issue 52: March - April 2006 

| author bio

Patrick Cole: California StopCalifornia Stop
Patrick Cole

At 1:15 in the afternoon I pulled over this car, a metallic green two-door Toyota, which had just gone through a stop sign. This was in a quiet subdivision, rolling green lawns, Tudor-style houses, the road lined with mailboxes on standardized whitewashed wooden posts looking like a row of crosses in a military cemetery. The sky was a luminous blue and no one else was around except for me and this other car.
      I stopped about forty feet behind the car. I got my stuff together and looked up through the windshield. I could see the dark, blurred silhouette of the driver looking at me in the rearview mirror.
       It’s weird but sometimes you know that something isn’t right. You hesitate, even though everything seems perfectly normal. I just sat there a minute in my seat. Of course I was doing more than just sitting there. I was giving the driver of that car a moment to get his or her license and registration together. I was also giving them a moment to think, to realize that the law was now present and that I, as a symbol of the law, was now in control. I reminded myself of the same thing.
       I approached the vehicle and stopped just behind the driver’s left shoulder and tapped the window, which the driver had not thought to lower ahead of time. Now it slowly buzzed down and I saw a woman, about thirty-seven years of age, with dyed blond hair, the roots just beginning to show. She did not have her license and registration ready. I told her that I had seen her slow down but not stop at the stop sign about a half a mile back.
       The woman says she stopped. I say No, I saw it clearly, you didn’t come to a complete stop. You have to come to a complete stop at each and every stop sign there is, no matter how peaceful the surroundings appear. I got her license and checked the registration and started writing her a ticket. She asked me if that was what I was doing, writing her a ticket, and I said Yes and explained that she could either pay 110 dollars right away or appear before the court at a later date and contest the fine. And it was then that she said, Officer?
       "Yes," I said, not looking up.
       "Can we just settle this with sex?"
       I looked up from my ticket book in surprise. I then tried to conceal my reaction and looked back down. "I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that," I said.
       But she kept on. "You sure you don’t want anything? It would be a lot easier."
       I kept writing until I was done and then handed her the ticket. She reached up to take it and I saw her wedding ring. And she kept looking at me, waiting for an answer.
       "Ma’am," I tell her, "what you are proposing is illegal. Now I’m going to just forget you mentioned it. You ran that stop sign. You have a ticket. You can either pay the fine, or plead your case to the judge. Please be more careful in future. Have a nice day."
       Police officers are supposed to be reserved, to stay calm, and generally they do stay calm, in part because they get exposed to so many disturbing things that eventually they get desensitized. But just when you think you’ve seen everything, something new comes along. And you feel the impact of it, though you don’t show it outwardly. Because you can’t. It’s best you don’t. So that everyone stays calm.
       I went back to my patrol car. I took my cap off and set it on the seat beside me. I was getting ready to go when I look up and see the woman is getting out of her car. She starts approaching my car. And this is where things got strange.
       I was alarmed that she had gotten out of her car. But at the same time, I could see she was an attractive woman. She had on a plain white T-shirt and tight blue jeans. She had no bag over her shoulder and no jacket and no place to conceal a weapon. I got back out of the car and stood by the door, at the ready, and only then did I notice the smell of fresh cut grass. Something acidic in that. Something about the sea in that. Something about spilled blood, algae, something about what happens when something unnatural happens to the natural, but fresh, too, like a newborn.
       Though I held up a palm to signal her to stop what she was doing, she continued to walk towards me, with a smile on her face. I got a good look at her then, and it all hit me. The T-shirt covering her chest was tight, with two parallel lines of taut creases stretching between her breasts. The shirt was bright white, perfectly clean; it was like the frosting on a birthday cake. That T-shirt, those jeans––it was incredibly sexy, those ordinary clothes, work clothes, clothes meant for hard work, meant to get dirty. She had wide hips, just the right amount of counterbalance to support that chest. She seemed made for reproduction. And any male seeing her was implicated in that. Like it would be fulfilling a sacred duty. As if it was nothing selfish, it was a true urge, responding to a signal. Sure it would feel good, but that was just the reward for performing your natural responsibility.
       She got to within two paces of me and stopped. Then she gestured towards her own body and said, "I just can’t believe that you don’t want some of this."
       For a moment I froze. It was as if she now had the authority. It took a second before my training reappeared, like another man within me. That man said, "I am asking you to please return to your car and go on about your business," and then that man moved me into the patrol car, brusquely, like a criminal, ducking my head to the left as we entered. Then he started the engine, backed the car up several yards, and we pulled back onto the beat, back into my life, floating along on the patrol car’s cloud-soft suspension.

