RIDING IN CARS WITH…

LOTTE MITCHELL REFORD

I have a serious fear of doppelgängers, and also that people around me may be possessed. I imagine skinsuits hanging in cupboards, or that when the person I am sharing a bed with gets up to piss in the middle of the night they will come back and not really be themselves. That I will go to the bathroom later and pull back the shower curtain to reveal their limp body. That there will be blood crusted around their mouth, and their eyes will stare at me still and milky and they will be contorted in some awful way, folded into the tub.

Tonight, I got into a car with a stranger. I have got into many cars with many strangers, and have only very occasionally had to make an excuse and bail or yell ‘STOP THE FUCKING CAR’ or open the door like I’m about to throw myself out. Far more often I have drunk homemade plum brandy, been offered a bed for the night, had tea and cigarettes thrust upon me, or been taken home to meet wives and have lunch.

This time, I was standing at a bus stop, probably looking despairing because I was despairing. I had been waiting for the bus in the sweaty hug of 10:30pm, October, Virginia, for half an hour. Before that, I had been babysitting for seven hours, including having a tiny penis and arse flashed at me and watching the same Disney Channel cartoon three times. When I put the kid to bed he started crying because he remembered a horrible commercial. I told him I would sit outside his room and do work as he fell asleep, and that he’d be able to hear the clacking of my keys. He said, ‘thank you. Sometimes I just get scared, you know?’

I know. I often have dreams that are so terrifying they follow me for days. Most recently I murdered my own parents, sold their bodies to an international terrorist organisation, and knew, staring hard at myself in the mirror, that this was not a dream, and that I was going to have to live with this guilt forever, never stopping, never staying still long enough to be noticed, changing my name and avoiding connection until eventually, mercifully, I one day died too.

Before I got in this particular stranger’s car, after he’d said, ‘Do you need a ride to campus?’ I said, ‘That depends, are you going to murder me?’ He laughed. He said, ‘I hope not.’ He was a kid, maybe 21, and he talked to me about school all the way to UCB Kroger. He asked me about culture shock moving here, and when I got out he wished me good luck with my grading. When I got home (after buying a bottle of wine to help with said grading) and texted friends about my good Samaritan they replied with WHAT THE HELL. As in, what the hell, who the fuck gets in strangers’ cars. Short answer: I do. I don’t trust society and its patterns one bit, but I do trust people. And I trust my own ability to swerve away from situations that are uncomfortable, and to know when they are getting uncomfortable.

And this could be some kind of deferred fear, because I’m 5’3” and 120lbs and basically anyone (definitely any man) could overpower me, but the bus stop was right in front of a large and pitch black park, and everyone knows that parks are full of werewolves and worse. The park, the distant fence post and the manicured bushes in front of them, anything could lurk there. There could be something that looked just like me, squatting out of view. And if I waited too long, waited for the late bus, its headlights might sweep the pavement and just miss catching my pale skin where I lay half in the ditch, blood and skin under my nails from the fight, as it stepped onto the bus with my school ID held out, smiling at the bus driver, scratches on its neck.

LOTTE is an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Tech. She worked as managing editor for literary journal From Glasgow to Saturn, and as editorial and production manager for Luath Press, Edinburgh. She’s had writing published in, amongst other places, Miso, SPAM, The Moth and Hobart. She has poetry upcoming in Dum Dum Zine. She uncomfortably ghost writes romance novels on the side, but has signed NDAs so ssshhhh.