Left Turn

by Cathy Corcoran

            

I am driving Mass Ave on a Saturday morning, free at last, en route to the writers’ conference I’ve been looking forward to for months.  

 

The twelve-hour torture of the Brownie sleepover is over.  The little ones - my own beloved daughter among them - were up til after 11 o’clock.  My patience ran out some time around 9.  

 

I hunkered in my sleeping bag, alternately sweating, then shivering in the clammy nylon, tensing every muscle, trying to sleep on a wood floor while 20 eight year-olds snickered and played flashlight tag in the dark.  When the first giggles started up again at 5AM, I wanted to scream.

 

Now my back hurts, my neck hurts, my eyes are heavy.  But inside, I feel wonderful.  The sleepover is history.  Today is for me.  Free at last!

 

8:45.  The conference starts at 9.   I sit in my Chevvy in the intersection in front of Symphony Hall, directional blinking brazenly, waiting to take the illegal left turn onto Huntington Avenue.  I’ve been taking this turn for years.  No one pays any attention to the “no left turn” sign.  It’s no big deal.  There’s hardly any traffic anyway on Saturday morning.

 

The light turns green.  I glance at my watch, wait for a red pickup truck to rumble past, see my opening, make my move.  I turn left, right into the grinning young face of a Boston policeman.

 

My heart lurches.  “Avoid eye contact!” is my first thought.  

Chin up, eyes forward, I proceed smoothly at 20 miles an hour, the very picture of a law-abiding citizen.  

No dice.  The officer points to me, his finger slicing the air, his face gleeful.  Gotcha!

 

He swaggers toward me, hips heavy with gun, walkie talkie, handcuffs, a mean-looking hula dancer in a blue uniform. 

 “License and registration,” he drawls.  

“What’s wrong, officer?” I ask brightly.  

“You made an illegal turn,” he says, spitting the words out.  

I open my mouth to respond.  

 

“License and registration,” he growls, cutting me off before I can speak.

My face burns as I fumble in the glove compartment.  I’ll be late for the conference.  I’ll have to pay a fine.  I’ll get whacked with a surcharge on my car insurance.  A hot pain shoots up my neck.  Damned neck!  Damned sleepover!  Damned cop!

The officer takes the papers and ambles back to his partner in the patrol car.  

 

In front of me, a heavyset man in suit and tie sits waiting in his Toyota.  In front of him, is a teenaged boy in a beat up Ford Escort.  It’s a three-bagger for the brash young cop.

 

The officer leans on the side of the police car, talking to his partner, moving slowly, deliberately, making us wait.  I hate him.  

 

The man in the Toyota opens his door, looks at his watch, tapes his foot on the curb.  The teenager blares his radio, thumping the steering wheel to ear-splitting rap music.  It cuts through the quiet morning at 90 decibels.  No reaction from the patrol car.  

I am definitely going to be late for the conference.  

 

“I hope no one’s getting mugged on Mass Ave while you’re busy,” I want to say.  “I didn’t see any sign,” I want to say, but I say nothing.  I am a suburban lady, a Brownie mother, a law-abiding citizen.  I do not talk back to cops.

 

I massage my neck, thinking of the Brownies last night.  Good girls, not a troublemaker in the bunch, out on a lark, staying up much too late, loving the idea that they were getting away with something.  They needled me and the other mothers until we barked for silence, then giggled in their sleeping bags for another hour.  It was only the lack of sleep that made me mad, I tell myself.  No harm in staying up late.  No harm in bending the rules once in a while, is there?

 

The cop walks back to the teenager.  The boy turns the radio off, hangs his head, nods silently.  

The man in the tie glares, pockets his ticket, stomps back to the Toyota.  

Now it’s my turn.  I make my face expressionless.  

 

“Just a warning this time,” the young cop says.  “You be careful now,” and he smiles.  I say thank you like a good girl, then drive slowly down Huntington Avenue.  No ticket, no fine, no surcharge, just a warning.  

 

I whoop out loud, my troubles forgotten, an overgrown Brownie, giddy as an eight year-old who somehow managed to get away with something big.

Heh heh!  Free at last!

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