In the city where she lived, good street parking was terrible in some areas and easy in others. If there were more apartment-type buildings on a block or in an area, the parking was pretty ghastly. Some areas, like her own, featured multi-tenant dwellings on two of the four corners of every block and houses everywhere else. She was confident that no matter what time she drove off, when she got home there would be parking within a half block of her house.
Her cousin's neighborhood had only single-family dwellings for blocks around and the lots were ample. In other words, the parking was fantastic. She always parked in front of the house next door to that of her cousin. There were metal plates on each window, the hallmark of a house a bank owned that was now abandoned. The bank had the lawn mowed, leaves all raked up, and the sidewalks kept clear. The grinning face of a bald, bespectacled, middle-aged realtor smiled at anyone who cared to look at him. He looked directly at the photographer and his eyes said, "I am a cool guy. This is just how I make a living."
She parked, took up the cranberry relish, balancing it as she locked the car, and walked carefully to her cousin's house. The last thing she needed as to trip on a sidewalk crack and have an incident. Her aunt loved incidents and would share them for years to come. Her aunt and cousin were unforgivably horrible humans but they were the part of her family and, well, dinner would soon be served.
Her cousin's husband answered the door which was very strange. He was usually in the back of the house making preparations for those who wanted to watch the Detroit Lions football game. The house was also eerily quiet. As she thought about it, there were few cars on the street at all.
"Hi," he said, giving her a perfunctory hug. "Bet you're wondering what's going on."
"Why so quiet?" she asked.
"Everyone's at K-Mart. Can you believe it? They found out K-Mart was open and they all piled into their cars and went to K-Mart for some sale or other. They left me in charge," he answered.
"Isn't the closest K-Mart by me?" she asked.
"Nah, there's one about a mile closer," he responded. "Crazy, right? Well, never mind. How about a martini? I'm feeling damn festive and your cousin instructed me to touch nothing except to put your relish in the fridge."
He took the bowl and put it into the refrigerator and turned to look at her.
"A martini sounds good? I can make you anything. Bellini? The champagne can be opened! I recall you like Cosmos. What's your poison?" he asked.
"Actually," she said. "Check this out."
It could not have been better. K-Mart had saved her from trying to get him alone to ask for his help. She laid it all out, including how she saw the Fiat on her block that morning -- then reached into her pocket and showed him the piece of paper with the license plate number.
"You know this sounds like nothing good, right?" asked the cousin.
"But it could be perfectly innocent, too, like I am maybe over-reacting and he just wants to meet me, yeah?" she said.
Her cousin paused. When he spoke again, it was very slowly.
"You know," he stated. "This sounds like nothing good. Right?"
He stared into her eyes and she shivered.
"I am trying to think I am over-reacting," she said.
"Well, you keep thinking that and I will look this up when I go back to work on Monday. I have vacation until then. Can you stand it until Monday?"
"Yes," she said, shivering again. "I've waited this long."
"And look at me all rude," he said. "Give me your coat. I'll put it in the closet while there's room. When they get back from K-Mart there will be a zillion coats on the bed and you'd need to hire a crew to excavate it. That's a sharp coat! Let's keep it nice."
He took her coat and hung it on a solid wooden hangar in the front closet.
"Thanks," she said. "Really, thanks. For doing that thing for me. For keeping my coat nice." She looked down at her feet, suddenly shy and touched by his caring. She looked at his face. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," he said, reaching out and touching her arm lightly. "Now let's have some beverages and chat about something other weirdness."
"You know I love work stories," she said.
"Hey, how's your job going? I know you moved to a new location. How's that going?" he asked.
She told him it was better and he told her about the large cast of characters that come through their office. Everyone needs identification and eventually, everyone comes to the Secretary of State. He had been in another traffic accident this week, keeping his record of at least one accident per week while administering driving tests.
"It was a short week and I hoped I wasn't going to have an incident. Nope, the gentleman sideswiped a car in another lane, removing the mirror on the driver side. He didn't consider stopping until I made him. 'Why must I stop? I am not yet licensed.' Poor dope," he said.
"He's still not licensed, is he?" she inquired.
"No, no, he's not," he answered. "His uncle taught him to drive. Spent thirty minutes with him in mall parking lot on a Sunday morning then made him drive on the freeway. Gave him a book of the rules of the road and told him to read it before the test."
"Do you think he did? Read it, I mean."
"No, as he doesn't seem to read English. Poor dope," he said, shaking his head. "At least he didn't try to bribe me. Sometimes they try to bribe me. Poor dope."
Then he changed the subject completely.
"K-Mart! You should have seen everyone race out of the house and get into their cars. What the hell is on sale?" he asked.
"I know they had 32-inch hi-def TVs for $88," she offered.
"Those will go to people who were in line for hours before they opened," he said.
"I think pajamas were five bucks. There were toys and games that had huge discounts," she said.
"That's it," he said. "You know they love to donate to Toys For Tots. Now that we solved that mystery, let's have that drink."
"I'm driving so maybe a nice glass of club soda with ice," she said.
"Go crazy, girl. I'm having a martini with two olives," he said.
Having made the drinks he led her to the back of the house where he continued to set things up for those who might want to watch the came. He laid out crunchy snacks and stocked a beer cooler with domestic and imported brews.
"You're not a football fan, though," she stated. "I've never heard you mention football once in all the time I've known you."
"I will tell you straight, I love football. I make like I don't care to keep peace at home but I love football. I run a huge pool at a bar I go to after work, so, shhhh, keep it to yourself," he said. "You told me your secret and I've told you mine. Let's keep 'em between us."
Just then the K-Mart caravan pulled up out front. Everyone burst into the house together, her aunt and cousin leading the way with their many bags of toys.
"The big stuff's in the backseat and the trunk, honey," her cousin told her husband. "Can you please move it all to the basement?"
"Of course I can," he said. He nodded at her and went to move the bigger toys.
Her cousin and aunt assessed her as she stood drinking her club soda.
"All black," said her aunt.
"So mysterious," said her cousin.
"What are you hiding?" asked her aunt. "A butt? A gut?"
Her cousin laughed like a banshee, then her aunt and cousin each embraced her.
"Ha, ha, ha, only fooling," said her cousin. "You look good."
"Really good," said her aunt. "Except for what is going on with your hair?"
"Roots-a-rama," said her cousin.
"No," said her aunt, "not roots. It's just salad hair."
"Salad hair! What do you mean, Mom?"
"Tossed!" shouted her aunt.
They laughed so hard her aunt got tears in her eyes and her cousin snorted.
Family members poured into the house, filing past her giving her a hug or a kiss, as they made their way to the basement with their additions of toys.
Had she realized she would have stopped and gotten toys. Her toy inadequacy would make her part of an incident which her aunt could one day recount.
"Let me rush to K-Mart, too!" she proclaimed.
"No need," said her other cousin, the one she preferred. "Give me twenty-five dollars. When we were shopping I told them I was buying stuff for you, so I did."
She embraced this cousin hard.
"Now stop," said this cousin. "Today we can be thankful for no incidents."
"We just can't say it so it can be heard," she said. "Unless we want an incident about the incidents."
They went off to the football room to watch the game. She didn't care about the Detroit Lions or their opponent or even football but there were snacks and a flickering image from another town.
As soon as she settled into the chair, she fell asleep.