Art by Sarah Hofmann

Your Driver Has Arrived

A day trip to Topanga.

Anna’s bitching about her day yesterday. On the phone, she tells me how she was turning out of her driveway, which features a fatal and unfortunate blindspot, and some guy speeding down the street hit her. Her car was smashed so we can’t take it to the beach today like planned. I then break the news that, in further unlucky events, my car is malfunctioning. I suggest we take an Uber.

I don’t necessarily hate taking Ubers, or Lyfts, or whatever latest app is offering cheap rides from complete strangers, but I wouldn’t say I love taking them either. On the way to Friday night drinks last week, the driver kept glancing over at me and my short skirt and really wanted to talk about the neighborhood I live in. Just super weird vibes and not in a fun way. But like, it’s convenient and who am I to say no to convenience.

I pack light. Just a picnic blanket, sunscreen, my favorite vintage shades, and a water bottle, plus the obvious wallet and keys. Anna’s running late and by the time she gets to my apartment we’re two hours behind schedule. If traffic’s not too bad we should make it in time for sunset.

She’s dressed simply: a white tee-shirt her ex forgot to take back, her favorite light wash jeans, and these little red ballet flats she’d been eyeing for months. She’s a classic beauty, like an old Hollywood actress on her day off. On the other hand, I’m dressed very “of the time” in a yellow bikini, a pink tie skirt I got off of Ebay, and my Converse sneakers.

I call our ride.

 

Almost an hour later, we make it to Topanga. The sunset is halfway through and it’s especially beautiful tonight. Probably because it hasn’t rained in a while. Any real Angeleno knows that smog is the key ingredient for our world class sunsets.

We stop in a small liquor store and grab a bottle of sweet white wine, salted nuts, and teriyaki jerky. The air is surprisingly warm for this time of night and we smoke a joint Anna rolled.

“I really can’t stand Megan right now,” Anna says. “She calls me constantly. I know she’s on deadline, and wants second opinions, but I wish she’d just learn to text.”

“Yeah that sucks,” I say.

I’ve spaced out and I think I missed the first half of Anna’s rant about work. I’ve met Megan once or twice at drinks. She’s nice enough, but very corporate while trying so hard to be cool. I think she recognizes how smart, funny, and generally well-liked Anna is and thinks she can work her way into Anna’s life, quite literally, through employing her. I’m not sure if Anna recognizes Megan’s game and is too broke and lazy to find a new job where her boss isn’t such a user. Or if she is oblivious to it. Either way, I’m not super interested.

I’m staring out at the water. The ocean is dark and ominous and I realize we haven’t even put our feet in yet. I take a deep pull of Anna’s joint and hold the smoke between my teeth. I cough and feel myself get lightheaded. I think Anna’s still complaining about her boss when I untie my sneakers and walk towards the tide. Anna runs after me, flinging her flats back onto the blanket.

We stand where the water meets the shoreline for just a minute or two. The water goes in and out, in and out, in and out. Each time, we have to take a small step forward, as the tide is receding. It’s freezing, but somehow refreshing on our warm, drunk, and high bodies. The water feels like what I assume those little fishies that eat the dead skin off your feet feel like when they nibble. Little pricks. We giggle and waddle around on our tippy toes. After the last in and out of the water, we walk back to the blanket. I rub my feet around on it, trying to dry them off, and lightly dust off the sand from the soles of my feet. I put my socks and sneakers back on.

I forgot how I hate the way sand feels between my toes, especially in socks. I grew up going to the beach with my family and I refused to wear flip flops. I thought they looked bad and were uncomfortable. So I stuck to sneakers, but that never worked great with sandy beaches. There was and still isn’t any solution to this great dilemma and now I’m wearing sneakers and socks filled with sand. 

We pack up our stuff and walk down the beach until we find a playground. Anna and I sit on the swings and push ourselves until our bodies pop up at the end of each swing. I’m high and drunk, but somehow, I feel like a kid, brought back to the playground across the street from my childhood home.

I ask Anna the time and she reads “12:30 AM” on her phone. We lost track of time, but probably should have known by the fact we seem to be the only people left on the beach.

“I’ll call the Uber, you can just pay me back later,” I say.

Anna nods in-between bites of her jerky and we find the stairs back up to the road. My phone says the car should be here in just a few minutes.

 

A van pulls up. It’s dirty and green and old, not polished and silver and new like I’d expected. But that’s fine, I’m not judging… My car is a wreck. Anna and I walk towards the van, holding our bags and the half empty bottle of wine.

“We should probably check that he’s our Uber before we get in,” Anna says.

“Totally, I’ll ask him for the name,” I say.

As we walk through the empty lot, my judgment clears and something starts to feel a bit off. I hear a door slam shut. From around the van, I see someone.

“Anna, why is that man walking towards us?” I ask.

“Is that a ski mask he’s wearing?”

“I think he’s gonna grab us.”

“Turn around and start walking. Fast,” Anna says.

I spin around and drop my bag. I’m not running, but I’m not walking. It’s as if my feet are gliding across the sand dusted cement.

The man is quiet and stealth. His black ski mask, that I only briefly saw through the dark landscape that is the Pacific Coast Highway at 1 AM, is now closer than before. His body is fast and lean and trained. This must not be his first time.

