Eric was alone in his car and stuck in the middle of gridlock. It was rush hour and the traffic that surrounded him on all sides was barely moving, if at all. He could see stoplights turning different colors further on down the road, but nothing was happening.
Eric glanced down at his watch. He had left his day job thirty minutes ago and had only traveled ten miles. He had less than an hour to reach his part time evening job on time and it wasn’t looking good.
The cell phone in his pocket started to chime. He pulled it out and glanced down at the small screen. Eric was vehemently opposed to people talking on their phones while driving, but what he was doing now couldn’t be called driving. The number on the caller id didn’t seem familiar, but out of sheer boredom he answered it anyway.
There was a brief pause and no one spoke on the other end.
“Yello?” He said again, this time in a slightly mocking tone.
Click. “Hello, Mr. Washington?” A man’s voice said.
“Um, who’s this?”
“Is this Mr. Eric Washington?”
“It could be… Who am I speaking with?”
“Mr. Washington, my name is Dale and I’m calling on behalf of Debt Services Incorporated. This call is an attempt to collect a debt and any information collected today can be used to royally screw your life up.”
“Wait– What did you just say? I–” Eric said.
The voice on the other end, Dale, interrupted him. “Mr. Washington, I’m calling about the amount you still owe to Mountebank General Hospital, now–”
It was Eric’s turn to interrupt. “Listen, Dale, I wasn’t able to make the payment last month, and–”
“Mr. Washington, if we can’t work something out on the phone here today, well, then I’m afraid we’re going to have to take this matter to the next level…”
“What does that mean?” Eric said. The light ahead turned green and the traffic started to crawl forward. He glanced up at his rear view mirror and caught sight of a guy in a minivan who had his index finger buried knuckle deep in his right nostril.
“What do you think it means?” Dale said. Pure venom in his voice.
“Listen, you little punk! I’m working two jobs and doing what I can. Inflation is so bad that it’s still not enough. Now, what you don’t do is call me up out of the blue and talk to me like that! Ya’ hear me!”
“Just calm down, Mr. Washington.” The venom had been replaced with a calm, soothing tone.
“Don’t tell me to calm down, jackass!” Eric said.
“Okay, okay.” Dale said. “You leave me no choice, sir. I’m going to type up how you were irate and threatened me today. This will be reported.”
“Wh-what? Wait! I’m not being irate or threatening you! How did I threaten you?” The light had switched back to red and he still hadn’t made it through the next intersection. He nervously glanced down at his watch again while applying the brakes.
“I find your words and tone of voice to be very threatening.” Dale said.
“Wh– My tone of voice? You’ve got to be kidding me. Who are you reporting this to?” But no sooner had he spoken the words than he realized he was listening to dead air. He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the screen. Dale had hung up on him.
He closed the phone and tossed it onto the passenger seat. He glanced over to his right and saw a young girl sitting behind the wheel of an old Cavalier and openly smoking something out of a pipe. Could be tobacco, but he doubted it. He looked in the rear view and found that the guy behind him was still digging in his nose.
Eric took a deep breath and tightened his grip upon the wheel.
The light turned green and every car started moving except for the sedan in front of him.
What is she doing? Eric thought.
The car was just sitting there and the woman behind the wheel was staring off into space like a zombie. He honked his horn, hoping to break her from the trance. The woman turned around and looked at him as her face contorted into a sadistic grin. She raised her middle finger in his general direction.
[Original writing & photography by J. E. Lattimer]
© 2012, 2013 J. E. Lattimer all rights reserved