Counting Cars

It’s late. The usually busy streets of Central are now empty, with only someone walking by once every ten minutes. Jen just left work later than usual, and she feels the hair on the back of her neck rise.

She walks down the street, stopping only to grab something to drink at the convenience store. She takes a sip as she continues to walk.

Her phone buzzes. A car passes.

Jen screws the lid back onto the bottle and takes out her phone. It’s a message from her coworker.

“Just saw you leave. Let me know when you’re home.”

“You haven’t left yet?”

“Soon.”

“Don’t stay too long. You’ll work yourself to death.”

“I hope I do.”

Her coworker goes offline. She is about to shove her phone in her pocket when she spots a man sitting on the side of the road. He is leaning against the railing, his legs outstretched. For a moment, Jen sees a vision of the man’s legs getting run over by a car.

She takes a step, then stops. She glances at the man, continues down the street, and stops again. Taking a deep breath, and looking to make sure there’s no one else around, she heads over to the man.

“Hey, are you alright?”

She keeps her voice down.

The man blinks at her. He pauses, then he smiles.

“You’re the tenth person to walk by, and you’re the first to talk to me.”

He says something else, but a car passes, and Jen misses it.

“Sorry, what was that?”

He shakes his head, smiles, and turns back to the road. He nods.

“Um, what are you doing?”

The man glances at her, then points to the retreating red lights.

“I’m counting cars.”

“Counting cars?”

“Yes. Can’t see any stars here, and it’s not even possible to keep track of which stars you’ve counted, so I’m settling for cars.”

Another car passes. Jen leans closer to the man.

“Would you like to count with me?”

She glances at her watch. It’s late. She needs to go home if she wants to get to work in time tomorrow.

“Sure.”

The man moves over a little. She sits down next to her and crosses her legs.

“My name is Oliver. What’s your name?”

“Jen.”

“Nice to meet you, Jen.”

She nods. A car passes. Jen squints and raises her hand to shield her eyes from the headlights.

“Second one I’ve seen.”

“The car?”

“Second time I’ve seen that model.”

“How long have you been counting cars?”

“Since midnight. Counted four-hundred and twenty-two so far.”

Jen nods. “Is that a lot, or…?”

“Middle-ground, I’d say. I only count on Tuesdays. Some Tuesdays are better than others.”

“Right.”

She sniffs. Two more cars pass. Jen takes a sip of her drink. Another car passes.

“Aren’t they beautiful?”

“What? The cars?”

“The cars. The people. The street.”

“I guess.”

“We all live our lives, but do we even notice what that means?”

Jen takes a deep breath. She smells nothing but the exhaust and asphalt. It’s late.

“I should go. It’s late.”

“Of course. It’s a Tuesday.”

Jen stands. She steps back from him but doesn’t go any further than that. She watches Oliver. He doesn’t move, leaning his face against the rail with a smile on his face. Jen can’t tell how he’s counting.

Another car goes by. It’s red.

“Why are you counting cars?”

Oliver shrugs. It’s hard to see that in the low light, but she can hear the way his suit jacket rubs up against his shirt.

“Taking the time to slow down.”

Jen scrunches up her nose. She is suddenly tired, so she turns around and tries to leave, but Oliver stops her.

“Have you ever taken time out of the day to just look around you?”

Jen turns around. A car passes. It’s a silver Toyota.

“I’m very busy. I don’t have time for something like that.”

Oliver smiles. It doesn’t reach his eyes and it doesn’t look nice. It leaves a poor taste at the back of her mouth. Jen scrunches up her nose again.

“What I do with my time is really none of your business.”

Oliver doesn’t say anything. He turns back to the road as another car passes. It’s a mini-van for a delivery company.

“You looked around enough to notice me.”

Jen steps back. She watches as two other cars, a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, zooms down the road. They have flashy under lights, and the drivers are grinning. Then, they’re gone, zipping past the earlier mini-van and running the red light.

She thinks back to her apartment. She thinks about it until there’s nothing on her mind other than heading back home to go to sleep.

Categories: fiction, short stories

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