Marcie Roman’s work has appeared in Toronto Journal, Driftwood, CALYX, Split Lip, Black Fox, The Gravity of the Thing, and in Short Edition story dispensers. Her novel, Journey to the Parallels, was named a Foreword Review Best Book of the Year. She is a fiction editor for the Baltimore Review and earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Online she can be found at


by Marcie Roman


Izzy stood in front of a Burger King with a police officer who looked as if he ate every meal there, and a blonde, middle-aged woman who’d just ruined Izzy’s day. Cars heading south slowed and picked up speed. Izzy wished she could be in one of them. Specifically, her own.

The officer studied the other woman’s license. “Ms. Aurora Lightly, you’re not from around here, are you?”

“Just moved up from Albuquerque.”

“Well here in Chicago, if you can’t see if a car is coming, best to assume there is one.”

This in response to Ms. Lightly’s claim that a bus had blocked her view when she’d shot out of the restaurant parking lot.

Izzy felt vindicated until she heard the screech of tires and saw a tow-truck veer to the curb, a reminder that she had it way worse. This other woman was going to drive away lightly with just a few streaks of black paint marring her vehicle’s front end like drips of mascara.

While Izzy waited for the officer to finish the report, the tow-truck driver approached. He had a day’s worth of stubble and a partially shaved scalp that failed to mask the delineation of a receding hairline. But it was his left bicep that drew Izzy’s attention. Openly in view—thanks to a sweat-stained Aerosmith tank-top—it provided a suitable canvas for the serpentine tattoo of a snake. The letters, R, O, and Y floated in the snake’s belly as if in a perpetual state of pre-digestion. His name, Izzy assumed. But perhaps something more exotic. An ex-lover. A long-lost brother. A fondness for old cowboys.

He pointed to the vehicle that blocked the southbound lane and asked Izzy, “You the owner?”

Clearly, the rusted hatchback with the smashed fender matched Izzy better than the SUV-on-steroids idling at the curb. Izzy nodded.

Ms. Aurora Lightly babbled apologies in a raspy drawl. “I’ve got great insurance, honey. Don’t you worry about a thing.”

What did this woman know about Izzy’s worries? How this delay meant she’d be late, yet again, for her shift at the grocery store, which put her one step closer to being fired, which meant not covering rent, which meant being forced to live on the street. Okay, perhaps that was a tad hyperbolic. There was, after all, her parents’ home. That suburban sanctuary of garage door openers and bi-weekly lawn service. But it was not an exaggeration to claim that her personal finances were as stable as her car’s bumper, which dangled like a hangnail waiting for a sympathetic bystander to give it a tug.

The officer handed Izzy her copy of the report—“Remember, any accident you can walk away from is a good one”—then led Aurora to the other car.

“I need to know where it’s going,” the tow driver demanded.

Izzy looked at him blankly. Did she seem like someone who kept a list of mechanics?

“What’d your insurance company say? You need to call them.” His boot tapped the curb.

Like you’ve got any better place to be, Izzy thought, but she did as told and was given the name of a body shop in Rogers Park. It wasn’t far from her apartment so she could walk home. She didn’t bother to call work, which made it a guaranteed firing, the second that year. Add to that two broken relationships—boyfriend, best friend who was now ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend—and it sure seemed like everything in her twenty-fourth year was a total wreck.

Izzy took the clipboard from the tow driver, hearing her father’s reprimand as she blindly initialed next to a series of Xs. Crossing to her car she collected its detritus into a reusable grocery bag: a half-chewed pack of gum, old issues of the Reader, loose cassette tapes (she’d never gotten around to upgrading to a CD player, let alone Bluetooth), and a bag of bruised apples she’d rescued from the shop’s throw-away bin. Before she shut the door, her hand lingered on the rip in the passenger seat. The heel of her boot had caught the fabric as she’d scampered to the roof to watch the fireworks off Navy Pier on her twenty-first birthday. She’d felt so free that night. Just a woman, her car, and a mind-blowing fireworks display lighting the way toward an uncertain but exciting future. She’d often fantasized about climbing into the driver’s seat and taking off. No destination. No plan. Just get the hell out of the Midwest. But now that future seemed like an unreciprocated crush. One small change—a car out of nowhere, a vowel swap—and poof, the crush became yet another crash.


