Kallan is bitterly resentful as she climbs into the back of the minivan. “Why do I always have to sit in the back these days? Just because she’s got her permit, she thinks she’s the queen. She’s not even driving today.” Kallan buckles her seatbelt and looks over at me, her face hopeful; I pause in the closing of the minivan door, and she asks, “Can we at least take a dog with us so I have some company back here?”
I pause, consider for a minute. “Yeah, what the hell?”
“Mother, we do not swear and we are not taking a dog with us and that is final.” Maj’s voice from the front of the car is certain and assured.
I walk into the house and release Hazel the Weimaraner from her crate, where she didn’t want to be anyway. She bounds ahead of me and over the heads of the two other dogs, and we head out into the garage. Hazel leaps into the minivan and settles awkwardly in Kallan’s lap. Kallan squeals delightedly, “Baby Hazie! You’re going to come with us!” and the dog writhes in ecstasy.
Back in the car, Maj is livid. “Did you not hear me, Mother? I said that we are not taking a dog with us.”
I buckle my seatbelt, adjust the mirrors. “I heard you, and if you were driving the car, you would be in charge of deciding many things, including whether dogs get to come along. But …,” I pat the steering wheel possessively, “you are not driving, and so I decide.”
Maj’s voice sinks to a whispered rage. “Also we do not swear.”
I start up the car. “Well, I try very hard not to swear, but sometimes, Maj?” I pull out of the driveway and into traffic. “Sometimes, I swear.”
Kallan is delighted, and she leans forward as much as Hazel’s bulk will allow. “Can I swear?”
I reach back to take her hand in mine. “No, you damn well may not.”
“That’s because Mother is a hypocrite, Kallan,” her sister informs her.
I meet Kallan’s eyes in the rear-view mirror and I nod. “I so fucking am.”
Kallan giggles hysterically, but Maj is furious. She turns to me, her lips tight. “You are not allowed to swear. You are only swearing because you are mad at me.”
Untruthfully, I correct her. “I am not mad at you. I am frustrated with you.”
She crosses her arms and stares out the front of the car. “Whatever. You’re not supposed to get mad at me.”
“Nowhere is there such a rule.”
Kallan offers helpfully, “Maj, if you don’t want Mom to be mad at you, you should probably stop being impossible.”
When Maj does not acknowledge her sister, I nod agreement. “Your sister has a point, Maj.”
With gritted teeth, Maj says, “All I said was that I did not want to drive this morning.”
“No. What you said was that you wished you could drive, but your driver’s-ed teacher told you never to drive in less than optimal conditions, and then …” I glance over at Maj before I continue, “and then you looked me up and down and curled your lip in disgust and announced that I was making your conditions less than optimal and you didn’t feel as though you could trust me in the car and so you wouldn’t be able to drive today.”
Kallan is still helpful, and she agrees, “That is exactly how it went down, Maj. Although Mom left out the part where she flipped out and yelled at you.”
“I did not flip out. I voiced my displeasure.”
Kallan corrects me. “More like you rampaged your displeasure.”
“Pet the dog and be quiet now, Kallan.”
Maj takes a deep breath. “I guess I know enough to judge whether conditions are optimal or not.”
“Maj, as long as you are a part of this family, conditions are never going to be optimal. So good luck accumulating the 50 supervised driving hours before you turn 16, because guess what? I am your supervision, and I am not optimal.”
“You can say that again.”
I flip the turn-signal and pull to the side of the road and speak dramatically. “Oh look … it turns out I cannot go on! My feelings are hurt and my pain is coloring my judgment. We’ll have to walk from here, because conditions in this car are less than optimal, and as a responsible driver, I know to immediately pull off the road and stop driving until perfection arrives.”
Maj is incredulous. “This is not how parents are supposed to behave when they are teaching their children how to drive.”
Kallan is delighted. “Can Hazel and I get out and walk to the dog park? Look, you can see the park from here. Hazel and I didn’t really want to go to the library anyway.”
“No, you may not.” I spend a few minutes adjusting mirrors in the silence, and then I turn to Maj. “Listen, you … what is the point of antagonizing me in the moments before we get into the car? Why not just say that you don’t feel like driving? Why do you have to cloak your decisions in a personal attack?”
Maj considers. “Because you annoy me, Mother. You annoy me, and so if there is a way to express that annoyance as I make a decision known, why would I not kill two birds with one stone?”
Kallan giggles. “Good one, Maj! Plus, it rhymes, so your last words on this earth are a poem, which is always nice.”
I adjust the mirror to glare back at Kallan. “Be quiet, Kallan.”
She salutes me. “This is Kallan, signing out.”
Turning back to Maj, I take a deep breath and shake out my hands before saying, “Alright, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to drive over to the dog park. We’re all going to get out of the car and let Hazel run around and play for a little bit, and then we’ll head back to the car. I will ask you at that point if you want to drive, and if you do want to drive … fine. If you do not want to drive, you will simply say ‘No thank you’ and nothing else and we will go on our way. Got it?”
“Fine. If we’re not beheaded in an accident before we arrive at the dog park, I am on board with this plan, although there is no way I’m driving with Hazel in the car.”
I take my hands off the steering wheel and put the car back into PARK. “Oh my god. What did I tell you about the beheading nonsense?”
“You told me to stop talking about it, but I am disregarding that demand.”
“We are not going to be decapitated by Hazel.”
Maj glowers. “That’s what they said in the class. They said any loose item in the car can decapitate you in an accident. Especially dogs, they said. Dogs decapitate people all the time. The world is filled with people who lost their heads to dogs.”
Kallan leans forward, pretending great concern. “Is it, Maj? Is it really?”
I reach back to press against Hazel’s forehead; she is confused about why we have stopped without getting out of the car, and she is growing antsy. “Stay in the back, Hazel. Put away your Ninja swords.” I glance back at Maj and explain, “Because of the beheading worries.”
Maj says nothing, but Kallan bursts into laughter. “That’s just what I was thinking! Like what if dogs all had this secret agreement that in any kind of car accident, they are to rush in and behead as many of the people as possible before the police get there? With swords! Man, that would be awesome!” She sighs happily at the thought. “So are we going to the dog-park or what?”
I put the car back in DRIVE and signal to return to the road.
It’s a very short drive to the dog park, and as I swing the car nose-first into a space right by the entrance, I cannot resist, and I say, “I am always pleased when I arrive at my destination having managed to keep my head attached to …” but before I can finish the sentence, Hazel anticipates and then meets the final tiny jolt of the car’s stopping with a vault through the center of the car right into the front windshield, trying to get into the dog-park, which is just beyond the glass. She jumps with such impressive velocity that she crashes into and then crumples against the interior curve of the glass and then bonelessly falls … melts, really … down the dashboard and into the space between Maj and me, her eyes filled with outrage and misunderstanding and apology.
Hazel shakes herself off, embarrassed but not terribly hurt, and she refuses to meet our eyes.
Maj turns to me, and although she is quiet, her eyes are glowing with I-told-you-so-ee-ness.
I grit my teeth and say nothing, my mind playing in an endless loop the instant the dog hurtled past me through space and into impact.
Kallan laughs happily. “Could this moment BE any more awkward?”