Isolated Afternoon Thundershowers (4)

Parts 1, 2, 3:

Coming up after the news on All Things Considered, the latest developments in the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Adam groaned and switched the damn thing off, then got to inch forward all of half a car length. He punched the phone again. This time, to his surprise, Claire picked right up. “Just got off the plane. How’s Sweetie Pie?”

“Still at school. I’m on the Downtown Connector, stopped dead. It’s pouring. Again. All the skyscrapers are lost in clouds. At this rate, I’m gonna be most of an hour late. I shoulda taken Piedmont. How pissed off do they get if you’re late?”

She laughed. “They don’t. Because you have to pay the teacher. Three bucks a minute.”

“What?!”

She laughed again. “Keeps you on time.”

“This is going to cost me a hundred bucks. There’s no exception for stuck in traffic?”

“This is Atlanta: when are you not stuck in traffic? Call ahead, though, so Simon doesn’t worry.”

“Um, I don’t think I even have the number. Oh, no; I do, but the card is in my briefcase.”

“I’ll do it. Kiss him for me!” and she rang off, to leave him staring at the back of a white pickup covered in Ron Paul stickers, all beaded with the endless rain, each drop reflecting an ocean of brake lights in the premature dusk brought on by the storm.

 

Simon looked up as Mr. Darius came back in the room. “Audrey’s mom came and got her,” he said as he added another brick to his Lego tower.

“I just saw them. And your mom called: she said your dad was coming to get you?”

“Yeah, Mom’s on a trip. Dad’s going to take me for pizza.”

“That is awesome. But he’s going to be late: he’s stuck in traffic. So it’s just you and me for a while here, big guy. You want a book, or you want some more Lego time?”

“Um, Legos is good. Can you show me how to make the bricks over…?”

“Hunh? Oh, overlap. Of course. But in a few minutes you’re going to have to hang out in the lobby while I make sure the rest of the place is locked up tight.”

But Mr. Darius took forever back there. Simon could hear him, on the phone, but not loud enough to know what he was saying. Outside the front door, it was pouring rain, which was why they missed playground time again this afternoon. Lots of cars were on the street outside. A bus pulled up to the shelter across the street and a lady got in. After the bus drove away, there were no cars. And he saw it: a kitty, a black one, standing under the seat of the bus shelter. He was hunched over, with his fur sticking out, so he was all wet. Simon really wanted a kitty. But Mom has allergies.

“Mr. D?” He called. No answer. Simon went back to find him, but the halls were dark and now he couldn’t hear Mr. Darius’s voice. He looked back, forth, back, then went to the front door. This time he got to press the button to open it because Mom wasn’t there to tell him no.

Once outside, the rain hit him like the shower at the outdoor pool, only it didn’t smell like the pool. He walked to the curb and stood there, watching the kitty from between all the cars that were zooming by. But the cars never stopped. He could only see the kitty if all the cars lined up just right. He sighed. He’d get in so much trouble if he crossed the street. It was jaywalking, the police lady told his class.

He went to go back inside, but now the door was locked. And pressing the button didn’t work because you need to slide a card first. He, knocked again, called for Mr. D, but nobody came. And he could see on the bench inside the lobby his Spiderman backpack, with the emergency phone in it. He started to cry, but made himself stop: either Mr. D would–

“Dad!” he shouted as the car came to a stop. But it was the right car and the wrong dad: this man wasn’t bald. “Sorry,” he said. “I thought you were my dad. He drives the same kind of car.”

“Well, you’re soaked to the bone,” said the man. “Hop on in, and I’ll give you a ride.”

“Okay,” said Simon. Then he paused and remembered the police lady. “I’m not supposed to get in a car with strangers.”

“I’m not a stranger,” said the man. “I’m your dad’s friend from work.” Simon slumped back against the door, not knowing what to think. The man looked back and forth. Somebody else honked their horn. “Okay,” the guy said, and drove away.

Isolated Afternoon Thundershowers (3)

Parts 1 and 2 linked here.

Sergeant Jasmine Franklin was going to make it through this shift with her dignity intact. Why was her rain gear in her locker instead of her saddlebags? Because she’d let discipline slip. Well, as sure as Jazz was going to end up—however reluctantly—next to her mother at church on Sunday, she was going to get this intersection moving. And if getting soaked was what it took to remind her to double-check next time, so be it. She had the two disabled cars off to where they’d cause the fewest problems, and she had something of a sequence going: Krog, then DeKalb westbound and middle lane, Krog, DeKalb westbound and right lane, alternating so eastbound traffic could get around the disabled cars. She was almost beginning to enjoy herself; she even let the chick on the bike through instead of chewing her out for riding between the lanes. Like a biker was going to listen.

Then the BMW nearly killed her, and wrecked her rhythm. Motherfucker. And Tag Applied For? Jazz looked longingly at her motorcycle, then imagined the lieutenant busting her chops for leaving her post to chase the guy down.

Two more cycles, and there was a suburban grandma type leaning out the window of her SUV. “I’ve got a rain paaaancho,” she said in that Fargo accent. “You look real wet.”

Jazz made herself smile. “Ma’am, I ain’t getting any wetter. Thanks; but move on.”

And then another cycle, and some Arab kid was leaning out his window. “You have to help,” he said with no accent. “That Beemer? There’s a little boy in there. He wrote HELP ME on the window. I think he’s been kidnapped.”

Jesus Shitbird. Three-quarters of an inch of rain and every driver in Atlanta turns into a crazy bitch. “Sir, you’re blocking traffic. Please move on.”

“No, you have to listen. That boy: you could tell. The driver? Saw me looking. That’s why he went through and splashed you. You have to help.”

Jazz gritted her teeth, made every muscle in her mouth make the smile. “Sir, you need to move on.”

