The Length of Thought, a short story

Sitting at the red light, thirteen cars back, Frankie absent-mindedly drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. She was certain she wouldn’t make it through the intersection on the first green light, maybe not even the second. The light was notoriously short and her line was long. The crisp blue numbers of the clock told her that it was 4:30. Her drumming became a little more anxious, a little more insistent, as if she could signal a meaningful urgency to the traffic light.

The light turned green, and Frankie shuffled forward to fourth in line. One more cycle and she could get through. One more cycle and hopefully she would be on the highway heading toward the other side of town before the mass of nine-to-fivers were released.

4:37 the blue numbers read as she finally made it through the intersection. She sped up, more out of impatience than hurry, and fell into rhythm with the other cars around her. A familiar rhythm that caused Frankie’s mind to wander.

NAG DRYWALL was in large block letters on the large utility truck in front of her. There was an outline of a saggy looking nag—an odd image to put on something you wouldn’t want to sag, something like drywall. The flatbed carried stacks of drywall and at least a dozen ladders. Everything was coated in a layer of white—plaster, she thought.

She looked to her left at a shiny black sports car driven by a man sitting stiff and straight, gripping the wheel tight enough to turn his tanned knuckles white. He chewed on something so vigorously and with such force his jaw muscles pulsated. He could probably bite someone’s finger off. Frankie wondered if his house was as severe as he was. She imagined him in a modern house with cold edges, lots of stainless steel, and no carpet—where every click of expensive shoes was heard.

Her house was a simple Cape Cod in a traditional neighborhood, with a square lawn and predictable furniture, the kind you find at a box store. The kind that everyone ended up having. She wondered if people could guess what her house looked like by the way she looked driving her car. People like her, with predictable box blonde hair, cut into a predictably stylish but functional shoulder-length cut, driving a predictable small economy car, with a predictable house, and predictable furniture. Yeah, they probably could guess.

4:52, the traffic got a little thicker; she would not avoid it, but maybe she was far enough it wouldn’t be so bad. Out of habit, Frankie applied lip balm to her not really chapped lips. She had read somewhere that the makers of lip balms added an ingredient that dries lips out so a person would keep using it. She wondered if it were true.

4:56, Frankie heard the text alert on her phone. She reached over to the passenger seat where she had tossed it when she got into her car. She patted around the cloth seat with her right hand, found her purse, an empty coffee mug, two pens, and some gum—but no phone. She glanced down quickly, certain it must be there, somewhere. It would just take a second to find it.

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