Roy could tell a lot about a person by the way they got into the truck. There were the foot hoppers, who swung in like they were getting on a horse. Those tended to be the pissed-off type whose legs never stopped swinging and left dusty imprints of their shoes on the dash. Arm folks pushed up as if getting out of a swimming pool. They tended to be worriers, wringing their hands and seeking reassurances. And then there were the poor pricks who didn’t know what to do and used everything they had: arms, thighs, asses, faces turning red. Roy once had a three-hundred-pound guy he’d had to push from behind, palms sinking into skin as soft and white as a Pillsbury biscuit.

The girl climbed in with determined efficiency, dropped her bag at her feet, and snapped the seatbelt into place. She was flat-chested, in old jeans and a fitted blouse. Skinny fat, he decided. Probably no muscle tone. Her face bore a smattering of freckles as though someone had dropped a fistful on her skin.

He pulled into traffic. “Name’s Roy.”

The girl’s lips flickered. “Isabelle. But people who aren’t my parents call me Izzy.”

She reached for a Rose Towing business card from the pouch over the radio. Her nails were bitten down and a greater number of freckles trailed into the cuffs of her blouse. He guessed she was single because the ones who weren’t stayed on the phone with the most prominent guy in their life.

“Who’s Rose?”

“My Ma. Dad named the first truck after her. Now we’ve got a fleet.”

Did three trucks make a fleet? Roy wasn’t sure and wondered if he’d be able to call it that next week, or if they’d have all been repossessed. He felt the gut punch he’d been experiencing ever since the mess with the IRS started. His dad hadn’t even put up a fight. That morning Roy found him passed out in the den, drunk limbs dangling from the recliner as if it were some kind of survival raft.

“I suppose cars are your area of expertise,” Izzy said.

“Been working around them my whole life.”

She started shredding the side of the card, like a nibbling mouse. Roy wanted to tell her to stop; they’d paid a shitload to get them in color.

“Do you think mine will be okay? I’ve had it since I was eighteen.”

Her tone made him think of a cop show with some desperate woman pleading with the officer to find a missing person because he was “her only son”, “her favorite uncle.” Some way to stress that, unlike all the other cases, this one was really important. She’d probably gotten the car for graduation from Mommy and Daddy with a big ass bow on the hood.

“Car that old, probably a total loss.”

“But I have insurance. And what about the woman? It was her fault. Doesn’t her insurance have to pay?”

Roy shook his head. “I see it all the time. That woman will lie. She slipped a couple bills to the cop. Those forms’ll never get filed right. I bet you get blue book, maybe three or four-thou.”

The freckles on Izzy’s face merged into blotches. “But you’ll vouch for me, right? You’ll tell them the truth.” The card was down to a scrap with the phone number and a pile of paper flakes on her thigh.

“Well, now, that’s really not my business, and I don’t mess with cops.” Got enough troubles of my own, he thought.

He pulled up in front of the body shop. In the window, a tattered banner read Se habla Espanol. Vehicles in various stages of distress lined the curb.

“Impudent pettifogger. This is so unfair!” Izzy banged her fists sending the paper shreds into the air.

Roy had no clue what she’d said—impotent frogger?— but he knew how she was feeling. It was like how his dad’s company was going to die because of some stupid mistake (no matter what was said, he knew it wasn’t intentional), and all those corporate bastards would keep using their tax breaks to jet around in private planes.

He softened his tone. “Look, I know it sucks.”

“Yes,” she said, flicking the last scrap off her jeans. “Sucks, it does.”

As he swung out of the truck he told her, “You can go if you want. Your insurance company will call you.”

She nodded but sat staring at the traffic streaming past.

When he returned, he was relieved to find her there. He dismissed it as nothing more than a pretty distraction, but, truth be told, he wasn’t in the mood to be alone. She’d turned on the radio and was fiddling with the dial.

“It doesn’t work. Just the tape deck. You need a ride somewhere?”

When she didn’t answer, he reached into the cooler behind the seat. “Want one?”

Roy wasn’t one of those guys who needed a constant IV of alcohol, but he’d grab a brew now and then when he was stuck in traffic or some asshole in a Lexus cut him off. Just a little cooling aid.

She hesitated then took the beer. They opened the cans to a harmonious pop and fizz. The ice bags Roy used were no match for the August heat and the beer was lukewarm. Izzy used her toe to push the tape into the cassette player. Thrashing guitar filled the cab. She grimaced.

“You gotta problem with this?” he yelled.