I told my wife about it. Well, not about everything. Just the bare outline of what happened. I told her this woman had done a California Stop. My wife didn’t know what that was, that a California Stop is when someone slows down at a stop sign and almost stops, but doesn’t quite stop, just keeps rolling, and then goes through. It’s illegal.
       My wife goes, "Oops," implying that she was guilty of it, too. I frowned at her.
       I told her about the woman offering sex in exchange for me forgetting about the infraction. My wife was really taken aback. How casual it was. For such a small ticket. And that the woman was attractive, middle class, and even married. "Jesus," she finally said.
       She said she had heard of women crying to get out of a ticket, but this was a whole other league. "I guess crying’s not cutting it anymore," she said.
       "I guess not," I said. And then I got to thinking. I asked her, "You ever do something like that? Cry to get out of a ticket?"
       She was a little embarrassed, but she admitted to it.
       "It was awful, I don’t know why it happened. The cop was there, giving me this speeding ticket, I really couldn’t afford it, and it crossed my mind to cry. And that was it, that was all it took; you’d think it would be harder to do, you know, to act, but I just thought of it, and boom, the tears started coming. It was weird––once they started, I couldn’t stop. After a minute I was bawling for real. The guy tore up the ticket, gave me a warning, and I hightailed it out of there. I was still crying and couldn’t stop. I was even afraid I’d get into an accident or something because I couldn’t see straight. Later on I felt terrible, like I’d let down all of the women of the world. But it was the strangest thing, once I had started, the tears came on their own."
       I had never heard this story before. Finally I said, "Wouldn’t have worked with me," and kept on eating dinner. But then I thought, if it was my wife, would it have worked? She is my wife, she is by definition special to me. She is supposed to have some kind of magic power over me. A power no other woman has.
       We went back to eating. Then, after a while, she says, "It must be hard for a man to resist such an offer."
       I had thought, actually hoped, that we had changed the subject. So I said, "What now?"
       "That blond bombshell this afternoon."
       "Oh yeah."
       "I mean, it looks like a free one. No one would find out. And the woman was attractive, and appeared to be clean and healthy. And let’s face it, if she’s offering it, it must have worked before. So. A lot of men would go for it, I imagine." She took a sip of wine.
       I didn’t really want to discuss this kind of thing. It’s a can of worms. But she persisted. "Don’t you think?"
       "Yeah," I said quickly. "Sure, all kinds of things can happen, there’s all kinds of guys out there in the world. Anything can happen."
       I tried to dismiss the question as one with an obvious answer. But I have to say, I also thought about it in the way she presented it. I mean, I imagined it with those terms, that the woman was clean and I would get away with it, taken for granted. And it turned me on. I pictured the blond woman in her underwear, then naked. I imagined having sex with her in different positions. I ran my fantasies over and over in my head. It was exciting, but also frustrating, like it always is. Because it was such a powerful series of images, but I could only imagine the sex and not the climax. So I kept rewinding each fantasy and running it forward again. Because the end may be the best part, but you can’t think much about it. In reality it happens too fast and is too odd, too overwhelming, to be captured in a mere fantasy. It’s the carrot and the stick: you can only consider the carrot, the chasing after it, and not the moment of catching  it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have told my wife about it. The whole thing wouldn’t go away. It started building around me. It was like that woman, the driver, was out there somewhere, secretly directing this thing. Here’s what I mean:
       The very next day I was sitting in the parking lot of The Red Rocket. The Rocket is a small, white, one-story building with a flat roof and only two narrow windows in the façade, one on either side of the door. Each window was dark, like the eyes of a dead animal. Looking closely into the eyes one could make out the twisted forms of cold gray neon signs gone out.
