Claire Guyton ~ SAT Question: The Moon

Four friends and co-work­ers, Jenny, Elissa, Mira, and Fran, are sup­posed to attend an impor­tant con­fer­ence, which takes place in a town rough­ly a three-hour dri­ving dis­tance from where they live. To save on gas mon­ey, they nat­u­ral­ly decide to ride togeth­er. The route they must take is made up pri­mar­i­ly of one long stretch of high­way. At 5:00 AM, they pile into an old, mus­tard-col­ored sta­tion wag­on and head north. At the two-hour mark, they approach a bridge. As they get clos­er, road signs warn of con­struc­tion and altered dri­ving pat­terns, and they glimpse ahead, on the bridge, a con­crete bar­ri­er that cuts off one of the two dri­ving lanes.

            What hap­pens next?

Consider the fol­low­ing notes and then choose the best answer below.

Note 1. Jenny fears bridges and won’t dri­ve over them. She can be fer­ried while she sweats and stares and hums in a loud monot­o­ne, grip­ping her seat with both hands, but she will not dri­ve over them.

Note 2. Elissa is will­ing to dri­ve any­where at any time, but only if she’s dri­ving a com­pact car. Something about the size of a big car ter­ri­fies her. She con­sid­ers the sta­tion wag­on much too big.

Note 3. Mira was a great dri­ver of any­thing until she had a recur­ring dream last win­ter about dri­ving over a man’s legs. She’s just tool­ing along and them bump-bump, bump-bump, What’s that?? How could a man’s legs ever be in the way of your tires, her hus­band keeps ask­ing, but she’s con­vinced it was a warn­ing from on high and refus­es to dri­ve again, ever. She has been see­ing a ther­a­pist, so that could change, but today she is adamant that she will not dri­ve.

Note 4. Fran, own­er and dri­ver of the Volvo sta­tion wag­on that now holds these four peo­ple, won’t dri­ve along­side con­crete bar­ri­ers. She can’t shake the belief that any sec­ond she’s going to scrape against the con­crete and the only way she knows to deal with her hor­ror of doing this very thing, and then becom­ing a gigan­tic, mus­tard-col­ored pin­ball, is to come to a com­plete stop. On the high­way. In one, nar­row lane, with furi­ous dri­vers pil­ing up behind her.

 

Again, your ques­tion: What hap­pens next? Select the best answer below.

A. Fran freezes at the wheel. She steers into the lane, direct­ed by orange cones.

Concrete as far as the eye can see, con­crete walls curv­ing toward her, my God they’re so thick, and NO LINE, Fran sees NO LINE, yel­low or orange or what­ev­er, mark­ing the edge of the bar­ri­er, a line like the one she once saw mark­ing a con­crete bar­ri­er on anoth­er state’s high­way when she was a pas­sen­ger, and she thought then, see, if they’d just mark the edge with a col­ored line on the high­ways at home, then maybe I could trust that awful pal­e­va­cant­con­crete­what­sit isn’t too close to my car, maybe I could believe I won’t hit it, but they don’t mark it because like always THERE IS NO LINE.

The speed of the car slows. Go Fran, Go! her friends chant, Go Fran, Go! Go Fran, Go!

She slows a bit more. GoFranGo! GoFranGo! GoFranGo!

She stops. Shit, Fran. Shit.

 

B. Fran shoots across two lanes of traf­fic and onto the shoul­der, where she slams the brakes and comes to a squeal­ing stop. Everyone sits in silence, until Fran nom­i­nates Mira, whose fear is ridiculous—at least con­crete bar­ri­ers do exist and they make dri­ving more dan­ger­ous, at least bridges do exist and could col­lapse any minute and any­way Jenny will pass out if she tries to dri­ve over that bridge, at least Elissa is cor­rect when she says that a larg­er car is more dif­fi­cult to maneu­ver than a com­pact one. But it’s a big fat fuck­ing guar­an­tee, says Fran, that there is no man lying on the bridge, his legs ready to spring out just as their Volvo gets to him. If Mira will just get past this con­crete bar­ri­er on the bridge, Fran or Jenny can man­age the remain­der of the dri­ve.

Yeah, well, says Jenny, I feel uncom­fort­able ask­ing you to do some­thing that pains you, Mira, but if you could just get past this awful, this ter­ri­fy­ing, this life-destroy­ing bridge, then I’d be hap­py to dri­ve.

