The Stoplight

Early one morning, a driver encounters a seemingly endless stoplight. The light triggers a flood of memories. Will she follow this rule too? 827 words  Fiction


She pulled up to the stoplight ever so slowly, making certain to stop behind the crosswalk. The car hummed softly with the contentment of a well-cared-for-vehicle. The radio played a classical tune as the driver waited.

Somewhere in the trees nearby birds frolicked and chattered as a pinkish glow lit the eastern sky. Few people were out, the driver noted, idling at the light. No cars were in sight at the intersection — only a man walking a dog around the corner of a sidewalk.

The driver peered at the red light through eyeglasses that were a bit thicker than usual. A hand reached up absently and straightened silvery hair under a rounded hat.  The stoplight remained red.

The driver began to shift uneasily in her seat. She was in no hurry, but still this light seemed to be taking a long time. As the car continued to idle, her thoughts drifted back to childhood. Her mother’s exceptionally tidy house came to mind and the times she was scolded for leaving dolls out. She recalled the neat lines of children in school, hushed to near silence for fear of punishment.

She looked up at the red light and scanned the four-way intersection. Still no other cars approached. “Rules are rules,” she mused to herself, “and there is a reason for them.”

The driver recalled high school, watching a bunch of kids get into a car and happily speed off. She was not allowed to do such a thing — and as she pushed back her glasses and straightened her books for the walk home, she thought of the dire consequences her mother said awaited her free-wheeling classmates.

Back at the intersection, a cat peeked out of a bush and scurried across the road to the other side. A pair of joggers, attempting clips of conversation as they ran, jogged in place at the light an instant and then crossed, not waiting for it to change.

She looked at the light still glowing red and glanced at her watch. She could not remember how long she had been there, but it seemed a long time. A cyclist appeared in her rear view mirror, churning rapidly towards the intersection. He paused for a moment at the intersection and flailed on through.

The driver fidgeted in her seat and contemplated the light. She checked her mirrors and eyed the roads heading into the intersection — no cars. The pink glow in the east seemed to lessen and the light of morning increase.

The man with the dog came back around the corner and proceeded down the street he’d come from as the driver’s thoughts drifted back again. She thought of her husband, now dead, and how handsome he had looked in his Army uniform. His easy smile so charming, so disarming. But he had been one of those men who demanded a house just so (which also pleased her mother) and dinner on the table at six. Still, her heart raced a bit when she thought of him, mixed by a bit of sadness. She had never really let herself go with him. Never really told him how much she loved him. It hadn’t seemed proper.

She looked at the light, red, taunting, hanging there like some mechanical god. She stifled the thought with the admonition “No, I’ll get caught.” But a look began to come over her face. A look connected to a thought so rarely contemplated, its freshness scared her a bit. She could go through the light. Surely it was broken. If the police pulled her over she would just explain. She raced the engine and looked around to make sure no one was watching. But suddenly, the vision of her mother, apron on, holding a wooden spoon and a stern look, caused her to let off the gas. The light still burned red.

She thought then of the missed opportunities, how she’d followed everybody’s rules all her life. She glanced at the intersection one more time and looked up at the baleful red eye of the light.

Then she stomped on the gas and in a tremendous roar of engine, tires screaming against the pavement in a billow of smoke, she hurtled through the intersection and down the street.

The light swung a bit in the wind created by her passing and glowed red.

Copyright 2011 Steve Dodge   All Rights Reserved

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