       The lot in front of the bar was thick gray gravel. I had parked there in the middle of a bright sunny day. I am beginning to be suspicious of sunny days. Anyway, I had the engine off and was just sitting back in my seat. It bothers me sometimes to do nothing while on duty, but you can’t drive around all day. And besides, my presence alone has value, sending the message to the neighborhood that the law exists and is available. After a while I see another white patrol car pass the bar and turn into the lot, very slowly and deliberately. It’s Harmon White. He pulls in front of my car, then turns, and then stops so that his window is even with mine, his car facing the Rocket, mine facing the street. He shuts his engine off and our windows slowly buzz on down. Harmon says Hi and then we just sit there in silence a few minutes.
       And like a dumbass I tell him the story, too. Just to break the silence, to be friendly. And he loves it. Of course, once again, I didn’t explain to him that there was something funny about this woman. That she had some kind of power about her. Like powerful connections.
       Harmon thinks it’s a great story. He jokes around, saying we might ought to look for the car that woman was driving right now, she might just be committing another infraction. I just laugh along with him. What the hell. Then he says the others will get a kick out of the story.
       "Hold on now," I said. "Don’t go telling nobody about this, okay? It’s just a stupid little thing that happened and I don’t want any rumors starting. Okay?"
       Harmon tells me to calm down. After all, nothing happened. It’s just a funny story. So I had to get serious with him. "Harmon, listen to me. That story is just between you and me. All right? Now, nothing happened, but it’s best we don’t have everyone talking about it. It gets passed around enough and it’ll end up sounding a whole lot different, okay? I mean it now, just keep it to yourself."
       Harmon looked at me with a serious expression. "Okay, man. You got it. No problem. You can trust me."
       "Yeah?" I said. My voice sounded more suspicious than I wanted it to.
       "Yeah!" Harmon said. "Crying out loud, John. You know you can trust me. Good Lord."
       I felt bad about insulting him. So I tried to explain a little. And I got into more trouble.
       "It’s just that this woman, she really freaked me out. I don’t know why. I mean, it was like she was after something. I don’t know. You know?"
       And Harmon says, "I know." I thought there was no way he knew what I meant. So I kept on explaining.
       "It was like she was in control. Like she knew what she was doing. So confident. Like she could do whatever she wanted. Like I had no authority. No say in the matter."
       "Mmm-hmm," Harmon said.
       "And I got to tell you––nothing happened, you know, nothing at all, but, it was like I kind of lost my mind for a while there, and everything seemed to be fine. Like it would have been fine to go along with it. Natural, even." I shook my head. There was an awkward silence, so I tried to return to normalcy. "Well, that’s that. Just a weird day, a crazy woman. Never know what you’re going to come across in this job."
       Harmon just shook his head. I was about to start the engine of my car when he suddenly said, "You want to hear something?" His tone was grave.
       The balance had somehow shifted. Trust and fear and urges rise and fall in small tides. Things slip off the shelves if you’re not careful. I knew my answer to his question should be No. But it’s my job not to be afraid of anything.
       "Sure," I said.
       Harmon paused and looked forward at the vacant bar. In my rearview mirror the place stared back like the upper half of a skull mouthing the earth.
       "There’s this house," he said softly, and then nothing more.
       There was a strange moment. I was naturally terribly curious about this house. Harmon knew I would be, and he wanted to tell me about it. Both of us felt that it was unnecessary for me to actually ask what was different about this house. Nevertheless, he hesitated. He was waiting for me to shift the balance for him. To level it a moment.
       "What’s so special about this house, Harmon?" I said very slowly, in a low voice. And this tone was enough for Harmon to know that I realized that something was different here, and that I, too, could be trusted.