Okay look, says Elissa, get real, Mira, get a work­ing brain, get a move on, shake a leg.

Come on, say all the women in their high, cracked voic­es, each and every one sound­ing just like Mira’s moth­er and not entire­ly unlike Mrs. Colvin, her awful 8th-grade gym teacher who made Mira run until she puked, Come on, Mira, just do it. Just do it. Just do it.

As though in a trance, Mira just does it.

She gets out of the car and switch­es places with Fran. She takes a deep breath.

Just do it, Mira, just do it, just shake a leg.

She turns the igni­tion, guides the Volvo onto the bridge, slips qui­et­ly along the con­crete bar­ri­er, the life-destroy­ing bridge dis­ap­pear­ing under them and all is well, they’re almost—bump-bump, bump-bump, What’s that??

 

C. Fran shoots across two lanes of traf­fic and onto the shoul­der, where she slams the brakes and comes to a squeal­ing stop. Everyone sits in silence for a moment, then they all speak at once, but Mira, with her trained, singer’s voice—she once got as far as off-off-Broadway—cuts right through the oth­ers. She explains that Elissa’s fear of dri­ving any motor vehi­cle larg­er than a com­pact car is not object-spe­cif­ic, like Fran’s fear, which depends on a con­crete bar­ri­er, like Mira’s fear, which depends on a man’s legs, like Jenny’s, which depends on a bridge. Elissa’s fear is size-spe­cif­ic, explains Mira, so it is rel­a­tive, and there­fore should adapt to cir­cum­stance, there­fore must be imper­ma­nent, there­fore must be con­quer­able. And any­way if Elissa’s fear is size-spe­cif­ic, says Mira, which it most def­i­nite­ly is—that has been stipulated—then if you think about it, her fear in a way depends on a kind of prej­u­dice, real­ly, because it is not okay to judge any­one or any­thing by size, is it, no it is not, so real­ly, if you care about decen­cy, says Mira, if you care about what is right, then there’s just no avoid­ing it, Elissa has to dri­ve.

Elissa says absolute­ly not, but this solu­tion suits Fran very well, so she agrees with Mira. Jenny says she’s not so sure about all this stuff about object per­ma­nence and being size-spe­cif­ic, and no one should have to do any­thing she real­ly real­ly real­ly doesn’t want to, but then again, says, Jenny, if you can just get us past this awful, this hate-filled, this future-anni­hi­lat­ing bridge, then I will take the wheel for the rest of the trip.

So they bad­ger Elissa, all three of them, they bad­ger and bad­ger and just keep on bad­ger­ing her. Don’t be so size-ist, say Mira and Fran, try to dig deep, says Jenny, don’t be con­quered by prej­u­dice says Mira, don’t just sit there and gape, says Fran, you’re wast­ing time, they all say, we have to go, adapt to cir­cum­stance!

Because Elissa was the youngest of five chil­dren, she’s used to capit­u­lat­ing to a slew of yam­mer­ing voic­es, she’s used to con­de­scen­sion, she’s used to being told. So she gets out of the car and switch­es places with Fran. She takes a deep breath. She starts the car… and then she jams the gear shift into reverse and backs down the shoul­der at sur­pris­ing speed, the car rat­tling and shak­ing, while her friends whim­per or scream or hum in a loud monot­o­ne, depend­ing on their per­son­al­i­ty.

They beg her to stop.

She picks up more speed, they’re hurtling, and everything’s a blur.

Elissa goes faster and faster, and now seems to have gone off-road and is head­ing toward a clump of trees, but she ignores the mot­tled green grow­ing in her rearview mir­ror and says in what can only be described as a deeply sat­is­fied voice, THIS is what you get when you go into my room, read my diary, take my shit, won’t let me play Monopoly, cut my doll’s hair, Tell Mom that I—

 

D. Fran shoots across two lanes of traf­fic and onto the shoul­der, where she slams on the brakes and comes to a squeal­ing stop. Everyone sits in silence for a moment, then they all speak at once, except­ing Jenny, who stares at her lap. Soon her silence infects the oth­ers, and each of them mut­ters to a halt, then looks at Jenny, always the peace­mak­er at work, always the one to sug­gest the com­pro­mise lunch take­out, plus she was the one who took the department’s con­cerns to man­age­ment, earn­ing them a once-a-month casu­al Friday. So, a leader.

