The insect and the M.D.

It’s two o’clock in the suburban afternoon. A grey sky hangs low outside, whispering in the back of everyone’s mind re looming rainfall. Miscellaneous questions are caught in the whispers and whirl forward into consciousness—Are the cushions on the patio chairs out? Does the garden need to be humanly watered?—landing one after another in a paralyzing mess—Should that errand be run now or postponed until the rain has passed?—like piles of crisp dead leaves you’ve tucked against the curb being scattered back over your lawn by gusts of wind. The rain looms forever ahead in possibility and everything is grey.

‘Do you want to go to Trader Joe’s?’

‘Yeah sure.’

The world beneath the pregnant sky is hung together in a delicate mechanical balance, everything in rigid expectation of broken water. We glide through it towards Trader Joe’s, trying to perturb nothing. One instant of the drive stands out from the rest: an insect touches down on our windshield, an anxious rain-sensing wiper flinches, and the poor insect is jettisoned the same moment it lands. But the wiper, realizing its error, quickly restores the balance, and the rain cordially holds off.

Rain finally begins to fall on the drive home.

‘What is this car doing?’

In the passenger seat, my eyes refocus and I see an old Mercedes sedan proceeding tortoise-like in front of us. The license plate has only five digits, prefixed by the letters ‘M.D.’ and hovering above the word ‘Physician’.

‘I guess it’s a super old doctor.’

‘Or his wife.’

‘Hey, the wife could be the doctor.’

‘That’s true. The hair is short though. Is it a man or a woman? I can’t tell. Can you see anything?’

‘No, the rain’s in the way.’

Hollows in the shape of the genderless M.D.’s identity are slowly bored into our minds as we’re (barely) led along this single-laned road. With each drawn out meter, the rain thickens and the hollows deepen. Things, and time, begin to feel more viscous.

The drive’s penultimate turn grants us at last a road with a second lane, though only briefly, the two lanes merging just past the final stoplight. We slide over from behind the tortoise into the other lane, hoping to pass it and discern the M.D. while the lanes merge. But we lose ground during the maneuver. At the red light, our car is third in its lane and the tortoise second in its.

‘I think we still can pass, right?’

‘It all depends on the car in front of us now, and it doesn’t look too good from the gap between it and the first car.’

Her assessment turns out to be accurate. Beneath the green light, in a terrible display of patience, the car in front of us allows the M.D. to pull ahead of it. The distance between our questions and their answers is measurably, palpably, hope-witheringly increased. I peer into the bottomless hollow and imagine a dry stone well. Is somebody down there? The darkness is impenetrable.

We make our way through the hilly stretch between that final stoplight and the final turn. In every moment, fresh grids of raindrops pack our windshield and are immediately jettisoned, between which we catch glimpses of the tortoise two cars away, still pulling us through mud. We roll down to a halt at the floor of the final valley. As we turn into our neighborhood, we watch the Mysterious Driver slip away into the grey, slow and steady amidst grids of rain, forever ahead in possibility.