The house was the only one built in a planned subdivision just outside of town, on the other side of the lake. There was a scandal where the construction company spent the investors’ money in other dealings and couldn’t pay it back. The project was abandoned. Harmon said the site was now just a vast stretch of sandy terrain where the trees had been cut down and a series of paved roads had been laid. I went out to take a look. The roads were black and had new white curbs but were covered with windswept sand. It was as if I had come upon the first layer of an ancient ruin, a forgotten city. But there was almost nothing else there to be found.
       The main road wound in slow curves through the area. Here and there were offshoots, short streets dead-ending in bulb-shaped cul-de-sacs. I imagine it must have an interesting design if viewed from above, from space, maybe it forms some kind of symbol aliens can read. Maybe they can’t read it, but surely they would try to understand, seeing something that looked so much like a message.
       The house was at the end of the last cul-de-sac. It looked abandoned. The windows were shut, there was no grass around it, and no mailbox out front. But it wasn’t really an abandoned house. Cops used it. As a place to meet women, to make arrangements to resolve their legal problems.

I saw Officer White again a week later while driving past the First Baptist Church. He was in the parking lot, standing next to the driver’s side door of a red Volkswagen. I went over to check it out.
       "How’s it going?" I asked.
       "No problem. This gentleman just pulled in here to take a nap. He’s on a long drive, felt a little drowsy."
       "All right," I said. I took a glance over at the driver of the Volkswagen. "See you later."
       I nodded at Harmon and he made a shooting gesture with his hand.
       You know, this is all I ever wanted. To simply do my job. To have a nice little life here. In my town. In a nice part of it. In suburbia.
       I didn’t start out with a lot of possibilities in life. And I was really frustrated when I was younger because I didn’t want to end up like my Daddy and I thought I wanted to be rich. Everyone says you can be rich, it’s just up to you to figure out how to do it. I thought a lot about it, and I tried working at this or that job and studying this and that but I could see it wasn’t going to get me rich, it was just going to keep me working like a dog until I got old and retired and, most likely, died the next day.
       Suburbia is the next level down as a goal. There’s still some struggling, but there’s some compensation. You accept it, though there’s some dissatisfaction. You know you could have gotten more. And the system beat you––you didn’t escape the system. You lose. Others made it big and you didn’t. And they did it on your back.
       And that’s probably why I became a cop. It’s a special job. There is special satisfaction in this role, this duty, the honor of it, the sacrifice. It’s a good job, an important job. It helps me feel real. It helps to ensure my pride.
       And look at the shit I end up dealing with. This woman, this house. I couldn’t stop thinking about either. I knew I should do something about the house. I should tell someone. But to tell the truth, I thought more about the woman than the house. She seemed more important, anyway. The root of the issue.
       I had sort of a childish fantasy. I imagined coming across her again, by chance. Pulling her over in some secluded place. I imagined this over and over. I imaged her saying to me again, Can we just settle this with sex?
       And sometimes I would be firm and say No and make it clear that I could not be manipulated. In some versions, I would even arrest her for making the attempt. These versions made me feel good, self-righteous, I suppose. But there were other versions. Where I gave in right away. Where I just took what I wanted. Or where I gave in slowly.
       Can we just settle this with sex? she says to me. And I say, I don’t think we can do that, ma’am.
       And then she says, We can. We should. That’s what this is all for. Don’t you see? That’s what this is about. You, me. This neighborhood. The town. The law. Rules are not just meant to be broken, Sweetie, they ensure it. That’s what they are for. That’s why we build all this, trim it, mow it, whitewash it, chlorinate it, pave it, number it, and live in it.
       And I don’t just give in, I agree with her.

One night Bill Connell was chasing this guy who had stolen a car, wrecked it, and was fleeing on foot. Connell radioed for assistance and chased him on foot through the park and out the other side. Then he chased him through an alley, and when Connell came out the other side, the assisting patrol car rammed right into him, breaking both of his thigh bones. The bad guy got away.
       They wanted someone to fill in for Connell on night shifts the next week. I had no intention of signing up. I also had not ruled it out.
       On Sunday my wife and I went to a football party at a friend’s house. We had agreed that she would be the designated driver. At the end of the afternoon, though, I told her I would drive home. She laughed and held on to the keys. I threw up my hands as a way of saying that she could drive if she wanted, but it was absurd. I have to admit that it was an exaggerated gesture, the way I threw up my hands, and one I never make, and it must have made it more obvious than ever that she should drive.
       Then on the way home, she jokes that I can’t handle my liquor any more, that I’m getting old. I said, "No, no, it’s just that I don’t go out partying so much anymore. It’s just that I’m out of practice." But I felt bad saying it. Because I had begun to suspect myself that I couldn’t drink like I used to, that I was getting older, and when she said it, it struck me as the truth. I nevertheless squeaked out a reply, a lame defense. But it bothered me to do it, to lie or fudge the truth about even such as small thing with her, because I knew it didn’t help. It didn’t help get at the truth, and I always want to get at the truth of things, to review the evidence openly and decide upon what it says. Even in small matters, I hate camouflaging the truth.
       There was that see-sawing of feeling again. A little metal ball rolls along and clacks into another, setting it in motion. It rolls and drops and releases a lever, and something comes out naturally and mechanically, a simple demonstration of the laws of physics.
       To change the subject, I told her about Bill Connell. "Jesus," she said. Then she said, "I’m glad you work during the day usually. All the crazy stuff happens at night. Better to leave that to some other guys."
       You may think it’s just normal conversation, and perhaps it is, but you say things because you want to make a point, a point other than what you’re saying. What you’re saying is besides the point. Just next to it. An innocent bystander. That’s why I told my wife I was taking Bill Connell’s night shifts. To make a point. Not to take Bill Connell’s night shifts.

