Dale Wisely
The Girl From Anthropology

      The girl from anthropology is giving me a ride. She drives fast and the conversation is good. She tells about an old boyfriend and how that ended. I listen and this goes well. Now she tells me that her mother had spent a year in prison for stealing from the funeral home where she worked.

      "In her mind," the girl says, "my mother really believed she would pay it back before they caught her. It took a long time for her to see it as stealing."

      She asks if we can eat and whips into Taco Bell. I order one taco. She orders two giant burritos and a big Pepsi. Actually she orders a Coke but they ask her if Pepsi is okay.

      We pull out into the night traffic and we eat as she drives. I look at her tidy build and wonder if she eats like this all the time. She talks and eats and drives. Fast. I try not to show I'm nervous, but I don't think she would notice anyway. She interrupts herself and turns to me.

      "Why am I talking to you? I don't know you." and then she looks embarrassed for being too cute. She picks up where she left off. In the middle of a story about a junior high dance, which happened while her Mom was in prison, she wads up the paper remnants of Taco Bell and crumples it up into a loose ball the size of a large cabbage. She rolls down the window and, in mid-sentence, propels the trash out the window and onto the street. Like it is nothing. She never stops talking. Something drops in my stomach.

      I turn in my seat and, through the back window, I watch the paper bounce and tumble in the slow motion in which all such objects move on streets. Battered by gravity and the wind of passing cars, it breaks up into component parts. The big bag goes this way. A burrito wrapper takes flight. A balled-up napkin jumps off in another trajectory. The car behind us swerves slightly to avoid the debris. I turn back to her and utter a single syllable of protest, cut off when she tosses her 32-oz. Pepsi cup and ice scatters on asphalt behind us. I see the ice glitter on the street for a moment.

      She litters. She litters without a thought or a care. I can't remember the last time I even used the word "litter." I look at her. She is still talking about the junior high dance, I think. I hear her but can't comprehend a word.

      I look out the rear window again but her crime is now a half-mile behind us. I think of motorists to our rear making quick judgments about the kind of person who would do this horrible thing.

      "What in the hell did you do?" I'm yelling at this girl.

      "What?" she says, wide-eyed and startled. Her voice changes and she cries.

      "I didn't do anything!"

      She looks at me and we are like two people who have lived together for years, tempers flaring. She pulls over into the parking lot of a seedy-looking podiatry clinic and looks at me, breathing hard. There are a few shreds of pale, gooey taco cheese on the door behind her.

      She starts fumbling around, looking for a cigarette. "Damn it," she says, "I quit smoking."

      I look at her wet face and red eyes and feel a primal and inexplicable ardor. It's fear and confusion; arousal and tenderness. I see our marriage bed. Two or three children with her cheeks and my freckles. A house. Two cars. A Boston Terrier.

      "You didn't," I say. "You didn't do anything."