Elaine looked directly at her mother, about to speak. Too late, out of nowhere, a siren pierced the car’s cabin interior, shaking the women like two bananas in a blender. Some kind of hybrid hiccup-sob-shriek leapt from her mother’s convulsing chest. For a moment Elaine was sure they were going to wreck. And then, as though he could sense something teetering on the edge of a precipice, the cop used his loud speaker to give it a push: “PULL OVER TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD!” Instead, Anna, her mother, slammed on the breaks and the cop car came tumbling in.
By the side of the road she watched as her mother failed every sobriety test administered except the breathalyzer. Anna was bawling. The cop was bloody and angry. The two cars, her mother’s and the cop’s, lay crumpled together like lovers already regretting their coupling. Another cop car pulled up at the scene, a voyeur. Elaine, stone faced and obedient, was trying to suppress every thought, but cursing how heedlessly she had tripped into this carnival cascade and marveling at her equally perverse bystander pose.
It was a cold night. The middle of town. Fortunately, not many people seemed to be out and about. Elaine wrapped a blanket of remorse around her, but it kept slipping off. Her mother was in handcuffs. The cop from the second car approached her, a woman.
“She’s not drunk. She hasn’t been drinking.”
“Can I see some identification, Ma’am.”
“Officer do you have a mother? I mean, of course, you have a mother,” she said as she handed her license over. “Do you… What do you do when you’re mother is hyster…” She hated that word, she hated that word when it labeled a woman. Was she really treating her mother that way?
“What happened here?”
“My mother and I were having an argument.”
“Officer Oglahey says your mother was weaving in and out of her lane and when told to pull over slammed on her breaks.”
“That’s true. It was my fault, I told her the world didn’t revolve around her.”
“Oh God, never mind. Oglahey, did she flunk the breathalyzer?” Oglahey shook his head.
“Then take the damn handcuffs off.” Oglahey shrugged and reached for his keys.
“NOOO!” Anna protested. The officer tried to take hold of her arm, but Anna squirmed away, a sixty-two-year-old woman loping around the wreckage with her hands fastened behind her back, bellowing, “NOOO!”
A car approached, slowing past the bubble lights and broken glass, just in time to see Anna scissor-stepping into the street away from Officer Oglahey.
“Mom, you’re going to get yourself killed. Officer Oglahey just wants to take off the handcuffs!” Elaine ran toward her mother, who altered her course across the street, shouting over her shoulder, “NOOO! I deserve it. I’m a terrible mother! I ought to be put in jail!”
“Then stop running away!” Elaine cried.
“No, you just want to take off my handcuffs!”
“Nunez! A little help, please!”
Nunez, who was calling for back up, headed around the other side of the accident, but Anna saw her and zigzagged toward the center of town. The passing car had pulled to a stop. A man got out: “Anna?...Officers what’s going on?”
“We just want to take her handcuffs off but she won’t let us!”
“Well, stop! Back off!” shouted the mayor. The police man and woman did as they were told. Her mom was in front of the Denny’s when the patrol car from the other end of town rounded the corner. The mayor advanced slowly making a gentle appeal. Oglahey and Nunez slipped up the sidewalk on opposite sides of the street. The third patrol car locked its search light on Anna, who looked defiantly from one face to another, wailing: “Everyone, just let me be!”
The scene outside attracted the attention of the late night diners inside Denny’s. They streamed outside to watch the elderly woman make her stand: a couple on a date, a trucker, two lawyers who had worked too late, a band of musicians, two waitresses, the manager, even the cook. Anna slowly turned on her axis, bending forward because she could not gesture with her hands: “Just let me be a moment!”
A tow truck driver joined the scene. Commanded not to approach, the crowd of cops, politicians, musicians, lovers, lawyers, towmen, truckers, waiters, managers, cooks and children unconsciously rotated ever so slowly around Anna, as though to console her with a cradle’s soothing swing. Anna turned too, toward Elaine, sobbing emphatically: “I…Just…Wanted…To…Celebrate…Your…Birthday!” All eyes in the crowd turned to Elaine questioning. Anna continued: “I…Gave…Birth…To…You! ... Don't...You...See? ... My…World…Revolves…Around…You!”