She gestured toward the logo on his shirt and yelled back, “I wasn’t expecting Bob Dylan. Music should fit your mood and hearing music that basically says go fuck yourself seems appropriate under the circumstances.”

He could have told her he was up on his Dylan. His mom loved all those old singers. Simon & Garfunkel. Joan Baez. Instead, he motioned. “The door. Feel free to use it.”

She scowled and took another sip.

He finished his beer and reached for another, pointing it toward her like a microphone. “So, tell me Izzy, what do you do?”

She chewed a nail. “Well, I seem to excel at losing jobs and being a major disappointment.” The song ended and her words blared over the scratchy silence. She adjusted her volume. “At least according to my mother.”

“She said that?”

Her nail returned to her mouth. “Doesn’t have to.”

The music started again, its heavy bass vibrating through the seats. Izzy picked up Roy’s empty can. “Can I take this?” Without waiting for an answer, she set her beer on the floor and slid out. Through the open door, he watched her smash the can with her tennis shoe until it was nothing but a small aluminum circle. She picked it up and climbed back in. Took a hearty gulp from her own can followed by a burp that made her laugh. When she leaned into the door, the sunlight washed out her features. Roy blinked and her features returned.

“So what do you want to do?”

Izzy studied the can, as if it might offer a suggestion. “Growing up, I was told I had a lot of potential. Early reader. Straight A’s. And I was entrepreneurial too. You know how I got my car? All through tutoring. Which basically meant I was writing papers for jocks and deadbeats.” Her eyes flickered to Roy, as if making sure he hadn’t been a client. “When I went to college I expected to have this flash of inspiration about who I’m supposed to be, that one thing that gets the neurons all fired up. But I couldn’t stop asking, what’s the point? I mean who knows if we’re even going to have a planet to live on ten years from now.” She smiled, another shrug. “I know, typical existential angst. So, I guess you could say I’m waiting to find out what I should be doing.”

Roy nodded. “Uh, that’s cool. But I meant, what do you want to do right now?”

She studied her can. “I guess it’s still the same answer.”

Roy tossed his empty into the back. “I’ve gotta trash a clunker. You want to come? It’s just off Clybourn. I can give you a ride home after.”

Izzy fished around in her grocery bag and pulled out a cassette tape. “Okay by me, as long as I get to pick the tunes.”


General Iron Recycling was one of Roy’s favorite places. He could tell by the way Izzy’s face lit up that she was equally in awe. Massive cranes transported automobile carcasses to be crushed, then stacked the metal pancakes onto a teetering tower. He got out to unhook the car. She scrambled from her seat as if they’d stopped at a scenic overlook. A grinding, crunching sound of destruction filled the air. It was almost too loud to think.

“This is absolutely apocalyptic!” Izzy clapped like a child.

The sky had been filling with clouds, but a ray of sun sliced through and bounced off the metallic hills creating a blinding glare. His heart pumped faster. The crushing always ramped him up, which was why he left the dumps for the end of the day. It made him want to jump into the fray and start smashing the shit out of things. Store windows. Other people’s cars. But he always stopped himself. You can’t do that kind of thing without a reason.

“Yours’ll be here soon enough,” he shouted.

Izzy scowled. She took a step back. “I want to go.”

“Aw c’mon, it’s just a car.”

“I want to go now!”

Roy wished he could feed her some line to get her to chill out, but he knew she was going to get screwed. That blonde, stuck-up, suburban housewife was going to go right back to her on-line shopping and manicures without a scratch to her lifestyle. That’s when the idea came riding in on a clanging, crashing wave of sound.

“Hey, do you have that police report?”

Izzy handed him a balled up sheet. He smoothed out the paper to read the personal information for Ms. Aurora Lightly, the Albuquerque address, and, in the margins, a local place of residence.

He grinned. “Got time for one more stop?”


Aurora was back at her cousin Darlene’s house trying to unwind. Even on her second gin and tonic, Aurora was still unsettled. Stupid bitch, you should have just run. That’s what Ed would say when he found her. The fact that she was already on the run wouldn’t matter anymore. Soon the insurance company would call their home number, and it was listed right there on that report where he could find her. What had been stupid was trying to bribe the cop not to list the address. “It’s temporary,” she’d pleaded, but then she was probably lucky he didn’t arrest her. Course he also didn’t give back the fifty. She’d been running low on cash and ATMs could be traced. But maybe that was the answer. Go to the machine at the 7-11, get as much as it would allow, and head East. She had a nephew in Virginia. Hadn’t seen him in years, but maybe he’d help her out.

