Normal Family excerpt

We stared silently ahead through the smoke-filled Plymouth station wagon when I realized too late that my mother was driving straight toward a row of lane divider cones. These cones were arranged in the pattern of flying geese, with one cone at the front, then a row of two, then another row of three and so on all the way back for nearly two hundred feet. The bright orange cones cordoned off a section of road being repaved. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think my mother just snapped. Instead of staying left with the other cars, she drove straight into the cones as though pulled by some mystical force. She plowed into the center formation, mowing the cones down in rapid succession.

“Mom, put on the brakes!” I panicked.

No response. She accelerated through the cones in a trance.

Out the window I saw the faces of last-minute shoppers observing us with a mixture of amusement and concern. Mom had knocked down most of the cones when we heard police sirens screaming up from behind. She snapped back to reality and guided the car off to the side of the road, gazing at me through vacant eyes. “Look, dear, I don’t know what I just did, but when the officer comes up to the car start crying and maybe he’ll let us go.”

It wasn’t difficult to produce fake tears. When the officer leaned his head in my mother’s side window I was already convulsing with fear. The officer had an exasperated look on his face as if to say "Whoa, who let this little lady get behind the wheel?"  He wore a black uniform with an imposing pistol shoved into his holster. I could see from his badge that his last name was Camacho.

“Everyone okay in here?” the officer peered through the window to make sure no one was hurt.

“Oh, please officer, don’t put my mommy in jail,” I adopted my best theatrical tone.  “She’s not a good driver and got confused on which way to go.”

“So instead of going left around the cones with all the other cars she decided to run straight through them?” the officer stared at me in disbelief.

“I’m so sorry, officer,” my mother adopted a tone of false contrition. “We’re in a hurry to get some last-minute ornaments for our Christmas tree, which my husband’s father has managed to demolish in his drunken stupor,” her tone quickly migrated from contrition to condescension.

“Please show me your license and registration.” The officer stood back a few steps.

My mother reached for her license, which was buried inside her bottomless pit of a purse.

“Here’s my license. I’m afraid I don’t know what the registration is.”

“Check your glove compartment, it’s a yellow piece of paper,” the officer looked on warily.

I continued sobbing, attempting to gain the officer’s sympathy. My mother opened the glove compartment and several pill bottles spilled onto the floor. She hastily shoved them back into the glove compartment, slamming the door repeatedly before it finally latched.

“Okay, ma’am. Why don’t you and the boy step from the car and I’ll see if I can find the registration.” We got out and stood next to the car while he rummaged through the glove compartment. After a few minutes he surfaced with the yellow registration in one hand and four pill bottles in the other.

“Are these your pills, ma’am?”

“Please don’t call me ma’am,” my mother snapped.

“Look, lady, you’re in enough trouble. Let’s not make it any worse.”

“Don’t call me lady, either,” she stood with arms folded tightly across her chest.

The officer sized me up carefully, undoubtedly trying to determine whether I was an abused child abducted by this madwoman.

“Miss, are these your pills?”

My mother rolled her eyes, trying to ignore this latest unsatisfactory salutation. She looked up, down, and away… tapping her foot nervously on the ground.  “Yes, these are my medications, all prescribed by my therapist,” she emphasized the final two words in a way that was intended to lend credibility to her situation, but only served to make the officer more apprehensive.

“Why would a therapist prescribe speed?  I believe these pills are used to get high, aren’t they?” the officer carefully inspected the pill bottles, rolling them slowly between his fat fingers. I stared at the bushy clumps of black hair sprouting from his knuckles, wondering how so much hair could possibly grow from a bony joint.

“My, aren’t you a clever little man!” she mocked him. “Yes, they’re black beauties. They give me energy to face every goddam day of my pointless life which you, by the way, are making much worse!”

That did it. I knew my mother took pills but assumed they were just strong aspirin. I began crying in earnest now, wishing my father would show up and save the day. Officer Camacho led us to his police cruiser and gestured toward the back seat where there was an intimidating protective fence separating the criminals from the cops.