorcycle pass on the left.

“Please pull over. The store probably closes at six. Jonah and I will just run in.”

“Don’t you need my credit card?” Gary asked.

“Yes.” Wendy smiled an unpleasant smile. “I guess you’d better come in, too.”

Gary accelerated through a light, whizzing the car past the turn for Games, Etc. “We’re going to dinner,” he said. “That’s our evening.”

From the corner of his eye, Gary saw Wendy stare at him, open mouthed, as though she couldn’t believe what a tyrant he’d become. From the backseat Jonah said, his tone full of teenaged resentment, “Why is only what you want important?”

“Good question.” Wendy crossed her arms over her chest. “Neither of us are interested in this little nostalgia trip, or eating at some greasy dive from your youth. Not that you give a crap what we think.”

Gary slammed on the brakes and pulled the car in a violent U-turn. He felt a grim satisfaction at the sight of Wendy hanging onto the door handle, her face pale, her mouth forming a comic-book “o” of surprise.

“Jesus,” she said, when they pulled into the Games, Etc. parking lot. “You’ve got a temper, mister.”

“You wanted to come here. Fine.” Gary cut the engine. “We’re here.”

Inside the store Gary stood by the counter with his wallet out. Wendy and Jonah ran up and down the aisles, grabbing boxes off the shelf and laughing.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Gary said.

As the salesclerk rang up the purchase, Jonah laid his head against his arm. “Thank you, Dad.”

Wendy gave him one of her mock enthusiastic grins. “Yes, thank you, Daddy.”

Gary signed the receipt. The three of them walked out to the car.

“Could we just go by Pizza Hut?” Jonah asked. “My stomach’s too upset from that drive for Mexican.”

Gary started the car, and backed slowly away. He looked over at Wendy, who was smiling at him, happy now that she’d had her way.

“What do you think, Wendy?” Gary asked.

“Pizza!” Wendy said. “Pizza-Pizza-Pizza!”

He turned left on the highway, away from Boulder, back toward home. After a minute, Wendy said, “Hello. Pizza Hut is back there.”

“This was a mistake,” he said. His voice was soft, so Jonah wouldn’t hear.

“Well, it was your idea,” she said. “We could have stayed home and ordered in.”

“No,” he said. “That’s not what I mean.”

Wendy leaned her head against the window and looked away. In the back seat, Jonah was too busy tearing open his new game to notice anything. Gary didn’t want to think about Jonah, not yet. Right now, he felt only a mild curiosity about what he and Wendy would say next.