She rubbed the tender spot on her thigh where the bottle had hit her last week. One thing you could say about Ed, he had good aim. This was the second time she’d split. Last year, she’d made it as far as Colorado Springs, but then the fear of an unknown future sent her driving back to a dreaded, but known fate. Ed was better for a while—the walls took the brunt of his fits—until last month when the gas company laid him off, and then she was back to forcing smiles during the day and spending her nights sobbing, like some sort of Jekyll and Hyde character.

She took another sip and set about unraveling the efforts from the morning. She set her wig on the stand. Took a swipe of Oil of Olay to remove the make-up that had been thickening each year like a tree stump. Her hand froze at the sound of tires crunching gravel, followed by the squeak of old door hinges. It couldn’t be Ed, not yet, although it sounded like his Chevy. And Darlene was at an AA retreat and wouldn’t be back until the next night.

The sound of metal scratching metal. Shattered glass.

Aurora clutched the front of her bathrobe and walked to the living room window. On the way, she grabbed the gun propped next to the TV. There were no streetlights on the road to the house, but in the faint light spilling from the porch she saw a figure step into view and the silhouette of a crow bar. The bar swung and hit, shattering her car’s front headlight. She watched it swing back for another strike.


Izzy’s heart raced. She had never felt so scared or alive. This is what it meant to take control. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the feeling of empowerment. She’d done some underage drinking, run a few stop signs, but this was the first time she’d really broken the law.

She heard Roy on the other side of the car, the whoosh of punctured tires, as she tried to imagine her father—for surely her mother would stay home—coming to a police station to pick her up. It was both scintillating and horrifying. Just one more headlight and then they’d split. But as she raised the crowbar, she felt herself being watched. She looked at the house and thought she saw movement by a window, a curtain dropped into place. She froze.

Roy must have seen it too. The resonating sounds of damage faded, replaced by softer movements: the buzz of mosquitoes, raccoons casing trashcans, the rumble of distant thunder. Then a new sound—non-organic, and alarming—the squeak of a screen door as Aurora stepped onto the porch, rifle in hand.

Izzy dropped the crowbar and raised her hands until a searing pain sent her tumbling to the ground.


Roy was working the fender when he heard the door swing open. He saw the gun and crouched. Who’s the coward now? Of course, Izzy hadn’t grown up in a neighborhood where every block had at least one off-duty cop who’d shoot anything that crossed his property line. A gust of wind blew the first drops of rain sideways. Tree branches shook overhead, setting off a cascade of leaves and twigs.

He peeked around the car and saw Aurora march over and pull Izzy to her feet, then lead her, hobbling, toward the house. He reached into his pocket for his keys. Empty. Were they in the cab? No, he remembered grabbing them. Surely, he hadn’t been stupid enough to let them drop. His fingers scraped the dirt in a desperate grapple for an invisible key ring. Already he regretted the destruction. This wasn’t the rush he got from watching things get smashed at the pound. This was wrong. This was so wrong. He wished he could go in reverse and see the car’s broken pieces fly back into place. That was the problem with rage. It blinded you into stupidity but went running as soon as it had its way. He tried to reassure himself. The car would still start. It was only a couple of tires. A few headlights. The lady would drop a credit card and not even look at the bill. Right?

He couldn’t say what led his boots to the house. Some sense of obligation? Or was it that he’d never felt safe outside in a storm? As the screen door slammed behind him, he saw Aurora place a pillow under Izzy’s extended foot. He spotted the discarded weapon. Black plastic cables dangled from the back. It was nothing but a controller for a video game.

“Buck Hunter,” Aurora said, “is my cousin Darlene’s favorite pastime.”

Aurora, Roy, and Izzy

The living room’s three occupants sat in a dragged-out silence. Each felt claustrophobic for different reasons: Izzy, because her foot ached from dropping the crowbar on it and because the air was as thick as a tavern with cigarette smoke; Roy, because the collectible figurines lining the walls stared down at him, accusingly, through hundreds, maybe even thousands, of painted eyes; and Aurora, because there were two complete strangers sitting apart on Darlene’s brown vinyl furniture, when, for all intents and purposes she should, right then and there, be the only one in the room. The air conditioner whirred to life. Rain pounded the windows and roof.

Aurora rose. “I’m gonna make another drink. If y’all wanna join me, shout out.”

