Sweetie and Mother are about to die in a vehicular collision.
At approximately 4:00 PM, eastbound through a busy suburban intersection, their embarrassing green 2013 Volkswagen Beetle will run a red light. At full speed, they’ll T-bone a 2023 Chevy Tahoe, which is huge and black and—for the next minute or so—still shiny and new. This accident will account for approximately 0.8% of the motor fatalities that will occur across Illinois this spring.
The driver of the Tahoe—a small brownish woman, maybe Mexican or something—will be scraped up and traumatized, but she should survive for many more years.
Sweetie, says Mother, can you please pretend like you’re listening? …Sweetie?
Yes, Mother, says Sweetie. Of course, Mother.
Sweetie says this with sarcasm, slouched and angled away, facing her passenger side window. But she’s not looking out the window. She’s looking at her damn phone like the rest of her addicted generation, and Mother is this close to taking it away from her.
Sweetie’s real name is Lucy, but she prefers Lu. Mother’s real name is Brenda, but she prefers Mom.
The accident will be gnarly, in the negative sense of the word. Dad will be real fucked up by the whole thing. People at the office will say that Pete didn’t take enough time away to grieve, and that it’s showing in his work. He will really need to see somebody about it. But he won’t. Even though there’s no shame in going to a therapist, and they can really help, you know?
Dad’s real name is Peter. He likes to be called Peter, but a lot of people call him Pete anyway. They believe that anyone named Peter can and should be called Pete. Dad doesn’t love that nickname, but he never corrects people, because it doesn’t really matter, does it? Brenda thinks it does matter, actually, and that he should tell people to call him what he wants to be called. Just an opinion.
Lu, please don’t take that tone with me, says Mother. She says this sternly and squeezes Sweetie’s knee to show that she’s serious.
Sweetie slaps—lightly but lovelessly—at Mother’s clamping talons. Sweetie’s been acting up a lot lately, but it’s just a phase.
Nevertheless, Mother absolutely does not tolerate that type of behavior. She brought Sweetie into this world and she can blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Sweetie does not hate Mother. She just, like, ugh, wants some freaking space, you know?
Nevertheless, Sweetie says—quietly, almost like she doesn’t want Mother to hear—I hate you. It is the first and only time she ever says this to Mother.
Mother is not pleased. No, sir. Excuse me, she says. Lucy? Can you repeat that please?
You heard me, Brenda, says Sweetie, surprised at herself for doubling down.
Mother is starting to feel hot under the collar. But she will not lose her temper. Sweetie is testing Mother’s patience and is just trying to get a reaction. Mother takes deep breaths and stays cool and collected.
Dad isn’t great with blood. Sometimes he can’t even get his own blood drawn without fainting (though he’s getting better about that and, anyway, it’s a perfectly normal reaction that lots of people have.) He’ll throw up when he sees the remains of the deceased. Then he’ll get woozy and weak and need to lie down on the hard no-slip sheet tile floor under the fluorescent lights of the hospital. Lu-Lu is his world. Such a big heart. And so much talent. She was going to win a Tony someday. For Best Director of a Musical. That was her dream.
And he should have been trying harder with Brenda. Jesus Christ, he really just, he just, you know, Jesus Fucking Christ, he—
Mother takes a deep breath and collects herself. No allowance this week, she says. She says it calmly, like a diplomat communicating sanctions or new tariffs to an uncooperative and unpredictable smaller nation.
Do you pay me allowance, asks Sweetie with dramatic intonation, so that I’ll say that I love you?
Well. Okay. All right. That’s it. That’s fucking it. Mother has had it. Final straw. She takes her frustrated eyes off the road and screams a primal scream, throaty and wordless, at her selfish brat. Sweetie screams back, half sparring, half mocking. Neither sees that the light ahead has just turned yellow.
Their obituaries will make them both sound like saints. They aren’t saints. They’re both doing their best though. Well, okay, no, maybe not their absolute best, sure. There’s always room for improvement. But they both usually try to do their best, even if they’re not at their bests right now. Right? And can any more be expected of them? Of anyone?
If the light were to have stayed green, they’d just drive right through, harmlessly. And then they’d probably both calm down. Maybe not on the drive, no, but eventually. And they’d both apologize. Eventually. Mother first, sincerely and confidently and with eye contact and brazen love. Then Sweetie, embarrassed but secretly relieved to be finally apologizing too. Because they really do, like, you know, love each other or whatever. Even if they’re not always the best at showing it sometimes.
Nico is a second generation Columbian-American with an MBA from Northwestern University. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two children. By day he tries to hustle for work as an independent management consultant. Find his stories at X-R-A-Y, Pembroke Magazine, and Apple Valley Review.