There usually aren’t a lot of people out on a Tuesday morning at 1:45am. She traveled down the stretch of highway with the windows down and cool night air blowing her hair all around her. She was familiar with this road, as it was the same she traveled daily to and from work, except this time, she didn’t have to deal with rush hour traffic.
The song playing on the radio was one of her favorites and she turned the volume up to a level that would have her father scoffing at her to turn down.
“You’re going to be deaf when you’re fifty,” he’d say.
“What?” she would joke.
The stoplight at the approaching intersection turned yellow then red and she slowed to a stop. Her mind was fuzzy. She had been at a bar and had a few cocktails, probably one too many and she wondered if she would feel their effect in the later. She reached down and grabbed a cigarette from the pack nestled in the cup holder of her console, groped for her black lighter in the darkened interior and when she found it, brought it up to the cigarette’s end and flicked the flame. She caught a glimpse of her illuminated face in the rearview mirror. She looked tired and her eye make-up was slightly smudged.
“Hot,” she said around the cigarette filter.
She had a rough day. Nothing major, and she was sure she would live to have far worse days, but the day hadn’t been one of her favorites. That’s why she went out that evening; to relax and unwind, have a few drinks with some of her friends.
The green left turn arrow flashed on and she eased her foot on the gas pedal and turned the corner. She noticed a car coming toward her and as it got closer, saw it was a police cruiser.
Her breath caught in her chest and she didn’t let it out until the car had passed her. She looked in the rearview mirror again for signs of brake lights flickering on and much to her dismay, they did. The cop car then made a sharp U-turn in the intersection and quickly came up from behind.
She sucked in a deep drag from her cigarette and exhaled a cloud of acrid smoke into the interior of the car and it bounced off the windshield back in her face. She coughed.
Red and blue lights whirled on. She was approaching a gas station and signaled to turn into the parking lot. She probably should have pulled over sooner, like on to the side street instead of pulling into the station, but she was didn’t, and had a brief flash in her mind that she hoped the officer didn’t think she was trying to evade him. That’s the last thing she needed–having a cop think she was trying to flee from him.
She stopped her car, put it in park and lay her hands on top of the steering wheel so when the officer approached her window, he could see her hands and know nothing was amiss.
He was young and had a clean-shaven face. One of his hands was resting on the butt of his gun, the other was on her car door.
“Good morning, miss,” he said a little too cheerfully. “Do you know you have a headlight out?”
“Hi, Officer. Yes, I do,” she tried her best to sound calm.
“Have you been drinking tonight?”
“Yes, sir, I have.”
“How many drinks did you have and how long ago?”
“I had four cocktails and the last one was about a half hour ago.”
“Yeah, well, I can sure smell them on you. Can I see your license and registration, please?”
“Sure thing. Do you mind me reaching into my glove box?”
“Please, go ahead.”
She opened up the glove compartment and found her registration and insurance card, thankful she had finally remembered to put the updated card in her car the week before. She handed the officer her things and he thanked her and walked back to the squad car.
She sat in her car, frozen. She had played this game over a year ago and was not too keen on repeating it. The last time had landed her in detox for the night and a reckless driving charge on her record. She berated herself in her head for being so foolish again. She should have gotten a ride from someone, but you lay in the bed you make.
The officer came back to her window.
“Do you mind stepping out of the vehicle, ma’am? We’re going to do some field sobriety tests on you.”
She unbuckled her seat belt, shut off her car and stepped outside.
“I’m going to ask you to do a couple of tests for me, okay? First one, I’m going to hold my pen up and I want you to follow where I move it without moving your head–just use your eyes. Are you ready?”
“Yes, sir,” she was so polite when faced with being in deep shit.
The cop began moving his pen back and forth to the sides, slowly at first, then more quickly, then up and down, her eyes following every movement carefully. She wanted to reach out and grab the pen and toss it into the bushes.
“Very good,” he said as he finished. “Okay, next test, I’m going to have you walk a straight line with your feet heel-to-toe, like this,” and he demonstrated how she wanted to walk. “You can use the seam in the pavement here as a guide. I want you to count ‘one one thousand, two one thousand’ ect until you reach nine, okay? Whenever you’re ready, you may begin.”
She placed her feet on the pavement like he instructed and she walked the line, counting off as she did so, until she reached nine.
“Okay, good. Now, I want you to balance on one foot with the other held out in front of you. Can you do that without difficulty? Do you have any medical condition that will prevent you from doing this?”
She balanced on her left foot with her right foot out in front of her. She wobbled and wavered a bit, but didn’t need to put her other foot down to regain balance. She felt her toes on her left foot gripping the soles of her shoes to help steady herself.
“Okay, that’s good. Alright, I’m going to ask you to follow me back to my car and you’re going to give a breathalyzer test.”
She followed the man to the car and awkwardly climbed into the backseat of the car, remembering from her last time in the back of one of these how hard the seat was and how cramped it was back there.
“We’re going to wait about five minutes before we begin. You don’t have anything in your mouth, do you? Any gum or breath mints?”
“No, sir, I don’t.”
“Mind opening up so I can see?”
She opened her mouth, stuck out her tongue and said “aaahhh.” She wondered if he was going to take her temperature and blood pressure next.
This is when the cop decided to make small talk. He asked what she had done at the bar.
“Singing karaoke,” she replied somewhat sheepishly.
“Oh, yeah? Sing anything good?” he chuckled.
She laughed, too. “Oh, nothing special.”
The cop then got the test kit out and inserted the plastic tube she was to blow in to.
“Okay, time’s up. I want you to blow as hard as you can into the mouthpiece here until I say ‘stop,’ okay? Ready? And blow!”
She wrapped her lips around the hard plastic and blew fast and hard until the officer stopped her.
“You know what the legal limit is, ma’am?”
“Point zero eight, sir.”
He turned the breathalyzer towards her face. The display showed 0.077.
“Well. Someone lucked out tonight,” he said to her. She detected a hint of disappointment in his voice.
She tried to stay calm, but on the inside, she was screaming. Holy shit, she felt like she had just won the lottery. A very sad lottery.
“Alright, ma’am. I’m going to issue you a warning ticket for your headlight. Be sure to get that fixed ASAP, because us cops are bored and look for people like you to pull over. It’s been a slow night.”
She got out of the backseat of the cop car and reached for the ticket as he handed it to her.
“Be safe, okay? I suggest calling someone to come pick you up.”
“Thank you, Officer.”
She walked back to her car, trying not to jump up in the air and click her heels together like Fred Astaire would have done, and she succeeded.
She sat down in her car and dialed her friend.
“Uh…hey. Can you come get me, please?” she asked once her friend answered.
“Oh my god, are you okay?”
“Yeah…I just got pulled over for my headlight and had to do the drunk walk. I’m at the gas station on 40th street.”
“Oh, thank god. Okay, I’ll be there in a few.”
She got out of her car and locked the doors and leaned against the door. She reached into her purse and grabbed her cigarettes and lit it. She inhaled deeply like she was a death row inmate who had been given a pardon and was a free man, standing outside the prison after his release. The plume of smoke dispersed into the night air.
Her friend showed up five minutes later and she silently got into the passenger seat and sat quietly the entire ride to her apartment.