A Fiction Outtake — Week #2 of A Brief Pause

In the course of writing and editing any novel, a lot is cut. Numerous reasons lie behind the cutting. The material might be unnecessary or repetitive; the sentences may be lackluster or too showy; the writing might be downright boring. Often some sections become irrelevant as the work assumes its final shape.

What follows here is an example of the latter. It’s part of a thread that appeared in an early draft of my recently published novel Unleashed. I don’t think Unleashed is a bleak book, but this thread is admittedly dark, and that is why it was ultimately cut. Its doomsday outlook might have come from having been written early in the pandemic when I was also beginning, mysteriously, to lose my voice.

Enjoy, and see you next week!

“They were scheduled to meet in the parking lot of the Monterey Whole Foods at three in the afternoon. Ichiro rose in the dark and drove all day to get there on time. Even in the predawn hours the traffic was bad, especially through San Francisco. He had little driving experience and was nervous and stopped only once near Gilroy. After filling his tank, he hurried inside the station to use the restroom, sweating like a criminal, sure everyone knew his intention. Embarrassed and scared, he rushed back to his car without allowing himself to purchase the food and water he desperately needed.

His mind was spinning. Could his Honda Fit go fast enough to pull this off? What if he passed out before he went over the edge? Would he feel sick when he became airborne? He tried not to let himself have second thoughts.

In the Whole Foods parking lot, he practically fell from his car and stood on legs whose muscles seemed to have atrophied. He was half an hour early. He studied the people stepping from other cars, trying to pick out which ones were part of the group. Ron, the organizer, had said he’d be driving a black Ford F-450 Super Duty truck. Though it’s only rated to go eighty miles per hour, Ron said, he had gotten his to go ninety-five. Ichiro knew nothing about trucks, but he had no reason to doubt Ron. Ron said he’d be wearing an orange bandana around his neck. They were all supposed to wear neck bandanas. Ichiro’s was yellow, because that was all he could find, though he knew yellow was the color of fear.

At three o’clock nine people, coming from cars scattered across the parking lot, all wearing colored bandanas, gathered in a loose circle beside Ron’s truck. No one looked as scared as Ichiro was; they almost looked nonchalant. It was a group that made no sense to Ichiro, different as they were from one another. Three women and six men, ranging in age from twenties to forties. One woman was dressed as if she was going out on a hot date; another wore pajama bottoms; one man was dressed in casual business attire; another man looked as if he hadn’t bathed in days. Ron, the organizer with the orange bandana, was forty’ish and almost as big as his truck. His truck was forbidding, with gigantic tires and gridwork up front that suggested a surly face. He told them to say their names, first names only, and where they were from. Claudia from Boise, Idaho. Dylan from Reno, Nevada. Alex from Tijuana, Mexico. The others were all from California. Ann from LA. Skylar from Vacaville. Rick from Bakersfield. Bruce from Escondido. Ron from Redding. Ichiro from Berkeley.

They would drive south, Ron said, with him in the lead, but they shouldn’t maintain a strict line. They should drive normally, not too fast. No shenanigans to attract the attention of the cops. Once they got onto the bridge he would accelerate his truck to top speed — which he now claimed was a hundred miles per hour. He would ram through the barrier, clearing the way for the rest of them. They should make sure to leave some distance between them he said, to avoid crashes that would ruin the whole show.

“We wanna do this thing right. Okay, that’s it — any questions? Anyone bailing?” He seemed eager to punish someone for violating his rules.

No one said a word. Ichiro looked at the faces, hoping to see some flickers of emotion. He saw nothing, only a flatness that looked like boredom. Why was no one saying anything? Why wasn’t he himself saying anything when he wanted to know who these people were and what kind of troubles they shouldered. Were they as ashamed and humiliated as he was? Were they depressed? Down on their luck?

“Alright,” Ron said. “Go back to your vehicles. See you on the other side.”

Other side. Ichiro was too timid to stop Ron and ask him what he meant by that. Wouldn’t they be dead?

That was it. Two hours later the nine vehicles sailed off the bridge exactly as Ron had planned it.

Now, from his hospital bed, Ichiro thinks of those faces again, and their blankness suddenly makes more sense. The impassive faces of terror. The unresponsive faces of fuck you. The impatient faces of lets-get-going-now-because-I’m-done-with-this-racket. Let me be gone.”

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Cai Emmons

Cai Emmons is the author of 5 books of fiction, most recently the novel, SINKING ISLANDS. Two more of her novels will be published in 2022.