True to form, Jenny has a sug­ges­tion. We should turn around and dri­ve home, she says. Then spend the day get­ting blot­to at a bar she knows in a neigh­bor­ing town. And then they just say they were at the con­fer­ence. How will their boss know they weren’t there? No, no, no, the oth­ers say, this isn’t the woman who got us casu­al Friday, no, we can’t lie, we deserve to wear jeans once a month.

Look, Jenny explains, we have no choice. I can’t dri­ve over a bridge. Fran can’t dri­ve along­side con­crete bar­ri­ers. Elissa won’t dri­ve any­thing big­ger than a Mini Cooper and Mira can’t dri­ve at all.

What I notice, says Elissa, is that you say I “won’t” dri­ve but every­one else “can’t.”

The point is, says Jenny, there is no log­i­cal way to pro­ceed with­out forc­ing some­one to do some­thing that is so fright­en­ing as to be debil­i­tat­ing.

And what I notice, says Mira, is that you say I “can’t” when I cer­tain­ly can but I choose not to dri­ve when it means I will pul­ver­ize anoth­er person’s legs by doing so. I am mak­ing the only eth­i­cal choice but it is a choice and I would like to be appre­ci­at­ed for that.

Jenny says they will all appre­ci­ate each oth­er so much more once they’ve got a few pitch­ers of beer in them.

Now I’m notic­ing some­thing, says Fran, I’m notic­ing that you, Jenny, couldn’t care less about the fact that I don’t like beer.

Look, Jenny, Elissa says, it’s high time you put some mus­cle behind all that talk of com­pro­mise, all that “I hate to make you uncom­fort­able” crap. Yeah, says Fran, how long does a per­son get free points because she talked the boss into Levis once a month when any­way we asked for once a week. It seems pret­ty clear, Jenny, says Mira, that you like to be The Nice One,  The Reasonable One, but then again, since when did you bring a box of donuts to work?

Since when, asks Elissa, did you remem­ber to invite me to your Zumba class for free?

And WHEN, Mira asks, are you going to stop stink­ing up the lunch­room with those tuna sand­wich­es??

Jenny has frozen, her eyes wide. So the oth­ers lean in. You need to STAND UP and tack­le this fool­ish pho­bia of yours, hiss­es Fran. Mira pokes Jenny on the breast­bone as she points out that there is no rea­son to fear bridges, they are colossal—indestructible!—not frag­ile like a man’s legs. And now Elissa, just an inch from her face: You need to get behind that wheel and dri­ve over that bridge and stop all this crazy talk about beer and can’t and won’t and lying and cheat­ing.

Jenny takes a deep breath. She gets out of the car and changes places with Fran. She adjusts the seat. She adjusts the rearview mir­ror and the side mir­rors. She runs the win­dow wash­er and then the wipers until the wind­shield is clean and buffed to a crys­talline shine. She turns the igni­tion, takes the car out of park, and puts her foot on the brake while she says this: What I notice is that you are all very hap­py to force me to do some­thing that I find so fright­en­ing as to be debil­i­tat­ing. I fur­ther notice that no one appre­ci­ates all the hard work I did to get our month­ly casu­al Friday. And I fur­ther fur­ther notice that I AM NOW IN CHARGE OF THIS CAR.

Jenny takes off. But instead of steer­ing into the lane, she stays on the shoul­der, head­ed for some con­struc­tion bar­rels clus­tered up ahead. She thinks Levis and hits 20 miles an hour, she thinks All The Donuts I Wouldn’t Let Myself Buy and hits, 30, 40, she thinks about how she switched to the line-caught, envi­ron­men­tal­ly sen­si­ble tuna, which is too damn dry and she hits 50, she thinks—

 

E. For Christ’s sake, why make it all so com­pli­cat­ed?

They agree to pay a con­struc­tion work­er to dri­ve them over the bridge. He thinks it’s so fun­ny he won’t even take their mon­ey. It’s going to make a great sto­ry and they have a high time at the con­fer­ence and do a sing-along all the way back… to the bridge. Where it’s now very late, very dark, and total­ly free of con­struc­tion work­ers.

