The vignette gets a bad rap. Sure, it doesn’t complete the narrative arc, so you’re left without a conclusion. Instead, you get an incomplete story – a brief glimpse into another’s life. And that’s exactly what I find so charming about them. The part that isn’t written is the most important part. Here’s one I finished a while ago. Let me know what you think.
Between Detroit and Toledo
Stacey talks expansively about Eastern philosophy and New Age medicine while Jim worries about tire tread and gasoline. They’re driving south on I-75 trying to outrun an arctic storm that’s surging out of Canada. It overtakes them somewhere between Detroit and Toledo – dark and writhing and dumping snow at an astonishing rate.
“Why are you getting off here?” Stacey asks.
“Because I don’t want to get us stuck on the highway,” Jim says.
“It’s just snow.”
“It’s not just snow. It’s a blizzard, and we’re under a quarter tank now. What if we got stranded out here?”
“I guess we’d have to call a tow truck. You have Triple-A, don’t you?”
“We’d freeze to death first.”
“The heater works.”
“Cars don’t run on magic, Einstein. We only have heat as long as there’s gas to run the god damned engine.”
“Why are you being so mean to me?”
“I’m not being mean to you. I’m trying to talk sense to you because you don’t have any.”
She’s quiet then, and Jim feels bad about it. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m just tired, and the roads are getting really bad. Let’s stop at this diner and get some coffee.”
“I don’t have any money,” she says.
“Don’t worry, I got it. We’ll get coffee and something to eat. Then we’ll find a gas station and fill up the tank.”
“I’ll pay you back. I’ll mail it to you,” she says.
“I’m not worried about the money. I just hope this works out for you in Fort Lauderdale.”
“It will. I’ll make way more in tips than I ever made in women’s retail.”
They sit opposite each other in a booth by a window, and a pretty waitress fills their coffee cups with what looks like dirty motor oil. “I’ll give you a minute to decide.” Her nametag says, Becky. Jim can’t help but notice how well she fills out her uniform. She’s in a knee-length pink dress with a white collar and white apron.
“Thanks, Becky,” Jim says.
When Becky is out of earshot, Stacey says, “So, you’re already on a first name basis with our waitress?”
“I was just being polite.”
“Don’t start any drama, Stace.”
“You’re right. We’re not together anymore. If you want to leer at teenagers that’s your business.”
“I’m trying to be civil about this whole thing. I’m trying to do you a favor.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Stacey looks through the window with watery eyes. There’s no up or down anymore – just swirling white. A screaming wind hits the glass hard like an animal trying to get inside. She recoils from it and brings her gaze back down to the menu.
“I hope this lets up soon,” Jim says. “Or at least they run the plows and get some salt down. De-icer is what they really need. It’s too cold for salt to work.”
Stacey takes a delicate sip of coffee and says, “It’s funny how we think of cold as a thing, but it’s really just the measure of how much heat energy is absent. It’s a non-thing.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t care what you call it. It’ll kill you if you’re stupid enough to get yourself stuck out there in this kind of weather. I’m gonna have a western omelet. How ‘bout you?”
“Grilled cheese with French fries.”
“That’s what I want.”
Becky takes their order and leaves them in an awkward limbo. Former lovers waiting for their food, waiting for the storm to pass, waiting for something better.