It was not the first time I had been to a whorehouse. There had been a bust four years earlier. It was in an apartment building in town, and what I remembered most about it was gathering with the other cops in the doorway before going up the stairs to raid the place. There, I nearly gagged on the thick smell of urine. I asked somebody why it reeked, and he said that the johns typically get smashed at a nearby bar to get their nerve up. Then just before going in, they take a leak.
       This time was different, of course. There was another patrol car at the end of the cul-de-sac. I could tell whose it was. I shut the engine off and sat still for a second. Naturally I thought about leaving. I was nervous. Hell, I’ll say it: I was scared. And that has a force of its own. It’s a challenge. You want to overcome it. You say you are committed, that you made up your mind. You don’t want to let yourself down.
       Something is messed up in the brain. These things, they’re not logical, they’re physiological. You feel excitement, from whatever cause, and that feels good. You feel excitement and in your brain, excitement chemicals are released, but so are feel-good chemicals. All kinds of bad shit in this world feels good. It’s not our fault. It explains all kinds of things. War. Why people commit crimes. Why people fight crime. Strange motivations.
       There’s more to it, too. I suppose I wanted to see the woman. I knew she wouldn’t be there, but I was somehow hoping she would. I did want to settle this. This whole damn thing.
       I went up the steps. I intended to stop in front of the door and wait a second, to think it over again, one last chance. I walked across the porch and I slowed down when I got close to the door but then I just grabbed the knob and opened it and took a step inside.

This woman had been busted with drug-making paraphernalia in her home. It was her third drug-related offense. She was facing serious jail time. She went down on me.
       I was perfectly sober––I was on duty. I was not at all relaxed; I squirmed, I jerked, but she kept on determinedly. I felt trapped, like she had me by the tail. It was a comical scene, really, like this devil had me by the tail, my most vulnerable part, still soft, hidden in her mouth. I could sometimes feel her teeth scraping on it, I was almost panicked. She had prominent front teeth, I could see where they dragged on my skin, leaving two temporary white trails. And her face distorted. Sometimes it looked ghastly, sometimes it looked comical. And it felt like it was more than just my cock she had in her clutches; she held everything in her power––my pride, my whole idea of my life, everything; all in her mouth.
       I looked away from her. I tried to relax, but I didn’t know what to think of. Then I thought of the blond woman. I imagined her making her offer again. I imagined her walking towards my patrol car again. I started to relax. I started to concentrate. I put my hand on the back of the woman’s head, something my wife prohibits me from doing.
       I looked around. My cum lay here and there. It faded away quickly, into dark spots on the sheets. Like that was all it was, just water. Nothing more. I looked around at the spots of my cum. Well, it wasn’t really my cum anymore. It was just cum.

I drove home, thinking about all of the relationships in the world, all the pretending which is done. People meeting, falling in love, ignoring all the lovers the other one has had before, ignoring all the things they’ve done before, ignoring each other’s entire cum-spattered histories. Places they’ve put their fingers, their tongues. Pretending that things are brand new. Maybe they are. Maybe you take a shower and wash it all away. It’s no big deal.
       Even when you cheat. Maybe a shower still washes everything away. Maybe that and dyed hair and sparkling cars and nice two-story houses and groomed lawns don’t just cover it up, they wash it away, absolve it. That was the hope, anyway. That the suburban dream redeemed us, through our participation, our submersion in it. And not just for things of the kind on my mind. All things. It’s a kind of spirituality. A new system of renewal, the old ones discarded long ago. And I have to say that driving home that night, I felt more than ever that I was sworn to protect it.
       I got home and parked the car in our slanted driveway. I got to the front door and turned to look back at the car in the moonlight. With a patrol car parked in the driveway, it always looked like something was happening at my house, something was always wrong, even when it was perfectly quiet.
       And let’s face it: if there is a cop car in your neighborhood, if there’s cops at all, something is wrong.

©   Patrick Cole 2006

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author bio

Patrick ColePatrick Cole lives in Barcelona but was born in Pasadena, Texas, and raised in various parts of the United States. He has a Master’s degree in history, with a specialization in nautical archaeology, which he leveraged to get a job as a medical writer. His fiction has appeared in High Plains Literary Review, Agni online, Nimrod International, and turnrow. A new story is set to appear in The Main Street Rag.
       Author contact: click here


issue 52: March - April 2006 

f i c t i o n

Kit Reed: Grand Opening
R.D.T Byrd: Fooling God
Terry DeHart: Chasing Angela
Steven Gullion: Old Maids
Patrick Cole: California Stop

picks from back issues

Adam Haslett The Beginnings of Grief
Neil LaBute Time Share

q u i z

American Lit and Culture of the 1960s
answers to last issue’s quiz, Harold Pinter

b o o k   r e v i e w s

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

r e g u l ar  f e a t u r e s

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

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