I’m Surrounded
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Car"
Originally featured on 04-06-2007
As part of our series "Things you can live without, but most people choose not to"

My claustrophobia makes my mind spin. My wheels might be next, I don’t know.


I’m surrounded. I’ve got a silver Prius in front of me, I think it’s a 2015. To my left and my right are real old hybrids, almost from the beginning. I haven’t looked behind me yet. Oh wow, its one of those new GM hybrids. She can’t be more than a year or two old. She’s beautiful. Jesus. This is really happening.

I miss Doug. Doug sings when he drives. He sings to almost any song. He screams even. Admittedly, I complained on mornings, when hungover, his strained vocal cords screeched unabated by his dulled sense of hearing—shuddering and sputtering under my breath. But now I’d give anything for one more morning with windows rolled down and his scratchy version of “Young Americans.” I always rode just a little a slower for him during “Young Americans.” I so desperately wanted for him to get it right. All the words. He must’ve tried a hundred times.

He told the guy that brought me here that he was fucking up the world. The guy was much bigger than him and wasn’t surprised. The word sicko was used. The man, brawny, maybe 24. They stared at each other for a tense moment. Doug’s eyebrows furrowed — wanting to do something careless. Feeling powerless.

I won’t miss being burned by his carelessness. I mean, use a cupholder. So what if your first cars were hand me downs. "I’m just used to doing it this way" is a bad excuse in general. He would swerve, or stop short. And then over the lid would come searing hot coffee onto my upholstery. Then later he’d joke with his passengers about the scars. I don’t miss Doug’s carelessness.

It smells so bad in this lot. I can smell the soil. It must be soaked in the blood of so many cars. For years, this was their last smell before the trip to the crusher. I used to joke about the inefficient ones. It wasn’t their fault but I’d say “what do you expect at 35 miles to the gallon.” I feel like a person that never smoked being diagnosed with lung cancer. This isn’t my fault, Goddamnit.

He used to listen to talk radio. He cheered when the emissions standard raises came over the news. He patted me and told me that people were finally catching up with us — that they couldn’t help it. He laughed maniacally as though Conservation was his own personal plot to dominate the world. He slammed on the brakes to avoid rear-ending an Audi. Luckily I had seen it first.

The claustrophobia comes in waves. It hits me at first like a dizziness. I can’t sit still. Thank god, Doug never had a garage.

I miss the way he used to brag. He was the braggart even though I did all the work. But still the praise made me feel important. Together, he said, we were saving the world. One mile at a time. Sometimes girls found this attractive. More likely, it was the convertible top. Sitting up at that lookout point on a summer night with the top down. The cool air on my skin made me feel alive. It seemed to blow through me. His romantic successes, when careless, also left scars.

Doug never hit me so hard as the day the news said those two words. Rolling back. They were rolling back emissions guidelines. People had been discredited and enough doubt had been created that data had become questionable. Something like that. He pounded my dash screaming Mutherfucker. Quit fucking up my earth, he screamed. Go to the Moon, he screamed. Go fuck up the Moon.

When the dizziness passes, it’s replaced by a restlessness. I spin my wheels unwittingly for a second and bump the Prius. He doesn’t say anything. I chalk it up to shock. Maybe his battery’s dead. I don’t know how long some of these cars have been here. A small dust cloud rises.

It was only a few months before the roll back that it came over the news that they had made the immense discovery. We were on our way back from the Coast, top down, wind blowing all the salt off me. Doug finished singing along with The Whiskers and switched over to the news. A tremendous supply of oil had been found.

“Hey, psst. Nice Bumper.”

Who- oh, the GM hybrid.

“Yeah you. Why did you bump that Prius? You some kind of rebel?”

“I get claustrophobic. Sorry about the dust.”

“Nah, it was funny. We might as well have fun now.”

She’s so positive, or at least putting on a good show.

“This is so fucked up. They rounded us up so fast. My owner, Doug, he went crazy. He was screaming about rescuing me.”

“I was on the lower level. He’s the lanky one. I saw that. Crazy eyes. He’ll probably tell that story to his grandchildren someday.”

“Nah, infertile.”

“Really? He looked virile.”

“Nah,” I giggled. I had never told anyone this stuff before. “Sterile as a cotton swab. Some crazy accident with a helicopter.”

I listen to us giggling and it makes this all harder. Why did I have to meet her now? She’s great.

I hear dogs barking. “Do you hear that?”

“Yeah, dogs barking”

“Yeah. They’re angry.” I look around and then I see a lanky body running across the lot. It’s him. Three dogs chase. Dobermans.

My wheels are spinning and dust is everywhere. I’m trying to push the Prius as she pushes me from behind. He’s still running around the lot. Five dogs chase.

“Thanks for helping me.”

“With a bumper like yours, this all my pleasure.” Oh my.

The Prius budges. I can feel the gears beginning to give. The emergency brakes are already gone.

“It’s giving!” I yell at her.

“Mmmm. Fresh wax!”

“It’s giving! Just push!”

“I’m not stopping!” I love this GM, whatever her name is.

I hear dogs whimpering instead of barking. His lanky body rounds the corner. There’s someone with him. Her body isn’t lanky and she holds a tranquilizer gun. Her body’s curvy and luscious. So is the one behind me. The gears give and the Prius rolls forward. I roll forward. She rolls forward.

He hops in, but his curvy partner does not. “Rescue that one too!” He points to her.

Read More By Doug Dean

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