Jenny, Elissa, Mira, and Fran hud­dle in the car, safe­ly on the shoul­der. Fortunately it’s sum­mer, so they don’t need to keep the motor run­ning for heat. So all they hear are night­sounds through the cracked win­dows. And their own breath, as each sits in a stu­por, stunned that she didn’t pre­dict this very sit­u­a­tion ear­li­er, when they were on the oth­er side of this bridge, work­ing through the prob­lem of how to get across the first time.

Okay, says Jenny, break­ing their silence. Okay. What about that exer­cise at the con­fer­ence, the one about team-play­ing, where we had to threat­en to shoot rub­ber bands at each other’s fore­head?

What about it, snaps Fran. How does shoot­ing a rub­ber band get us across that bridge, asks Elissa, and it’s a good ques­tion. Plus, says Mira, in the most dispir­it­ed off-off Broadway voice any of them has ever heard, we don’t have a rub­ber band.

Well that’s it, isn’t it, says Jenny, yes that’s it, says Fran, it’s all a test, this whole god­damned thing is a test, says Elissa, you got that right, says Mira.

It’s a test. And we failed.

Did they? Did they fail?

The con­struc­tion work­ers will be here again, and soon­er rather than later—those guys start ear­ly. Taking Jenny’s lead, the women will sug­gest they’ve just arrived at the bridge after a night of carous­ing, forc­ing perky good cheer out of them­selves and smil­ing until their faces hurt. And again, just like yes­ter­day morn­ing, the tanned, brawny man with star­tling blue eyes and a kind, weath­ered smile, will laugh, shake his head, and take the wheel. Fran will move to the pas­sen­ger side while Mira, so petite, jams her­self into the back with Jenny and Elissa. Elissa will rub Jenny’s back in tight lit­tle cir­cles while Jenny leans for­ward, grip­ping the edges of her seat, hum­ming with eyes closed as they cross the bridge.

The man with the eyes and the smile and the hard­hat will tell them he has two daugh­ters, that his ex-wife hates him but she’s a good moth­er so he tries not to com­plain, that Mira maybe should call him some­time. He will refer to them as “ladies” and he will again refuse to take any mon­ey for his trou­ble.

They will be too exhaust­ed to hit that bar Jenny likes but next week as they tell and re-tell this sto­ry among them­selves, they will decide to meet there after work on Friday. Fran will be the des­ig­nat­ed dri­ver because she hates beer. The oth­ers will pay for her chick­en wings and Coke.

Over sub­se­quent Friday nights at the bar, break­room chats at work, and occa­sion­al girls’ night din­ners, the rea­sons for their var­i­ous dri­ving pho­bias will slow­ly unspool. For exam­ple, Mira’s ther­a­pist has unearthed a child­hood mem­o­ry that explains her ter­ror of dri­ving over a man’s legs. She tells Jenny, Elissa, and Fran about this dis­cov­ery before she tells her hus­band. She still refus­es to dri­ve, which they all sup­port.

But back to now. Right now, on the shoul­der, their car point­ing toward the bridge they can­not cross. The seats are wide and soft, the air is cool, they no longer smell exhaust and gaso­line and hot pave­ment. And there are peep­ers.

As late night falls on the mus­tard-col­ored Volvo, the four friends and co-work­ers hear peep­ers, which is a sign of the fleet­ing Maine sum­mer that works its way into the despair­ing mind­set in this car, that sup­plants their feel­ing of fail­ure and delights them all. And the moon, it’s amaz­ing, a giant sil­ver disc.

For a long time as a kid, says Jenny, I thought only I could see the moon when it was full, because nobody else was so com­plete­ly stopped by it. Nobody else stared and stared. The oth­ers nod, remem­ber­ing that same belief, that the moon was only for them. Not remem­ber­ing, hap­pi­ly, the day they real­ized it wasn’t.

As they lis­ten to the peep­ers, set­tle into the strange com­fort of this place, this car, let­ting their eye­lids get heavy, let­ting all that bright yel­low-white of the moon seep into their bones, they all do very much agree. Right now it’s okay to be on this side of the bridge. Right now it’s okay to rest.

~

Claire Guyton is a Maine writer and edi­tor. Her fic­tion has appeared in numer­ous jour­nals, includ­ing Crazyhorse, Mid-American Review, River Styx, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Atticus Review, and in the anthol­o­gy Summer Stories(Shanti Press, 2013). Claire has been a Maine Arts Commission Literary Fellow, and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.