I have come to expect to see unpaired items on my walks now. When I don’t find something interesting on given day, I’m a little disappointed. But also, interestingly, I’m now passing items by – not photographing them – if they don’t strike a particular creative nerve. This was surprising to me the first time it happened.
So, the universe is messing with my expectations. Or my expectations are modifying how I look at the universe. Expectations will do that.
Of course, the universe is still perfectly capable of exceeding these expectations, as when I came across this windshield wiper on one of my more common routes through town. It looked like it had been there for years, but I knew it couldn’t have been. I would have seen it.
The story that came to mind became about how we build expectations and how two people move through their shared – or separate – sets of these. (Note: for a little more context, you might want to read black knit glove first. The characters here were introduced there.)
At 3:32 PM on December 9, 2016, she was driving south on Highway 95, nine miles out of Moscow. The snow had started again just over two minutes earlier. She didn’t seem to notice. The young woman’s hands were tight on the wheel of the Pontiac Grand Am. And her eyes were focused forward as an observer would expect. But as the snow slowly cooled her windshield and began to collect, her gaze continued to alternate between the view out her windshield and something inside the car, down and to her right. These glances always followed a movement of her lips combined with inaudible utterances. The only thing in the direction of her repetitive glance was a MacBook computer in the passenger seat.
By the time her hand moved to turn on the windshield wipers, her view was significantly obscured.
. . .
Three days earlier at 7:45 A.M., the young woman came out of her house on Third Street. She crossed the street from south to north, with her hand already outstretched preparatory to unlocking the driver’s side door of the Grand Am. When she reached the car, she quickly inserted and turned the key, pulled it out and opened the door. She slid into the driver’s seat, put the key in the ignition and cranked the engine. It caught and started after four cranks and she quietly muttered, “Thank god.” Sitting for a moment, she looked at the windshield. She sighed and reached down into the passenger side footwell and came back up with an ice scraper. She exited the car and began to hastily scrape the windshield.
She cleared the driver’s side and moved around the front of the car to the passenger side. When she stopped, even with the windshield again, she pulled out her phone to look at the screen. She placed the scraper blade on the windshield and began to apply it while still looking at the screen of her phone. She pushed the scraper forward and her hand suddenly stopped. She looked up from the phone. Holding the scraper in front of her, she discovered that the plastic blade had broken. She began to mutter as she stepped back around the front of the car, “well, that will have to do. My father isn’t here to scold me for not clearing every square inch of ice.” She sat down in the driver’s seat, threw the scraper back into the passenger footwell, closed the door and began her drive to campus.
She didn’t notice that she had shattered the plastic hanger on the passenger side windshield wiper blade. That morning and the next few days, sprint-tension in the idle arm held the blade in its expected place.
. . .
When her hand completed the motion to flip on the wiper switch, the view directly in front of her cleared with one swipe of the wiper. But she also heard a scraping noise and with a slight turn of her head saw that the passenger side of the windshield was still covered with a thin and accreting layer of snow interrupted only by a 3/8 inch wide arc of cleared glass. Her eyes narrowed and her lips curled in slightly as she continued to drive, her eyes flicking occasionally from the clarity of the view in front of her to the slowly thickening layer of obscurity on the other half of the windshield. As she moved through the highway’s transition from two lanes to four, the sound from the unadorned wiper arm bracket turned from a simple scrape to a screeching wail. Her face contorted and she pulled onto the shoulder. She unbuckled her seatbelt, climbed across to the passenger seat where she opened the passenger door from her hands and knees and awkwardly crawled out of the car onto the snow covered gravel. She moved around the open door to the front fender and looked at windshield for a moment, watching the wiper arm still sketching its arc in the crusty snow. She moved back around the open passenger door, knelt on the passenger seat, leaned on the center console and flicked the wipers off. As she backed out of the car door, she placed her right foot on the shoulder. When she pushed off the center console to place more weight on that foot, the gray canvas Tom’s slip-on shoe lost traction on the slight grade of the shoulder. Her left knee slipped off the passenger seat and banged on the metal-clad sill as her chin hit the center console. Her left shoe came off and landed sole-side up on the gravel Her right knee came to rest on the gravel and her left slid off the sill and landed on top of the shoe. Both forearms laid across the passenger seat.
She pushed herself up, articulated her chin and then her neck. She took a breath and pushed herself carefully to her feet. She moved slowly to the front fender again. She pulled the wiper arm up off the glass until it stayed in a 40 degree angle to the windshield.
