The lights flash, a signal of worry. Confusion mounts my thoughts. I begin climbing up a ladder of possible missteps.
Did I forget to use my blinker?
Is my tail light working…my registration out of date?
Where is my registration? my proof of insurance?
How many beers did I have and how long ago?
It was last night and more than 25 hours ago. My hand flies to my mouth anyways for a quick breath check and warm moist air spreads over my palm. I never could smell my breath that way, but I forget it as I panic wondering whether the cop could smell alcohol on my tongue anyway. I can feel his presence now. He leans over, just his nose protruding through the invisible line created by the rolled down window between the outside and the inside. He leans just close enough to intrude but not invade.
Funny how my existence went unnoticed when my car radio was jacked. I did everything by the rules. I called to report the theft. It meant nothing, caused nothing, except a momentary influx of money between me, the insurance and the car repair service. I paid two hundred and fifty dollars to get the dashboard fixed and the radio replaced just so some guy could get a measly fifty bucks selling it fast and dirty to some sleazy K-town dealer. They were busy, I understood.
Now I’m driving, only 3 mph above the limit, and I didn’t even notice him lurking in the dark space created beyond the cone of the street light. Before the flashing lights, his car went unnoticed, it meant nothing. But the cruiser’s startling beams pull at my tired eyes. The electric blue and neon red, revolve dizzily around my head in the rear view mirrors. The lights flash everywhere around, from center, left and right, like a three-way mirror reflecting trepidation and distress. The lights overwhelm. Other colors disappear in the lights. No more green of the trees, no more safe golden yellow of the street lamps, only light and dark. I feel the wheel jiggle a little in my hands. I can’t tell if I’m driving straight or not. How can I stay sober in those lights?
I want to pull over immediately, but all I see are red curbs. Can I pull over in the red? Or is that still a violation? What if a fire breaks out and firemen in their engines need the curb?
He seems to take forever to get out of his car, so I twiddle my thumbs, reach for the registration papers and my license. I hold them in my lap as if they were a homework assignment waiting to get turned in. I heard the thump of his car door so long ago. I shift around, looking for the cop, and pop, there he is, his shadow hovering over the window, staring in and I jump with surprise.
The rolled down window lets in the cold midnight air and I remember my beanie, pulled down over my ears to keep them warm. Does he mistrust the my beanie-clad head, driving an old beat up truck? Is the beanie the reason he pulled me over? Before he utters a word I remove the evidence, tossing the knit cap aside. But it’s too late, he’s already seen it. He runs his flashlight around the inside of the car. It’s light roves over all my possessions inside the cab.
“Where you headed tonight?” he says. Not, “Where are you headed from?” or “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“Home” I honestly state. “I just got off work.”
“Where do you work?”
“The coffee shop…in the mall.”
“Okay. Do you have anyone else in the car with you?” Again flashing his light around, searching for something that isn’t there. It’s just me in the car; it’s plain to see. The cab is cavernous, large enough for my grandfather, a giant of a man in height (if not girth) and in my estimation.
“No.” I realize too late a tone of derision leaking out.
“Well, your headlights weren’t on all the way.” He looks at me waiting to see the reaction on my face.
“What? Oh, shit, did I not turn them on?” I reach out towards the headlight pull and twist and turn it and finally pull it out a little more until the lights turn brighter.
“They’re on, but they look a little dim.” His voice is stern, verging on disappointed father quality, despite the age difference of only a couple years.
Even under the shade of the tree, my car lights are barely visible under the decorative street lights spaced evenly along the pavement.
“Sorry” I say, both for the lights and for my work-tired reaction. I wonder whether my truth is believable.
“Do you have any restrictions or warrants out?” a sharp corner on the edge of his voice creeps out.
“Alright, I’m going to run a check on that. Wait here.”
He walks back to the car, where the cruiser’s lights still flash. My heart races through past parking tickets from collage and whether I really did pay them all. My fingers pull at my hair and the bit of syrup still crusted on my forearm. Waiting.
He stalks back to the open window and hands back the registration and license.
“Okay, so I’m going to have to give you warning for driving without your lights on.” He frowns and flashes his light around the cab of the car once more as if the negative return on his suspicions couldn’t possibly be correct. Then he turns his back and walks away while I sit and shudder and wonder when it’s appropriate to drive away.