Denise Duhamel

July 22, 2011 Duhamel Denise



Our little vacation town in Spain is packed.  The driving, slow. Things have changed since we were here seven years ago, when there were no fancy condos or golf courses.  We come out of the internet café, and our rental car has been boxed in.  I look for the offending Fiat’s license plate, thinking we’ll walk into the café and ask the owner to announce that someone is blocking our way.  In the same plaza are two restaurants, one on an upstairs level, so we might have to go in each of those as well.  I can’t tell the color of the car in the dark, maybe navy or black.  I think my husband is at my side until I hear him lean on the horn, tap tap tap, then a long blare.  People dining on the balcony restaurant upstairs are starting to bend over the railing.  One man is yelling at us, another gives us the finger. I hop back into the passenger seat as my husband leans in and uses the horn as though it’s an atonal musical instrument, as though he’s playing a song only he understands. This is the first time I’m truly afraid of him. I’m on sabbatical.  He’s just been fired, though we don’t call it that.  We say he didn’t get rehired and it’s not his fault.  I thought going to Spain would make things better.  We can’t really afford to be here.

Pedestrians freeze, families with babies in strollers stare.  Maybe they think the horn is in response to a car alarm.  I am willing to let it go—my husband’s lost it, so what?  I’ve also lost it a million times, though I’ve never leaned into a horn instead of yelling.  I lie and tell him someone is on his way to move the car since one of the men from upstairs has retreated from the restaurant balcony’s lip.  My husband and I sit for what seems like forever in the dimly lit cave that is our Chevrolet.  I can’t speak Spanish well enough to negotiate this situation—I’m dependent on my husband who clearly can’t cope.  He doesn’t want to get out of the car.  He doesn’t want to yell at the other men.  He just sits there, leaning into the horn in intervals.  I ask him, in as calm a voice as I can muster, to get it together.  My husband once said only one of us could have a meltdown at a time and I remind him of this.  My heart is thumping in my chest, but I don’t yell or cry.  The men from the upstairs restaurant are loitering around us, and I’m sure they want to beat my husband.  I lock my door.

We could call the police and get this car towed, I say. Someone from the café will help us. I hope the revenge of having the illegally parked Fiat hauled away will please my husband and, in fact, it seems to. I smile at the men, signaling I have it under control.  The men shake their heads and go back to their wives and their dinners.  I’ll write down the license plate, but you are going to have to do the talking unless they speak English. My husband seems to understand what I am saying, at least somewhat, agreeing we’ll go into the café, and just as we get out of our rental, the owner bounces towards his offending car.  He has a big smile—So sorry! I just had to run an errand. The man is carrying a yellow plastic shopping bag of groceries.  I’m thrilled, but still glare for my husband’s sake.  Really, sorry, he says to my husband.  My husband doesn’t say a word—I don’t look at him.  What if my husband is smiling at the guy like everything is OK?  What if my husband really doesn’t know how to speak anymore?  What if from now on he’ll only blare his horn?  He shifts and backs out into the crowded streets and drives us through paradise.

Denise Duhamel’s most recent books of poetry are Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021) and Scald (Pittsburgh, 2017). Blowout (Pittsburgh, 2013) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, she is a distinguished university professor at Florida International University in Miami.