She didn’t notice that the missing wiper blade had settled deep into the three inch high and four inch deep gap between the hood and the base of the windshield.
She carefully re-entered the car, crawled over the console to the driver’s seat and buckled in. She took a breath, started the car and turned on the wipers. The driver’s side quickly cleared of the snow that had accumulated. She could see the foreshortened silhouette of the strangely articulated wiper arm through the crust of snow on the other side. She shifted into park, looked into the side mirror and then over her shoulder before pulling onto the highway.
. . .
Just over four hours later, she sat at the high, bar-like table facing the window in the cafe section of the Co-op in Moscow. Both hands were wrapped around a purple paper cup that had steam rising from its lidless mouth. “So that’s what happened. I was so busy trying to write an essay in my head that I didn’t even notice the snow start. And I still don’t know what happened to the other wiper blade,” she said to the young man sitting next to her. There was a Mead composition notebook on the table in front of him, with a Pilot .05 MM black gel ink pen resting at an angle across the open spine. “Thanks for the coffee,” she continued. “Did you get much writing done?” She flexed her jaw open and closed twice after finishing this statement.
“Yeah. Some. I wish I hadn’t had to, though. I wanted to see that reading. What’s wrong with your mouth?” he said.
“Oh, I hit my chin on the center thingy when I slipped on the gravel on the side of the road.” She flexed her jaw again.
“You’re lucky you didn’t bite your tongue.” He picked up the pen and immediately put it back down
“That would have hurt. I clacked my teeth together pretty good.”
“On the center thingy” He smiled and marked the air with both sets of index and middle fingers as he said thingy.
“Even a writer can’t always use the perfect word.” She touched the right side of her lower lip with her left index finger. “Especially when she has had a slight head injury.”
“You always select the perfect word. Did you hurt your lip?”
She smiled and said, “Mouth, tongue, lip. If I were a suspicious person, Benjamin, I’d wonder if you were secretly wondering about my osculatory prowess. How’s that for word selection?”
Benjamin made a small, low growl and in the silence that followed he turned away from the young woman and looked out the window. In the dim overhead light the red flush that moved up his neck and into his ears and cheeks was just visible. He took in a breath and said, “Kelly, I -” He stopped. After a moment during which they each took in a simultaneous breath, he slowly turned and looked at her again.
Kelly drew her eyebrows together and looked at his face for a moment. Then her eyebrows raised less than an eighth of an inch. “Oh,” she said. After another moment, her eyebrows went up over a quarter of an inch. She said, “Oh” again and slowly smiled. She considered his face for another breath then plucked the pen from his hand, pulled his notebook out from under his arms and flipped to a clean page. She wrote quickly and slid it back to him. He looked at it and his brows drew together. He looked at her for a moment, then held his hand out until she put the pen in it. He wrote eight words. He set the pen down just below his line of text and slid the notebook to her. She read and immediately rolled her eyes slightly and pursed her lips. She picked up the pen and quickly etched out a short line of text. She underlined one word and slid the notebook into his eyeline, holding the pen out to him. He took the pen before his eyes fell on the text. Just over one second after taking in her words, the flush was visible rising on his neck again. When it had reached to the top of his ear, he set the pen down. He looked out the window in front of him and pointed ahead and just off to his left. “Lots of people have Chinese food for a… first date,” he said. She nodded and stood up. He closed the notebook clipped the pen to the cover and stood next to her. The notebook hung from his left hand. That hand was 2.4 inches from her right hand. He looked down toward the notebook. His right hand flashed over and took the notebook. He then deliberately reached out with his left hand and took her right hand. She looked down at the hands and nodded. They walked to the exit and out into the parking lot.
As they passed her car in the spot nearest the store and the edge of the parking lot, they stopped and looked at the projecting wiper arm and half-obscured windshield. He paused and said, “It looks like a smiling cyclops waving at us with one finger.” He closed his left eye, held his left hand up next to his nose with index finger curling and uncurling in a small wave and smiled broadly. She looked at him and then at the car and back at him. She smiled and then laughed. She stopped and then nodded and laughed some more. He said, “what?”
“Can I use that?” she asked. He looked at her and cocked his head slightly to the right. She said, “I have to have one more essay for my portfolio and I think you just gave me my hook.” She stopped, looked at him, smiled and then continued, “that is, if you don’t mind.”
