Imagine that the woman survives.
Long ago, Chuck had come along and claimed Melissa as his ride-or-die. She wasn’t sure about the phrase, but she fell for the sentiment. Quickly, though, Chuck hurt her in the ways that men too often hurt women, and Chuck did those things as the two of them rode through life together.
For some time, Melissa disbelieved this was her fate. Then, she felt trapped. And then, she began to internalized his words: yes, she probably was an insignificant, manipulative bitch.
But occasionally, Melissa caught a glimpse of herself in the passenger side mirror when they drove to his favorite restaurant or when she washed her face before the bathroom vanity. In that reflection, she saw someone he wasn’t telling her about, someone she remembered and liked very much. She decided to reclaim his words about her manipulative tendencies because who doesn’t try to redirect a car that is heading for a ditch? She had to maneuver the situation just to survive.
As time passed, she realized another option—getting out of the car. She didn’t need to be part of the inevitable slow-motion crash that was their relationship. She didn’t need to die in the wreckage when she knew Chuck would likely make it out alive. He was the one driving after all, and every car fatality she’d ever heard of included dead passengers and a living driver. As a survivor, he’d say her death motivated him to change his life, when really he’d use the loss of her to weep his way into the arms of other women.
As part of her plan to avoid her own demise, Melissa took one item out of their apartment each week—something small that mattered to her but not to him. It was like keeping the change from her allowance for grocery shopping. This, by the way, she also did. She started buying store-brand everything. She suggested eating out more often. Then she hid what she had left like a squirrel with nuts, never forgetting her goal nor the woman in the mirror.
One day, as winter approached, Chuck slammed the front door when he left to take a breather. She knew to take such moments for her weekly selection of an item. Her eyes fell on something she very much wanted for her own, but he would certainly notice. She looked around for anything else inconsequential. There wasn’t. She wasn’t. Everything was filled with significance and consequences, but after months of preparation, she was ready.
She slipped out the door with the final object clutched in her hand. With those keys, she unlocked the silver Thunderbird. Only Chuck ever drove it, but the car was hers, passed down from her mother because a girl needs a good way to get to wherever she wants to go. In the end, this was the final transformation of her plan of escape—to take the car back for herself. Once in the driver’s seat, she checked her reflection, liked what she saw, and drove off.
Imagine that the woman survives. Imagine, even, that she thrives.
Abby Manzella is the author of Migrating Fictions, which was awarded the Honorable Mention for the MLA Book Prize for Independent Scholars. Her work has been named to the Wigleaf Top 50 Longlist and has been published by Literary Hub, Catapult, Kenyon Review, The Rumpus, Colorado Review, and the Boston Globe. Find her on Twitter @AbbyManzella.