This story was originally published in the Santa Barbara Literary Journal.

I Would Do Anything for You

Strange to be standing inside a bush, smoking pot and pushing forty. There’s a friend in this bush with me and he is the one who suggested we smoke. He’s helping me out by counting cars, specifically those that are clogging one of the lanes on this four lane street. This traffic jam happens almost every night, as the dinner time rush of cars grows and eventually overflows from the Chick-fil-A drive thru.

I recently lost my true love. We were together for eight years until she decided it wasn’t working and could not work again. Here’s a question I never used to consider: Isn’t it strange how something so beautiful and amazing can slowly seem ordinary and unremarkable when you are exposed to it day after day? I don’t know about you, but for me the answer to that question is “yes.” 

I think that’s how I lost her. 

Anyway, she hated this idling line of cars, both the literal traffic and what she said it represented. To her, it was some kind of ugly and unhealthy American metaphor. Over the course of months numerous accidents had occurred as a result of the nightly gridlock. They were fender benders mostly, caused by people not braking in time or suddenly swerving into the adjacent lane. A motorist had recently hit a kid on his ten speed, edging into the extra few feet of the bike lane, desperate to be just a little bit closer to their sandwich.

A week after my true love left I sat down and wrote a letter to the local paper, railing against this poor example of city planning and explaining how one business was negatively affecting the lives of many people who had no need or current desire for fried chicken. I started documenting the traffic and posting about it online. I did all of this for her, although I never mentioned that part. Still, people responded. My letter gained traction on social media. The evening news did a story about the accidents and interviewed me. The city council even put out a statement saying they were concerned and aware of the problem. 

So here I am with my friend in this bush - really a drought stunted and emaciated juniper - conferring. I’ll take over counting cars now that I’m off work. Maybe these nightly reports will make a difference. Maybe she’ll come back. My friend gives me his numbers and tells me that in the past hour there’s been frequent honking, a few motorists yelling. It’s stressful, he says, watching people who are stressed. He takes a long drag from his joint before we hi-five and he heads home for the night.

Back on the street, the line of cars is growing. I stand on the sidewalk and begin to count. In the pink and greasy twilight I now see my true love, slowly driving by in the lane of traffic that is still moving. Her window is down and her right middle finger is erect and outstretched. Whether it’s directed at me or the stationary line of cars, I can’t be sure. 

She will always have a radiant smile.