“Consider it my first official gift to you.” The light in the parking lot was too dim to see the flush start up his neck again. When she nodded, smiled and squeezed his hand, he let out a small sigh and grinned.
She started toward Washington street, towing him by the hand and saying, “now let’s have our first official date.”
. . .
The wiper blade stayed nestled in its hiding place. Kelly wrote the Cyclops essay – 3204 words in two frenzied days – and it became the featured essay in her portfolio for that semester. Just before a Christmas drive across eastern Washington, she installed a new blade but failed to notice the old one in its nook. On her drive back to Moscow in early January she heard a new rattle from the front passenger side of the car and wondered what it was. But since the car was still doing everything she needed it to do, she quickly lost interest. The noise of the windshield wiper rattling in its coffin became part of the car’s rough harmonies. In a summer drive to introduce Benjamin to her family, he asked about the rattle, but she told him it was normal. He grew accustomed to the noise as well.
In the fall, Kelly submitted three application packages for graduate school. In each one, the Cyclops essay was the featured work in her portfolio.
At 12:23 PM on February 25, Kelly was driving west on Sixth Street through heavy snow. She was almost to the quad in front of the residence tower when she suddenly swerved into the bus stop. The windshield wipers had stopped moving. The passenger side wiper had packed snow down into the gap between the hood and the base of the windshield and then built layer after layer up until there was a wedge blocking the wiper five inches above its normal lowest reach. She put the car in park, got out and stepped around the front of the car to the passenger side. She reached out and flipped the passenger side wiper arm up. It immediately wrenched from her fingers and began swivelling back and forth at its cockeyed angle.
She watched its movement for a moment and then reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a pair of black knit gloves. She put them on and tried to scoop away the wedge of snow. It was packed tightly and instead of coming off in chunks, was simply moving back and forth as a single mass. She felt its edges for a moment and then reached down with her right hand near the middle of the windshield and her left near the closest edge and lifted a nearly 30 inch long elongated triangle of snow off the windshield. She turned and dropped it on the ground.
She didn’t notice that the original wiper blade had been embedded in that wedge of snow and was now partly exposed atop a pile of snow and traction gravel next to the right front wheel.
Her phone buzzed. She pulled it out of her coat pocket and looked at the screen. She swiped the screen and then hastily removed her right glove and swiped the screen again. She held the phone to her ear and said, “I’m on my way, Benj.” She smiled and said, “I know. I wouldn’t miss it.” The smile flattened out. She said, “I know.” She paused. “I think we can figure this out, Benj, you just need to listen to me a little better.” As she listened, her brow furrowed and she looked down and to the left. She said, “Oh. Okay. Good. Good. See you in a bit.”
She pulled the phone from her ear and looked at the screen again. Then she put the phone in her pocket and pulled her glove back on. She looked at the wiper arm for a moment and then reached out and tapped it so that it slapped down onto the windshield. She watched it for another moment and nodded.
She got into the car and and drove to the four-way stop at Rayburn Street, turned left and immediately turned left into a parking spot. “Yes!” she rasped and smiled. She got out of the car and stopped next to the parking meter. She looked around for a moment before shrugging and walking into the Ag Sciences building. There was a sign on the door that said “Student Reading this way” with an arrow pointing to the right. She followed the sign.
The professor was just introducing Benjamin as she slipped in the back of the room. She caught his eye and smiled. He nodded to her and took a deep breath as he stepped up to the podium and put his manuscript in place. Kelly was focused on taking her gloves off when he began, “This essay is called ‘You, you and we.'” She looked up quickly to find him looking directly at her, the blush began in her cheeks and spread down her neck to her collarbones.
. . .
Over the course of the next four days, the wiper blade was buried under nearly three feet of snow as the plows moved snow out of the traffic lanes of Sixth Street and onto the curb. Kelly and Benjamin spent hours discussing how a long distance relationship might work. As February turned to March, the snow began to melt. Kelly was planning her move to Bellingham and Benjamin was applying for jobs in Moscow to tide him over while he continued to build his portfolio.
On the evening of March 3, a lanky man was striding east on Sixth Street when he stopped and looked down at the wiper. He looked around for a moment before, slinging his bag off his back and pulling out a camera. He crouched down, holding the camera low to the ground. After no more than a minute, he stood back up, stowed the camera, slung his bag onto his back and continued east on Sixth.