“Some water, if it’s not too much trouble.” Izzy winced as she shifted her foot.

“Sure thing, honey. And, you sir,” she addressed Roy. “If you get any wise ideas, you should know I recorded your escapades on my phone.”

Aurora found her drink where she’d left it by the window and forced her hand to steady as she brought it into the kitchen. She’d been hiding her booze in the cleaning cabinet so as not to tempt Darlene. When she opened the door, the mop hit her in the face before crashing to the floor. “It’s okay,” she called automatically, as if she were having the ladies over for Mahjong.

In the living room, Izzy eyed Roy slumped in a recliner. She felt as if she were waking up after drinking too much at a party to find herself with an unexpected and mostly unknown companion. Was he thinking she was some unstable girl looking for entertainment? But hadn’t it been all his idea? Everything from earlier that day had grown hazy under the dull headache from the beer and the pain in her foot. Plus, she was just so tired. Her parents would for sure have some psychobabble to explain her behavior, but this was certainly not her fault, other than moving her closer toward a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I’m scared to look at it,” she said, addressing her unlaced shoe. When Roy didn’t respond, she continued. “You could just leave, you know. Nothing wrong with your foot. Door’s right there.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m not gonna do that.”

Aurora swept in, flourishing glasses off a tray. “You could use some brandy, my dear.” In front of Izzy, she set down a glass with amber liquid alongside one with water, then placed an ice bag in a flowered dishtowel on Izzy’s propped foot. “And you get a little G&T with me, sir.” She didn’t tell Roy that it was pretty much all tonic, since she wasn’t sure if it he was the type who got stupid and quiet or stupid and mad, and she had no interest in dealing with the latter.

Roy took the glass, watching Aurora for sudden moves. That was a joke. He was twice her size. But on her turf and with them at fault, she had the power. Plus, what were his options? Ditch the truck and walk? He glanced at Izzy. She looked frail. Her face was white under her freckles. Her hair in disarray. At the Iron plant, she’d had potential, like a superhero sidekick. Roy slid into the slippery material of the seat, wishing he could slide through a hole in the floor.

“So now we got ourselves a little party,” Aurora said. She settled into an armchair and tried to sit tall, although she felt naked without her makeup, weak without her wig. She held them captive on a lie, the recording on her phone as false a threat as the plastic gun. “Here’s what I see as the situation. You’ve got yourselves some trouble if I call the police. I’ve got myself some trouble if the police come. I’m not gonna tell you why. That’s personal. But I think I’ve got us a solution.”

Izzy listened to Aurora’s plan through a sleepy stupor. It was no crazier than anything else that had happened that day. They had a tow truck, a nearby lake, a partially-totaled car, a driver who could escape to a new life. She wondered at this last point. What was Aurora hiding from? Were they abetting a murderess? Aiding a felon? Izzy studied the hostess’s fluffy bedroom slippers and faded blue robe, the gray tufts of hair escaping a hairnet. The fabrication was so simple. It was as if everything that day had happened to make this possible.

“No way,” Roy said. “Right, Izzy?”

Izzy knew she needed to pick a side, yet how easy it would be not to act. To toss the ball back and let them tussle. She was already creating a story she could tell her parents about her damaged foot. The car accident that caused it. The crazy woman who escaped without blame. That would buy her a few weeks on the couch getting waited on while she streamed movies in a Vicodin daze. A few weeks to heal and she’d be as good as new.

Except, she’d only be as good as her old self. The one who stood in place, watching life from the side of the road. Waiting for someone, or something, to direct her. Maybe that wasn’t the person she wanted to be anymore.

“Izzy?” Roy asked again.

It was Izzy’s decision: to tip the scales, map the course. Her foot barely bothered her now or maybe it was just numb. Deep in her belly, she felt a surge. The surge of actual power. She wanted to suck on it like a peppermint stick. Have it linger on her like a spotlight. The cushions crinkled as she sank onto the crocheted pillow.

“I need to close my eyes for a minute. Then we can talk.”

Izzy couldn’t see into the future to know that, in the morning, Roy would find his keys and head one way. Aurora would abandon her car and head in another. Izzy would limp to the nearest intersection to thumb a ride. Instead, as she drifted off, she imagined herself seated behind the wheel of her car—fixed up and as good as new—as she headed into the vast unchartered territory waiting to be discovered.

Copyright 2024 by Marcie Roman