“But–”

“Do you really want to antagonize me? Here and now? Move on.”

The guy shook with rage or frustration, but drove away, leaving his window open in the pouring rain.

And then when she’d finally got things moving again, her lapel mike crackled to life. And she heard Amber Alert. And the description of a little white boy. And then she was spinning in a slow circle, each arm outstretched with the palm held up so all the drivers could see the orange triangles stitched to her palms, and then she was gunning the bike, lights and sirens, up the hill and eastbound toward Moreland.

Isolated Afternoon Thundershowers (2)

Second section. First one is here:

Reza’s finger shot out and hit preset number two: like he was going to want to hear NPR’s opinion on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But 88 had rap music; preset number three gave him some kind of cornpone hipster bluegrass on WREK. Whatever; they’d play metal next, or maybe dubstep. Now the line was starting to move a little bit; the cop out there had a rhythm going.

He looked over at the sweet Beemer next to him, smiled at the sickly-looking kid in the front seat, inched up half a car length, switched it back over to 88. Still that fucking rap. Then Bam! A bolt of lightning blew the whole sky to shit. And it started coming down so hard the wipers were useless. He looked up to see a white chick on one of those fancy bikes that weighed about a pound slide down between the two rows of cars, all the way to the front, which would normally make him want to set the bitch on fire, but she was so soaked he almost felt sorry for her.

His eyes got drawn back to the Beemer, where the kid was waving at him. Reza smiled, nodded, then just as his head started to drift back, he did a doubletake, refocused. In the fog on the window the kid had written HELP. Well, it was backwards, and now that Reza looked closer, it was HLEP. But the look in the kid’s eyes was no joke.

As Reza’s mouth dropped open, the Beemer’s driver turned toward him; then the car double-clutched, popped into the opposite lane, blazed around and through, sheeting the cop with water as she blew her whistle at him, then gunned it up the hill, almost nailing the chick on the bike.

 

Isolated Afternoon Thundershowers

Intro to a story:

The one day in Atlanta’s rainiest summer ever when Sharon left the rain gear hanging in the living room. The one morning there wasn’t any coffee. Of course, it had been sunny and beautiful this morning, fooling her into thinking the city could go one goddam day without a downpour.

She crested the little hill where Boulevard passed under the road and the train tracks, then shifted up and let the bike’s momentum carry her down the long, low hill all the way to the Krog Tunnel. To her left were the other two lanes of DeKalb Avenue, the middle lane going her way now that it was afternoon, and beyond that, the half-gentrified ghetto that was the Old Fourth Ward. The other bike commuters called the middle lane the “suicide lane,” which Sharon thought was funny because it implied that riding or even driving in the other two lanes of DeKalb wasn’t begging for death.

To her right was the row of pylons for the MARTA, which as if on cue clattered overhead, and beyond that, the great freight train yards that unloaded shipping containers filled up by Chinese slaves and dumped onto Wal-Mart shelves by American ones. She wanted to be a pussy, she could have stopped at Five Points or even Georgia State and walked the bike onto the MARTA, stayed mostly dry, but it was her night for the kids, and this would be the only chance she had for a workout. She noticed that half the pylons, despite their recent coat of anti-graffiti paint, already had tags on them: she smiled and craned her neck to see past the next one–

She slammed on the brakes so hard she could feel the bike fishtail and the rear wheel lift up. She felt her molars grind together as she kept it under control by brute force; she ended up at a standstill, her front wheel half an inch behind the bumper of the last in the long, stationary line of idling cars stretching all the way to Krog. Stupid, stupid, stupid: you never lose focus on DeKalb, you want to live to spend the evening trying to get your kids to enjoy salad and math instead of the candy and TV Joey feeds them, all without badmouthing him.

She rocked the bike back and forth, got it in a lower gear, peeled left around the car, drifted slowly down in between the two lanes of stopped cars, trying not to feel smug. Ahead of her on the left was what in a couple of months would be the entrance to the Beltline: she could make it ninety percent of the way home on a dedicated cycle path, and not a moment too–

Stupid! Looking the other way this time, not watching DeKalb’s thousands of potholes. Eyes on the road. Sooner or later, the city would come along and cover them with a giant steel plate, Atlanta’s real trademark, which would be just as good for her tires as the pothole.

Halfway down the hill, she could see why all the cars were stopped: the light at Krog was out. A big lady cop was in the intersection, no rain gear on her either, using gloves with reflective stripes to wave traffic around the accident in the right lane just past Krog.

Suddenly, the sky lit up as a huge bolt of lightning struck across the sky ahead of her. Sharon only had time to count to “one” before the thunder ripped across the world, as tangible as it was audible. The heavens opened up with a nearly solid wall of rain, and now Sharon figured nobody in the cars resented her.

The fourth or fifth car back from Krog, a grey BMW with a Braves sticker, had a little boy Morgan’s age in the passenger seat. He waved out the window at her; she smiled, keeping both hands on the handlebars where they belonged. Something about his face struck her, though: he was crying? Maybe he was missing his cartoons.

She got to the front of the line. The soaked cop grinned, pointed at her, waved her through. Sharon put her legs into gear as she blazed the intersection, with just enough time for a quick glance into the artsy graffiti around the mouth of the tunnel under the tracks. Then she pushed herself past the accident, back into the right lane, and up the steep part of the hill on the other side toward Moreland and a healthy vegetarian dinner with her babies.

Almost there, trying to keep some momentum in clothes so wet they felt like armor, and then the BMW blew by her, nearly taking her out and sending a sheet of water over her. She thought she saw the boy’s face and somehow knew that he was desperate. But the back of the BMW had a piece of wet cardboard where the license plate should be, with Tag Applied For scrawled on it in black marker. Fucking Georgia.