If we’d left at a reasonable hour, say four in the morning, there would have been no doubt as to who would be driving first, but at ten-fifteen we had a quick discussion. “Are you ready? Are you driving first or am I?” Jean asked.
“No, let me drive first,” I answer. “Give me just another minute and I’ll be ready.”
“Another minute? Tony, we’re already running behind. Go! Hurry-up; I’ll wait in the car.”
It’s 10:20 before I walk into the garage. Jean has pulled the car out onto the driveway and sits in the driver’s seat. After I drop my suitcase into the trunk and put my attaché case in the backseat I look at her and flip my hands out, palms to the sky in interrogative. “I thought I was driving first?”
“I’ll drive till we need to stop for gas. Are you ready?”
“Sure. Ready,” I say, getting in but not closing the door until I’m settled and my seatbelt is buckled.
Jean has a tendency to put the car in gear and go before I’m buckled, especially when she’s in a hurry. The arthritis in my hands requires me to take more time for clicking the male and female parts of the buckle together more slowly than she feels reasonable. Despite repeated heated requests over the years to wait until I’m settled before having us roll forward she still tends to go as soon as I close my door. In response to her recklessness I have adopted the defense mechanism of keeping my door open wide until I’m ready for her to drive. I fumble in my attempts to click it and Jean exhales her frustration. Closing my door, I look her way, smile and ask, “Ready?” in a syrupy saccharine response.
Jean slaps her left turn signal on and I ask which route we’re taking. This leads to a mildly contentious conversation concerning the best route from the house to the highway and we take her longer route rather than my preferred, shorter, but admittedly more residential one. Once we make it out on the highway I grab a notebook from my valise and start scribbling Eight Percent a story about last night’s frolic with Yvette and new friends Mac and Mac’s wife Judy.
The miles roll by, Sirius Radio’s The Pulse top-fifteen countdown from the year 2016 and the present filling the car with noise when the hands free rings in the car.
“Kevin,” she says to me. “Hey, Kevi,” she says to the phone after connecting the call and routing it to the car’s entertainment center for hands-free conversation. “I’m here with your father; we’re on our way to Florida to visit your brother.”
“Oh, yeah? What are you doing?”
“Going to watch the gladiators,” I respond. “We’re going to a Colts game in Jacksonville.”
“Oh. I thought you hated football?” Kevin asks.
“Hates a strong word,” I answer with a chuckle. “Detest? I blame your mother. And brother. How’re Liz and Francis?”
“Good. She’s right here. Frank’s sleeping.”
“Still, or again?” I ask.
“Ha!” Liz replies. “Again, for sure. We put him down for a nap. How are you guys?”
“Good. On our way to Florida. Looking forward to your visit next month,” Jean replies.
“Us too. Tony, I can’t believe you’re going back to Florida!” Liz declares.
“No active arrest warrants,” I answer, “just the sentence of F-L-A. Cesspool. I’ll be okay for three days. I’m at 368 days out of that hellhole.”
“You’ll be okay, Padre,” Kevin says. “Hey, have you started that book I sent home with Mom?”
I look at Jean and she smirks. “No, not yet,” she says, “but we have it with us. I’m planning to start it today.”
“Oh, good. How about you, Dad? Are you going to read it?”
“I’m planning on your mother starting it today, too.”
“It’s really good,” Kevin insists. “I think you’ll really like it,
“Yeah? I’ll let Jean tell me what she thinks, then I’ll go from there.”
“I’ll read a little bit to him and he can see for himself, okay, honey?”
“That sounds great, Madre.”
I give Jean a look of great suffering, the conversation continues and we disconnect. “Really?” I ask. “Really? Good God almighty, saints preserve me. You really expect me to read Why We’re Catholic? What have I done to you?”
“Just stop. It’s not like he’s asking you to re-embrace the faith.”
I just tilt my head down and stare at her from the tops of my eyes.