I feel a hand on my waist, then a second. They clench and my stomach sinks below my ribs, maybe if I can shrink myself, I can get out of this. But his grip only tightens. I can feel his fingernails dig into my bare salted skin.

“Get off of me.” I’m trying to fight, but I start crying. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I lift and my legs are off the ground, kicking repeatedly on his shins.

“Anna, run.” Quickly, she’s out of sight. But her whimpers are loud, with only a little time he’ll find her, too.

He’s still holding me up. His arms are strong, holding my body weight on his chest now. My eyes are filled with tears and I can’t see anything. I start to twist back and forth and I keep kicking, but nothing works. If anything it only makes him squeeze tighter. 

It’s so quiet. Just the waves crashing onto the shore, Anna’s whimpers, and his warm and heavy breath on my neck. His shirt is stiff and scratchy against my skin. It smells of lavender detergent and sweat, a combination I’d usually find sensual, but now I find repulsive.

For a second, I’m reminded of why I love this beach so much at night–how quiet and empty it is. But now I guess I understand why no one comes to the beach at Topanaga at night, because no one is fucking here and no one can hear you scream. How could I have been so dumb to forget what being a woman in the world truly comes with.

He walks fast to his van and the side door is already open. He throws me inside and my head slams against the floor. I can feel my brain rattle in my skull and it seems to stop the pounding in my head from all of my crying. Quickly, he slams the door and I hear a click. He’s locked it.

Now, I’m inside his van. The dirty green van, not the silver Nissan I had called to drive us home. I wonder if that car ever existed on the road at 1 AM or if this was the plan all along. I wonder if the Nissan missed the turn out. Or if it’s still on its way. But I realize it’s been too long now. No other cars have driven by this entire time. This is, and always has been, our ride.

I’m not fighting anymore. My body is tired. I’m now down on a dirty damp rug in the van. My mind is almost as tired as my legs. I think of how we wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been an idiot and just fixed my fucking car. And why the hell did that man have to speed down a residential road and total Anna’s.

We should have predicted this. I should have known better.

The van smells putrid. Like fluids mixed with whatever cologne the man must be wearing, or maybe the smell is me. I know that skunks only spray when scared and I wonder if humans do something similar.

From inside the van, I can hear Anna’s muffled cry for help. But soon, she’s lying next to me. Her cries went unanswered. Her eyes are bloodshot and her face is lightly bloodied. The man jumps in the front seat and I hear the doors lock again. He says nothing, but he looks back at us, still wearing a mask. I hear his labored breath, huffing and puffing, like this encounter has been really difficult for him. I shut my eyes and Anna reaches for me. Her hands are cold and wet and I wonder where she hid. I wrap my arms around her and our thighs press together. She doesn’t say anything, but she shivers and her whole body shakes. I squeeze tighter.

As we drive away, I can still hear the ocean and I can feel the bumps on the road, every pebble we drive over.

 

Once the sun has risen, the man drops us at our destination. My phone vibrates and I see our Uber ride has officially ended. 

The cold breeze from the driver’s window cracked open just an inch. The soft grunts he exhaled as he pulled his body into the back seat. The scruff on his neck. Rough, scratchy, like he just shaved, like the hair is still short and coarse. His scruff against my thigh, the rug on my back. Rubbing up and down, pushing in and out. 

I feel a rug burn on the backs of my knees. I feel sore. My body aches.

 

We’re sitting on the stoop of my Koreatown apartment, shaded by the balcony overhead. The grass is green and I can even see the dew from the night before. Outside of ourselves, at least in this little plot of land, the world can be beautiful.

I’m still wearing a pink skirt and my sandy sneakers never came off my feet. My dirty blonde hair may be a little tousled, but to the naked eye that would go unnoticed. My leg is shaking uncontrollably, I try to concentrate on calming it. Anna is still graceful with her red hair tucked into her tee-shirt. Her eyes are puffy from crying, but who knows, it could be that her boyfriend just broke up with her, or maybe her girlfriend, or maybe she failed an exam. Nothing is identifiable. Nothing is wrong.

I reach for her hands. Whatever we just went through was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, I can only imagine the same for her. But she pulls away, and readjusts her body to sit on her hands. Her throat contracts and her chest collapses over her bruised knees.

“What am I going to do now?” Anna asks.

“What are we supposed to do?” I say.

“I guess, report it?”

“Do you know how to do that?”

“No.” 

Anna and I are exhausted. She keeps taking long breaths and with every blink, it looks as if she’s falling asleep. My arms and legs feel as if they have just waded through miles and miles of deep water. My head can’t stop pounding and I can’t tell if it’s from exhaustion or my head hitting the van floor or all of my crying, but I feel as if I’m done fighting.

We aren’t going to report it because we’re never going back to Topanga. And I’m never going to be able to drive past that empty strip without remembering. 

Anna calls a taxi home.

 

I get into bed. I pull the pale cream duvet over my head, nestled within the sheets, I can smell the young man I’ve been seeing. I can almost picture him, just yesterday morning, with his dark brown hair and his scruffy facial hair, lying next to me, waking up next to me. I can almost picture myself so happy. I weep. I get into child’s pose, the only yoga position I’ve ever mastered, and weep.

My body feels safer than before and my overwhelming exhaustion eases me to sleep for a couple hours. I wake up in my room, under the covers, and I’m sweating. My room must be over 100 degrees. It’s bright and filled with western sunlight.